Tag Archives: Ken Wahl

In Praise of The Closer

Tonight brings us the return of The Closer on TNT.

The show has been a rousing success, nabbing the best ratings on cable TV and bringing adulation and awards to Kyra Sedgwick for her lead role as Brenda Leigh Johnson. And while I agree that her mannered Southern belle with a whip-crack mind is a fun character to watch, she’s also blessed to have a deep and solid ensemble cast that elevates the show from good to great.

Raymond Cruz, Michael Paul Chan, Jon Tenney, Corey Reynolds and Robert Gossett usually get a couple of strong minutes within each episode and the occasional featured sub-plot to flex their muscles. They’re all seasoned actors who quickly defined their characters during the first season, so it’s not necessary to waste time constantly redefining their motivation. Special kudos to Cruz for the episode about his brother’s death, and Gossett for his character’s arc from jealous adversary to admiring and supportive team player.

Even the recurring roles and guest stars are very well-cast, avoiding the “sweeps week” false notes that many other shows employ (where the guest actor is a big name draw but hopelessly mismatched with the pulse of the show). Barry Corbin is perfect as Brenda’s father, as is the electric Mary McDonnell’s recurring role as Captain Raydor, the Internal Affairs officer who is Johnson’s nemesis and intellectual equal.

But I have to admit I have favorites – three guys I’d watch every day and twice on Sundays.

Anthony John Denison and G.W. Bailey as Lieutenants Flynn and Provenza are the show’s comic relief; a wonderfully funny tandem act but far from buffoons. Bailey hasn’t had a role this good since Rizzo on M*A*S*H, and he plays the cantankerous vet with a heart of gold to perfection. And I’ve been a Denison fan since I first saw his magnetic turn as criminal Ray Luca on Crime Story; he also wowed me as the pensive and flawed John Henry Raglin on Wiseguy, filling in for an ailing Ken Wahl in a story arc featuring Stanley Tucci, Ron Silver and Jerry Lewis. (Needless to say, you must grab both those shows on DVD!)

And when you have J.K. Simmons in your cast, you raise the whole project one notch. Looks like this season his prior relationship with Sedgwick’s character will come back into focus as he jockeys for political position. Which will only give us more opportunities to enjoy watching him juggle frustration, respect, authority and anger as the conflicted and righteous Chief Pope. In recent years he’s received kudos for his work in Juno and Spiderman, and his turn as the fired employee in Up In The Air was the best thing in that movie. Hard to believe he once gave me chills as the racist homophobe prisoner Vern Schillinger on Oz.

Summer television is no longer a wasteland. Tune in tonight.

Season Six episode guide courtesy TV.COM

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And today we celebrate the birthday of a few very funny gentlemen…Bill Cosby, Milton Berle, Jay Thomas and hell,  even Curly Joe DeRita! Also my crush from the 70s, Christine McVie.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten for Adrian Monk

Bye, Monk...and thanks.

After eight seasons, we bid farewell to Adrian Monk, the obsessive compulsive detective created by Andy Breckman and brilliantly portrayed by Tony Shaloub. Clever plots, great writing, humor and pathos and a strong ensemble cast (especially the great Ted Levine as his captain). The San Francisco locales and wonderful Randy Newman theme were a plus to a show that always entertained and managed the rare feat of going out on top.

I’m sure all those reruns will be welcome channel-surfing accidents many times in the future, though a quality show like this certainly merits a buy. It made me recall a few other television sleuths and cops that I enjoyed for so long that now only live on in reruns and DVDs as well.

TV will always churn out a good cop show, and I’m enjoying a few of them this year. Many of them feature strong ensemble casts with many good characters, as do some of the old favorites below. (Really, was there anyone on Homicide or The Shield that wasn’t great?) But today’s ten-spot pays tribute to Monk and these nine other favorites that I used to set the recorder for, great characters no longer on active duty…

Fox Mulder, The X-Files…unfortunately the series choked on its own logic loopholes, but that was must-watch TV for years and I will still stay up to watch a random rerun.

Frank Pembleton, HomicideAndre Braugher‘s cerebral cop suffered a crisis or conscience as well as a physical disability. No slight to several of the other detectives in that room on one of the best shows television ever aired.

Lenny Briscoe, Law and Order…the quintessential NYC cop on the original version of the franchise. The late great Jerry Orbach was a giant.

Andy Sipowicz, NYPD Blue…originally a second banana to David Caruso‘s John Kelly (and Caruso was good on this show), he became the heart and soul of the program. Dennis Franz was every real life cop’s favorite fictional one.

Mike Torello, Crime StoryDennis Farina was a cop in real life, and although this glossy show only lasted two seasons it boasted an amazing cast and an exciting storyline. Tons of guest stars and ensemble players including a very credible turn from Andrew Dice Clay.

John LaRue, Hill Street BluesKiel Martin’s character always had some get-rich-quick scheme going and often fell prey to his weaknesses, but redemption is always a good theme in a police drama and he nailed it… twice.

Arthur Dietrich, Barney Miller…sure, the show was primarily a comedy and Steve Landesberg did more riffing of one liners than actual detective work. But anyone whose dry wit and droll delivery is that perfect is OK by me.

Vinnie Terranova, Wiseguy…Undercover cop, mobster, record label mogul, gun runner; didn’t matter. Ken Wahl brought a strong series to life and was blessed by breakout performances by guest villains Ray Sharkey and Kevin Spacey, among others.

Holland Wagenbach, The Shield…in a precinct full of corrupt cops (most of whom you rooted for), The Dutchman was often the butt of the joke and the target of abuse. But he was the moral center of the unit and a brilliant detective, and once he started to assert himself the character arc got that much more fascinating. Great work by Jay Karnes.

Two reasons I watch The Closer.

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