The Closer

Lesley Smith

The premiere of The Closer was a very good moment for women who watch women on the small screen.

The Closer

Airtime: Mondays, 9pm
Cast: Kyra Sedgwick, J.K. Simmons, Corey Reynolds, Robert Gossett, G.W. Bailey, Anthony John Denison .
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: TNT
US release date: 2005-06-13

She's sold her house, survived an ethics inquiry at the Atlanta PD, and turned down a job with Homeland Security. She's a stranger to La-La Land who has chosen to work for the former lover who tossed her aside to marry his second wife. And she's been promoted way above some long-serving LAPD detectives. Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), newly appointed head of the Priority Murder Squad, is feisty, fallible, and ambitious, and strides so aggressively onto her first Los Angeles crime scene that she makes an enemy of every member of her investigative team.

The premiere of The Closer was a very good moment for women who watch women on the small screen.

Primetime crime TV has long lacked compelling female bosses who are also the leads on their shows. The female boss is usually a supporting character, such as Lt. Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson), on Law & Order, while strong female protagonists usually appear as subordinates in the protective custody of male bosses, partners or colleagues, like Law & Order: SVU's Olivia (Mariska Hargitay) or Cold Case's Lilly (Kathryn Morris). By contrast, Johnson is definitely in charge of an elite murder squad, because of her proven ability to "close" cases using her CIA-honed skills as an interrogator.

The Closer spends early time on Johnson's development. Neither a man-in-drag cliché nor an ice queen, she chews gum, drinks merlot, and makes luxurious lip-love to foil-wrapped junk food. As she shows when she brings half her wardrobe to the office for an interview with a self-confessed "good Catholic girl," she sees her clothes as disposable identities she throws on and off at will. Such openly embodied sensuality -- whether attached to sex, silk or doughnuts -- distinguishes Johnson (even if she is as skinny as any model) from the conventional look-don't-touch sexiness (all swooshy hair, plunging necklines and tight tees) of a Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) or Law & Order's recent, interchangeable ADAs.

Johnson also benefits from sharp dialogue. When one colleague complains that she doesn't have to be such a bitch about being in charge, she snaps, "If I liked being called a bitch to my face, I'd still be married." The writers strike sparks in her exchanges with the LAPD Assistant Police Chief, Will Pope (J.K. Simmons), the former lover who brought her to the murder squad. Both wry and witty, these bits encapsulate the perennial costs paid by ambitious women. An encounter by Pope's car closes with him heading home to his second wife and Johnson to an impersonal hotel room, her only refuge, physical or emotional, in L.A. But when it comes to the show's raison d'etre -- demonstrations of Johnson's exceptional skill as an interrogator -- the first episode's script fell flat, demonstrating only a conventional combination of threat, deceit, sweetness, and (faked) rage.

Neither does the direction, at least on the evidence of the premiere, compensate for the script's blandness. While Michael M. Robin draws strong performances from Sedgwick and Pope, he treats the other actors cursorily. The sequence where the demoted head of the Priority Murder Unit (Robert Gossett), grandstanding in front of his former subordinates, physically refuses to let Johnson's sergeant into forensics with a bullet for analysis, should have crackled with tension. Instead, the actors shuffled around as if they had lost their marks, the camera flipping between full-face close-ups instead of building to any kind of climax.

The episode also suffered from a lot of dead time where nothing happened, and happened badly. While Johnson interviews a suspect, the entire squad watches on a bank of computer monitors. Only, they were watching a perfectly ordinary (in TV terms) interrogation with the goggle-eyed blankness of middle schoolers who had never seen this situation before.

The strain of this response is only underlined by the fact that Johnson is typically surrounded by a wall of multicultural men (most blatantly configured in the series' promo stills), as if to reassure viewers that she's not the only character with visible power. Though the ensemble includes an African American woman detective (Gina Ravera), she's excised from those promo photographs. She features as steadily in the first episode as several of the male supporting actors, yet her exclusion from the publicity for the show seems to cut off any possibility that Johnson might do something radical like form an alliance with a female subordinate. Indeed, Johnson's assigned sergeant is a young male.

In this, The Closer follows the conventional TV paradigm for shows with female protagonists: women winners are still exceptionalized, a trend Margaret Marshment skewered nearly 20 years ago in her witty analysis of primetime women protagonist, "Substantial Women."* One woman wins, but it's a one-off triumph that showcases unprecedented personal talent, not a shift in social restraints. In 1982, the all-time most inspiring female cop duo Cagney and Lacey promised a TV representation to which many women would actually aspire. Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson offers a snapshot of how little images of women in popular culture have changed in 23 years.

* * *

* Gamman, Lorraine, and Margaret Marshment, eds. The Female Gaze. London: The Women's Press, 1988.





Laura Nyro's "Save the Country" Calls Out from the Past

Laura Nyro, a witchy, queer, ethnic Russian Jew, died young, but her non-conformist anthem, "Save the Country", carries forth to these troubled times.


Journalist Jonathan Cott's Interviews, Captured

With his wide-ranging interviews, Jonathan Cott explores "the indispensable and transformative powers of the imagination."

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Coronavirus and the Culture Wars

Infodemics, conspiracies -- fault lines beneath the Fractured States of America tremble in this time of global pandemic, amplify splinters, fractures, and fissures past and present.


'Switched-On Seeker' Is an Imaginative Electronic Reimagining of Mikal Cronin's Latest LP

Listeners who prefer dense rock/pop timbres will no doubt prefer Mikal Cronin's 'Seeker'. However, 'Switched-On Seeker' will surely delight fans of smaller-scale electronic filters.


IYEARA Heighten the Tension on Remix of Mark Lanegan's "Playing Nero" (premiere)

Britsh trio IYEARA offer the first taste of a forthcoming reworking of Mark Lanegan's Somebody's Knocking with a remix of "Playing Nero".


Pottery Take Us Deep Into the Funky and Absurd on 'Welcome to Bobby's Motel'

With Welcome to Bobby's Motel, Pottery have crafted songs to cleanse your musical pallet and keep you firmly on the tips of your toes.


Counterbalance 23: Bob Dylan - 'Blood on the Tracks'

Bob Dylan makes his third appearance on the Acclaimed Music list with his 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks. Counterbalance’s Eric Klinger and Jason Mendelsohn are planting their stories in the press.


Luke Cissell Creates Dreamy, Electronic Soundscapes on the Eclectic 'Nightside'

Nightside, the new album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Luke Cissell, is largely synthetic and electronic but contains a great deal of warmth and melody.


Bibio Discusses 'Sleep on the Wing' and Why His Dreams Are of the Countryside

"I think even if I lived in the heart of Tokyo, I'd still make music that reminds people of the countryside because it's where my dreams often take me," says Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) of his music and his new rustic EP.

Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.