Major Crimes (**½ out of four, TNT, tonight, 10 ET/PT) is a minor show.
Not a bad one, mind you — not when it gives viewers a chance to spend more time with most of their favorite actors and characters from The Closer, minus, most importantly, Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda. But that's the problem: When you lose that star and that character, you lose what made The Closer special.
You also lose the original show's distinctive focus. As the title indicated, The Closer was built around Brenda's career-making ability to close a case by wheedling a confession out of her chief suspect. But now, we're told, those confessions cost the Los Angeles taxpayers too much money, leading as they did to costly, time-consuming trials. So now the goal is to work with prosecutors to get plea bargains, bringing the show closer to a courtroom-free version of Law & Order.
And that's just about as much fun as it sounds.
Tonight's transition to Major Crimes begins with Provenza (G.W. Bailey, as amusingly annoyed as ever) in charge of the unit — but that doesn't last long. The unit is quickly turned over to Mary McDonnell's Capt. Raydor, much to the dismay of the detectives, with the exception of a sycophantic newcomer played by Kearran Giovanni.
Say this for Raydor: She's a different sort of TV hero, a near-affectless, often monotone woman who adores rules. And it provokes an often-interesting performance from McDonnell, although as with too many actors these days, it's not always easy to tell whether it's the performer or the character who's expressionless.
The cases she deals with in the two episodes made available for preview don't amount to much (in one, the solution comes out of thin air; in the other, it's much too obvious), but that's not unusual for a show being revamped. Time that might have gone to the crime has to be devoted to working in new characters, including a teenager well-played by Graham Patrick Martin, and introducing new dynamics. Or, more precisely, reviving old dynamics, as what the show is basically doing is resetting the story to the early Closer days when the team was wary of Brenda.
Relationships eventually will work out. What threatens to remain a drag is the format itself, with its weekly focus on plea bargains — and, so far, weekly speeches defending the new focus. That real-world defense of plea bargains is quite logical; they are how many, if not most, cases are settled and they do save time and money. But dramatically, they're neither compelling nor emotionally satisfying, which is why Law & Order inserted them after the trial had started and The Closer generally avoided them.
They were right. Major Crimes is wrong.
And that's a fairly major mistake.