TNT’s legal thriller The Closer, which starts its third season Monday 18, is a series best described in capital letters. Kyra Sedgwick plays Brenda Leigh Johnson, a detective who CARES TOO MUCH. At home, she and her boyfriend SQUABBLE, while at work, her boss, J.K. Simmons’s William Pope, GROWLS AT THE CAMERA. The Closer is as subtle as the rap of a judge’s gavel. Factor out the dramatic excess and the show reveals itself as a cheesy 1970s detective series with modern production values.
Brenda is close to a female Kojak--—not so much an organic character as a bundle of quirks. Pope is a worthy foil, and Simmons invigorates the stock character of the harried police chief who can’t keep his best detective in line. But for better or worse, this is Sedgwick’s show, and she revels in it, delivering one of those fun, hammy star turns that’s mistaken for serious acting only on basic cable. Emboldened by an overripe Southern accent, she goes way, way over the top, then keeps on trucking. She screams. She kids around. She expresses profound empathy for everything and everyone around her. At one point, she reenacts a murder by crushing plastic cups against herself and rattling curtains, as though she were auditioning for the title role in Poltergeist IV.
The mystery in the third-season premiere is pretty standard stuff, easy to figure out if you’ve ever seen another cop series, and the other characters are sideshows in the Brenda Leigh Johnson circus. At least it’s a lively circus. — Todd VanDerWerff