The Closer, on TNT Monday nights at 9 EDT, is an unacknowledged Americanization of the long-running British police procedural TV program Prime Suspect—and is something of an improvement on the excessively saturnine original. In The Closer, now in its second season, Kyra Sedgwick plays a police detective and homicide team supervisor who solves crimes while stumbling charmingly through a rather bumpy personal life. She’s a Southerner living in Los Angeles, and her charmingly manipulative ways make for an interesting character. It’s a good show, made appealing by Sedgwick’s excellent performance. She’s quite likeable as the protagonist, and her various problems are handled by both herself and the program’s writers with a fairly light touch. There is an appealing but not excessive amount of humor in the show.

The Closer promo shotThe season premiere episode, which first ran a couple of weeks ago, was particularly satisfying. Unlike most entries in the first season of the program, it had a solid puzzle with several suspects, and the viewer had enough info to solve the crime by the time Brenda was ready to reveal the killer. Most of the appeal of The Closer lies in the non-mystery elements, but having a good mystery made this episode really sing.

In the two subsequent episodes this season, there have been multiple suspects, although in last week’s episode a vital clue was withheld until Brenda revealed the identity of the murderer. That’s not what true mystery aficionados call fair play, but the mystery was nonetheless good, and the character relationships and the various agendas driving the murder suspects were interesting.

Nero Wolfe DVD coverIt’s very pleasing to see another American crime show take up a more puzzle-oriented, cheerful approach to crime fiction, in this time of gloomy CSI imitators. There’s no reason a police procedural or hardboiled story can’t have a good puzzle, as the stories and novels of Cornell Woolrich and Fredric Brown make very clear in the hardboiled realm and which the British series Midsomer Murders and Dalziel and Pascoe in both books and TV make abundantly clear. (Both of the latter are produced in Great Britain.) I like to see TV moving away from what I called, in my National Review Online roundup of the last TV season, shows about Saving the World, One Creepy-Looking Corpse at a Time.

The formulaic probing into the insides of dead bodies in these programs has made the TV cop show a very tired genre, and it will begin to fade away soon if the networks don’t bring new life to it with an approach more sanguine and less sanguinary. The Closer joins Monk, Psych, and the late, lamented, lost A&E Nero Wolfe series in doing just that on satellite channels; we’ll know things are getting better when the networks begin to follow suit.