Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday – Closing Cases with Southern Charm

This week, Amber West and I review two crime dramas on Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday—the BBC’s Luther and TNT’s The Closer. 

The Closer follows Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) and the Major Case Squad as they solve L.A.’s worst crimes, while her FBI-agent/husband (Fritzy or Fritz Howard, played by Jon Tenney) provides his and the Bureau’s expertise to her team.

Brenda Leigh hails from the south, if not already evident by her accent, and has a very hard time hiding her emotions.  When she’s having a really bad day, she opens her desk drawer full of chocolate and digs in.  She possesses that southern charm we’ve grown to love over the years, and having been born and raised in Texas, I can personally attest to what Brenda Leigh actually means when she says, “Thank you, thank you very much.”  Kyra Sedgwick perfects the sarcasm so many southerners use in our daily vocabulary.

So how does a southern belle from Atlanta score the lead of an all-male major crime squad in Los Angeles?  Of course, there’s the fact that she had an affair with her boss way back in the day (Chief Pope, played by J.K. Simmons), but I’d like to think it’s because of her skills in the interrogation room—tactics that have proven to be better than anyone else, but that have also gotten her into a bit of trouble here and there.

Speaking of trouble… a few seasons ago, the L.A.P.D. issued a new mandate written in Brenda Leigh’s honor called The Johnson Rule, which states that no witness or suspect can be released from police custody without the proper protection if it is believed that his or her life may be in danger.  This came after Major Case, specifically Brenda Leigh, dropped a gang member suspected of murdering a local business man off in front of his house.  Moments later, an angry mob of other gang members waiting on the street killed him.  The murder led to a lawsuit against Brenda Leigh and the City of Los Angeles, thus the creation of The Johnson Rule, and Brenda Leigh’s constant shadowing by Captain Raydor (Mary McDonnell).

Regardless, Brenda Leigh has proven herself in case after case after case.  No one can convince a criminal to confess the way that Brenda Leigh can.

In addition to the drama, each show promises humor, and I find myself smiling at each episode’s end regardless of how gruesome their case.  Most of the fun centers on the interactions of her team: David Gabriel (Corey Reynolds), Louie Provenza (G.W. Bailey), Andy Flynn (Tony Denison), Michael Tao (Michael Paul Chan), Julio Sanchez (Raymond Cruz), Buzz (Phillip P. Keene), and Commander Taylor (Robert Gossett).

So why are we reviewing and recommending a show that just aired the first of its final six episodes this week?  Because in the age of the digital world and specifically Netflix, The Closer is definitely worthy of a marathon-style viewing party.  And with what we’ve seen over the past seven seasons, I fully expect these closing shows to go out with a BANG!

Brenda Leigh has faced many a foe in the past, but only one has escaped her grasp—lawyer, Philip Stroh (played by Billy Burke).  She has already been ordered by Chief Pope to drop all investigations into the alleged rapist, but those of us who know Brenda Leigh know she’s not going to stop until she gets her man.  This may cost our favorite Deputy Chief her job—and with only five episodes left, maybe that’s exactly what will happen—but politics have never stopped her before… so why would they now?

Get him, Brenda!!

And let me just say the scenes between Burke and Sedgwick are intense—some of the best tension on television today.  I felt similar about the cat and mouse game between Sedgwick and Jason O’Mara (arsonist Bill Croelick) in seasons one and four.

Despite the fact The Closer will not be airing new episodes much longer, I can’t help but award the GTV rating to Brenda Leigh and her team—grill a filet; bake a potato; steam some veggies; and open a glass of Champagne—relish all of the flavors of your meal and The Closer characters at the same time.

I will miss the drama of the Major Case’s cases; I will miss the goofiness of Provenza and Flynn; I will miss the dry humor of Sanchez; I will miss the wittiness of Tao; I will miss Gabriel’s trying to keep everyone in line; I will miss Buzz and his electronic equipment;  I will miss Pope’s and Taylor’s tendencies to only cover their own butts; I will miss Brenda Leigh’s ability to close; and, lastly, I will miss Brenda Leigh and Fritzy—one of the best love affairs on television today.

