Reviewing the pilot for Major Crimes feels a bit like writing about a random episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. TNT has advertised the new police procedural as a spinoff of The Closer, which ended this year after seven seasons, but it’s really more of a continuation with Mary McDonnell replacing Kyra Sedgwick as the lead. To drive the point home, McDonnell’s character, Captain Sharon Raider, was introduced three years ago and became a regular on the show, so here we have a new drama about the head of LA’s Major Crimes Division to fill the slot of the old drama about the head of LA’s Major Crimes Division. Everything else stays the same.
In fact, “Reloaded” comes across less like a series premiere than a standard season opener. Don’t get me wrong. Every cast member gets a chance to showcase his or her personality: Taylor uses the politics of tragedy to effect change in the department; Provenza huffs and puffs to uphold the previous lead’s spirit; Flynn sets aside his legitimate misgivings about his new boss to solve the crime; Tao goes with the flow; Sanchez demonstrates his quiet deduction skills and military training; and Buzz looks perpetually lost. However, I wonder what newcomers make of all these unexplained references to someone named Brenda and of this convenient FBI liaison, Fritz, showing up out of nowhere.
Fans of The Closer, on the other hand, may have noticed I’ve made no mention of Chief Will Pope or Sergeant David Gabriel. Seeing as these characters were mostly defined by their relationship with Brenda, it makes sense they’d exit the story with her. However, I suspect we haven’t seen the last of Pope, or at least I hope we haven’t because I love J.K. Simmons, so there. As for Gabriel, he’s replaced by Detective Amy Sykes, an ambitious suck-up who schemes her way into the department, incurring the wrath of Provenza. The previous series has always featured a healthy dose of politicking, and it looks like Major Crimes is keeping with the theme.
This should come as no surprise, given Raydor’s defining trait of saying one thing while intimating another with just her tone and inflections. As expected, Major Crimes is going to delve deeper into her personal life, possibly through Rusty, the orphan from the previous series’ finale, of whom she’s taken temporary custody pending trial. Already, he’s got her confessing to having alienated her children, the idea being that our distant heroine has grown so proficient at managing the big picture she sometimes forgets to show empathy for the little people involved. McDonnell, by the way, remains fabulous in the role, and I’d recommend the series based on her performance alone.
Consider her climactic negotiation with the culprit, the way she almost whispers her threats, using policies and procedures to convey a sense of inevitability. Whereas Brenda mixed pleasantries with misinformation to coerce a confession out of her suspects, Raydor seems all too content to do things by the book, flaunting her knowledge of the system to corner her prey. This makes for an interesting contrast with The Closer and other cop shows, especially in light of Commander Taylor’s new mandate to seek plea bargains instead of confessions.
As for the case of the week, “Reloaded” presents perhaps one of the simplest investigations I can recall from creator James Duff: a group of highly organised armed robbers gives itself away by proving too proficient, the end. Obvious parallels can be drawn with our heroine, but I imagine some will bemoan the episode sacrificing juicy plot twists for all that interpersonal dynamic. I, for one, appreciate that Major Crimes aims to seduce us with its characters rather than its puzzles. Besides, the show runners have spent the last seven years writing gripping mysteries for this cast, so I’m not too worried.
Mind you, I understand how someone coming in blind might feel differently. As a television pilot, “Reloaded” may have missed an opportunity by relying so heavily on established characters and history. No matter what, a good portion of Sedgwick fans are going to skip on Major Crimes, so the show runners need to attract new viewers if they hope to maintain the same ratings as before. Then again, The Closer has had a consistent audience, and I’ve been clamouring for a Raydor spinoff since her introduction back in season five. In other words, perhaps more of the same is the way to go. At any rate, I’m sold.