It’s a tricky thing to pull off, launching a spinoff of a revered series where the only major change you’ve made happens to be the replacement of the lead character.
That’s another thing you don’t see too often, if ever: A series spinoff making its debut immediately following its predecessor.
On the one hand, the strategy makes sense: Try and get the “Closer” faithful to embrace their show’s replacement, in this case literally a minute or two after Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) said her farewell.
On the other hand, the risk is: Not enough time elapsed between shows, which meant at least some viewers went into the new “Major Crimes” still feeling woeful about losing “The Closer.”
And it doesn’t help that the character who is effectively Brenda’s replacement at the helm of the LAPD Major Crimes squad is someone we already know well and don’t particularly like — Capt. Sharon Raydor (played by Mary McDonnell), who’s been a flinty, icy thorn in Brenda’s side since Season Five (“The Closer” had seven seasons).
Thus, the challenge for “Major Crimes” is to gradually transform Sharon Rayder, who was Brenda’s unlikable adversary for all those episodes, into someone likable — someone more like Brenda.
So how’d they do on the first night of this experiment?
The verdict: Not badly, but mainly because “Major Crimes” was so much like “The Closer” in almost every respect. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, here’s how “The Closer” ended its run:
Brenda got her man — finally bringing to justice the serial killer who had preyed on young women. And, not surprisingly, it was the guy Brenda knew in her gut was her man all along — the smarmy attorney Phillip Stroh (played by Billy Burke). Brenda got to blast him in the chest in her kitchen after the two wrestled on her floor. He lived and confessed.
But Brenda had broken so many rules in her pursuit of this guy that higher-ups were forcing the end of her career with the LAPD. Fortunately, she was offered a job as chief of investigators in the DA’s office, so she won’t be unemployed for long.
At the end of the last episode of “The Closer,” she said her good-byes to her all-male squad of detectives and they gave her a gift, a handbag filled with Ring Dings (her big weakness). “The only gift I want from you is your friendship,” she told them before they gave her the gift.
After she received it, she said, “It looks like love.” And with that, one of the most memorable characters in the history of television was gone.
Then a few seconds later, “Major Crimes” began with a major crime — a shoot-out in a shopping center parking lot with a gang of black-clad baddies and automatic weapons. It was the kind of show-opening that was “The Closer’s” stock in trade.
And so the plot unfolded, as the Major Crimes squad tried to piece together who this gang was, and where they might strike next. Amidst it all, Capt. Raydor was awarded the position of head of the squad, usurping Lt. Provenza (G.W. Bailey), who had apparently been running things since Brenda left. (Though “Major Crimes” began seconds after Brenda’s exit, a number of weeks had apparently elapsed.)
Provenza was one of the many characters carried over from “The Closer” along with: Commander Taylor (Robert Gossett), Lt. Tao (Michael Paul Chan), Lt. Flynn (Anthony John Denison), Buzz (Phillip P. Keene) and Det. Sanchez (Raymond Cruz).
Brenda’s husband, FBI liaison Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney) is still on the show. Among other scenes, he came to Capt. Raydor’s new office and helped her empty Brenda’s old desk drawer of candy bars and other sweets. And it should be noted that at least one cast member, Corey Reynolds, is apparently off the show since his character, Sgt. Gabriel, left to join Brenda in the DA’s office.
Of course, this cast of supporting characters was always the backbone of “The Closer,” so their presence in “Major Crimes” certainly helped viewers feel right at home. The only question mark is Capt. Raydor, who contributed a nugget of inspiration that helped crack the case.
It didn’t exactly render her instantly likable, but it was a start.
This just in: The series finale of “The Closer” drew 9.1 million viewers on Monday night at 9/8c, TNT said Tuesday. The premiere of “Major Crimes” at 10/9c, had almost 2 million less — 7.2 million.