The way Fritzy “gets” Brenda Leigh just melts my heart every time…

However, most of these characters and character’s traits won’t be missed for long…

Following the conclusion of Brenda Leigh’s story, Captain Raydor takes the lead in Major Crimes.  For the past few seasons, we’ve tolerated Captain Raydor while she terrorized Brenda Leigh, leading all of the officer-involved investigations (kind of like Internal Affairs).  But we’ve also witnessed a softer Captain Raydor who has stood by Brenda Leigh and done everything in her power to protect the Deputy Chief.  How will Captain Raydor do leading Brenda Leigh’s team?  That’s right – almost the entire cast of The Closer returns for the new series, including Provenza, Flynn, Tao, Sanchez, Buzz, Taylor, and even Fritzy on occasion.

So, here’s to The Closer *lifts Champagne glass*.  We will miss you and will forever recommend you to our readers…

What do you think? Do you watch The Closer?  How would you rate it?  Who’s your favorite character?  Do you plan to watch the spin-off later this summer?  I’d love to hear from you!

Now click over to Amber’s blog and see what she thinks about the BBC’s Luther.  You know Amber loves her British television series…

Come back next week when Amber and I review something…  it’s summer time and the heat is taking a toll on our planning ahead.

Remember to stop by the #watchwed hashtag in Twitter to discuss any of today’s reviews, or to mention any television programs that you’d like to see on Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday in the future.

A Recap of The WatchWed Review System:

GTV (Gourmet TV): Everything we want and more
MacTV (MacNCheese TV): Guilty pleasure. Not perfect, but is satisfies
GMacTV (Gourmet MacNCheese TV): A combination of fine wine and comfort food
JFTV (Junk food TV): It’s not great for us, but we’ll go back for seconds
TBPTV (Twice Baked Potato TV): Part gourmet and delicious, while absolutely horrible for our cholesterol
SSTV (Still Simmering TV): It has potential, but the jury is still out
NIV (Nyquil Induced Viewing): Perfect for that late night television sleep timer
LOTV (Liver&Onions TV): Do we really have to explain? Blech

Tele-Tuesday – Down Memory Lane: 1996

The 1990s – A Decade known for the massive growth and popularity of the Internet, gaming, and cell phones, also saw tumultuous times including The Gulf War and the Oklahoma City bombing, which created two of the most hated men in U.S. history – Saddam Hussein and Timothy McVeigh.

In the ’90s, the world also experienced perhaps one of the most popular scandals involving United States President Bill Clinton and White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

The ‘90s generation watched as music and television took over the fashion world with women flocking to the salons for the “Rachel” cut, while the men raced to the barber asking for the sideburns of Jason Priestly and Luke Perry.  One of our favorite must-have items of the decade were the plaid and flannel shirts we all purchased by the dozen.

Top entertainers in the ‘90s included: the television ensemble casts of Friends, Seinfeld, Beverly Hills, 90210, ER; the popular grunge bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam; the pop-rock acts such as the Spice Girls; and other musicians like The Offspring, Green Day, and No Doubt.

Movie theaters saw great blockbuster success with the films Titanic, Dances with Wolves, The Silence of the Lambs (an upcoming Boo Factor installment), Home Alone, Pulp Fiction, The Matrix, Independence Day, The Lion King, and Pretty Woman.

Now, let’s shift specifically to 1996. What do I remember about that year?

The city of Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics, and amidst all of the swimming, gymnastics, and track and field, Eric Robert Rudolph killed two people and injured over a hundred more when he attacked Centennial Olympic Park with homemade pipe bombs filled with shrapnel.

Despite the tragedy in Atlanta, the United States won 44 gold medals, with a grand total of 101 medals – more than any other country.

What else?  Television programs, of course!

Today, let’s take a look back at some of the great crime dramas of 1996.

