TV UK, 30 September

The Closer: death files of the rich and famous.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

Channel 4’s latest imported American cop show has an intriguing gimmick. The hero is not only a woman, but is approaching middle age. The Closer (Tuesdays at 10pm) stars Kyra Sedgwick as Brenda Leigh Johnson, who is brought to Los Angeles from Atlanta, complete with charming Southern twang, to lead a new Priority Murder Squad (note that acronym) closing high-profile murder cases for the LAPD.

After the gimmick (which admittedly was used in Prime Suspect, but that’s British so doesn’t count), the next interesting thing about the drama is its implicit commentary on American society. ‘Priority murders’ are those that attract media attention, which in the first two episodes at least means the rich and famous. Of course, most cop shows feature such murders as a matter of course, but it’s refreshing to have this bias written into the story for once. It’s too soon for a critical verdict, but there is enough going on for this to be worth watching.

Johnson is brought into the LAPD as a deputy chief, much to the chagrin of Captain Taylor, whose boss she now is, and the general resentment of her entire squad: it would be too simplistic to say she is resented because she is a woman, but that seems to be part of it.

Unknown to the squad, she was brought in by her former lover Assistant Police Chief Will Pope (played by JK Simmons, the Aryan Brotherhood leader from Oz or the psychiatrist from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, depending on your preference). Pope was also her boss in the CIA, where she learned the formidable interrogation skills that are her greatest asset, and the focus of the show.

So far the unsavoury contemporary resonance of interrogation has been glossed over, though Johnson is not above sneaky psychological tricks. In any case, after the cul-de-sac of forensic science in cop shows, it’s good to see a return to cop and criminal in the ‘box’, which was always the staple of Homicide: Life on the Street. Historical aside: in one episode of Homicide, it transpired that Captain Giardello had been captured in Vietnam, and was so tough minded that he had not only resisted interrogation, but even convinced his interrogator of the virtues of liberal democracy and capitalism, causing him to defect.

I dismissed the BBC’s spy drama Spooks on the basis of a couple of episodes of the first series a couple of years ago. Since then I’ve been perturbed by the programme’s persistence, and even critical acclaim. But I was right, of course. I watched last week’s episode about MI5 using dirty tricks to see off a far right demagogue. It was dreadful: dramatically clichéd and politically naive.

People who like Spooks don’t claim that it’s great drama, just that it’s an enjoyable romp or something like that. To work on that level, though, something has to be basically likeable, however flawed. To enjoy Spooks’combination of childish high-jinks and sentimentality, you would have to share its fundamentally Blairite political sensibilities.

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Topics Culture


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