TV Review: Mary McDonnell Steps Into Big Shoes on TNT’s ‘Major Crimes’

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CHICAGO – The producers of “The Closer” attempt a daring move tonight by pushing forward with a barely-altered version of their award-winning program mere moments after the series finale of the Kyra Sedgwick hit. I think that for some it will be too soon. Even people who claim to be massive fans of “Major Crimes” will mutter “but I miss Brenda” under their breath. There’s no comparison between the two — “The Closer” is vastly superior — but perhaps this hook to get viewers will give the producers time to fix what’s wrong here before this second marriage with fans ends in divorce. Television Rating: 2.5/5.0
Television Rating: 2.5/5.0

There will be no spoilage in how Brenda leaves the Major Crimes Unit but it’s not a surprise to anyone who’s seen the advertising that Detective Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell) is in charge now. It’s a move that doesn’t leave everyone happy, especially Provenza (the always-great G.W. Bailey), who thinks the job should have been his and can’t stand the move by the system to push for plea bargains over prosecution. He also butts heads with a lovely new detective (Kearran Giovanni), a woman who seems eager but nearly the opposite of Brenda in the way she waits to hear what others think before forming her own opinion. It’s the most interesting dynamic of the first two episodes — should a detective be strong-willed or diplomatic? Can they possibly be both?

Major Crimes
Major Crimes
Photo credit: TNT

Back to Raydor. The talented McDonnell, so great on “Battlestar Galactica,” fills some giant shoes here and she’s not quite yet walking straight in them after the two episodes screened for review. McDonnell plays Raydor as too smug, self-serious, and distant. It’s an obvious change of leadership from Brenda (and that’s a smart idea…we wouldn’t want a clone) but she’s not yet an engaging lead. To be blunt, I don’t care about her. She doesn’t work in crime scenes, gets little memorable activity in the interrogation room (which used to be the heart of the show), and her personal story isn’t yet interesting.

Major Crimes
Major Crimes
Photo credit: TNT

Part of the problem is that Raydor is saddled with an unbelievable personal arc to start the season. A new character from the series finale of “The Closer” (who’s actually very strong in that episode even if he’s nowhere near as well-utilized without Sedgwick to play off) has become something of an adopted child for Raydor. Graham Patrick Martin plays a former street hustler who needs to become a ward of the state and be protected so he can be a witness in a major case. The attempt to soften Raydor by giving her someone to care about is blatant and ineffective.

The biggest mistake may be the lack of definition after two hours with the series finale of “The Closer” and the premiere of “Major Crimes” as the latter has kind of a non-ending. My response to the final moment of what is essentially a two-hour episode for fans tonight? “That’s it? I miss Brenda.” I get the idea to come out without too much of a boat-rocking premiere but they needed to make a stronger statement of identity in their first episode. “Here’s what “The Closer” was and here’s what we are.” It feels too much like an episode of “The Closer” where Sedgwick needed a week off instead of its own show.

However, so many of the technical elements of “Major Crimes” are identical to “The Closer” that I think fans will be forgiving of the show’s flaws for at least a few weeks. The editing, the camera work, the music, even the opening credits — they’re all the same. And that excellent ensemble returns almost fully intact. Sedgwick and J.K. Simmons are gone but even Jon Tenney gets some action. It’s nice to have the familiar faces to make the differences easier to take.

But it’s going to be those differences that tell the story of “Major Crimes.” The transition from David Caruso to Jimmy Smits on “NYPD Blue” wouldn’t have worked if Smits was spectacular. Almost everything may be the same but viewers are going to hone in on what’s different. Will they like Raydor? Sykes? The larger role for Provenza? Perhaps they should have taken a breath and given viewers more time to get used to the idea of this cast without Sedgwick. There’s a self-referential exchange in the premiere:

I told you we should have waited.
No, this is the moment.

Audiences will decide who was right.

“Major Crimes” stars Mary McDonnell, G.W. Bailey, Jon Tenney, Graham Patrick Martin, Kearran Giovanni, Jonathan Del Arco, Corey Reynolds, Robert Gossett, Michael Paul Chan, Anthony John Denison, Phillip P. Keene, and Raymond Cruz. It premieres on Monday, August 13, 2012 on TNT at 9pm CST before moving to its time slot of 8pm the week later. content director Brian Tallerico

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