Nash Bridges (1996-2001)

Nash Bridges follows two of San Francisco’s elite investigators:  Nash Bridges (Don Johnson) and Joe Dominguez (Cheech Marin).   Bridges has a photographic memory, and battles the difficulties of living with his aging father (James Gammon) and daughter (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe).   As far as the police work, Nash and Dominguez team with Harvey Leek, a Grateful Dead fan (known as a “Dead-Head), and  Evan Cortez, Nash’s daughter’s eventual fiancé.

A Don Johnson television show wouldn’t be complete without his character driving a super-charged sports car, and of course, Nash drove a 1971 Barracuda convertible.

Fun Fact: Johnson’s Miami Vice co-star, Philip Michael Thomas, and Marin’s cinematic co-star, Tommy Chong, guest-starred in a 1997 episode, “Wild Card.”

NYPD Blue (1993-2005)

NYPD Blue aired over a decade on television, a feat that’s rarely accomplished anymore.  Perhaps the series lasted because of the story-telling, or perhaps it was because of the fabulous characters.  I’m going with characters.

Who will ever forget New York City Detective Andy Sipowicz, played by the great Dennis Franz?  Sipowicz may have been plagued by the interchanging partners throughout the seasons (John Kelly played by David Caruso, Bobby Simone played by Jimmy Smits, Danny Sorenson played by Rick Schroder, and John Clark, Jr. played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar), but audiences still tuned in on a weekly basis because they loved Andy and his relationships, something that was very difficult for him.

Sipowicz managed to be one of the most intense detectives on the squad, maybe even in television history, while also raising his young son alone following his wife’s death.

Over the years, the precinct consisted of other fine detectives and district attorneys played by Gordon Clapp, Amy Brenneman, Nicholas Turturro, Garcelle Beauvais, Henry Simmons, Charlotte Ross, James McDaniel, Currie Graham, Esai Morales, and Dana Delaney to name a few.  Undoubtedly, after more than ten years on the tele, NYPD Blue survived because of its spectacular ensemble cast with Dennis Franz taking the lead.

Law & Order (1990-2010)

“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”

Sound familiar? Television viewers heard this narration by Steven Zirnkilton for twenty years on NBC during the opening credits of Law & Order.

Reigning as television royalty for two decades, Law & Order ranks as one of the best police procedural and legal dramas in television history.  The series, now turned into a franchise, has spawned four spinoffs: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, and Law & Order: LA.

The format of Law & Order focused the first thirty minutes of the hour-long program on the detectives solving the crime, and the final thirty minutes on the district attorneys taking their case to court.  Many television and big screen greats have called Law & Order their home at one time or another, including Chris Noth, Richard Brooks, Jerry Orbach, S. Epatha Merkerson, Benjamin Bratt, Jill Hennessy, Sam Waterston, Jesse L. Martin, Angie Harmon, Dianne Wiest, Fred Thompson, Jeremy Sisto, Dennis Farina, and Anthony Anderson.

Abruptly cancelled in 2010, the Law & Order fans can only hope that some network out there in the television universe will one day grant the closure the dedicated fans deserve, with maybe a two-hour made for television movie?

Profiler (1996-2000)

Perhaps the success of Profiler was due to the fact that Dr. Samantha Waters (Ally Walker) was one of the first forensic psychologists on network television.  Up to this point, viewers met a ton of cops, detectives, and private investigators on their favorite TV shows, but Profiler introduced a team of FBI agents that focused on criminal behaviors to find their suspects.

Samantha is haunted throughout the series by “Jack of all Trades”, the serial killer who took the life of her husband.  Her team consists of a detective (Julian McMahon), a computer hacker (Peter Frechette), and a forensic pathologist (Roma Maffia), and is led by Sam’s longtime friend and mentor (played by the great, Robert Davi).

Ally Walker’s character eventually retired, and Jamie Luner joined the cast as a new forensic psychologist in the fourth and final season of the show.

Fun Fact Trivia – What television hit did Julian McMahon and Roma Maffia star in, together again, from 2003-2010?

What do you remember from the 1990s – the politics, the entertainment, or the technology?  What are some of your favorite crime shows from the ‘90s? Did you enjoy any of these 1996 television series? I’d love to hear from you!

Stop by #teletuesday in Twitter so we can chat about these shows and many more!