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'The Closer,' 'Rizzoli & Isles' are Yin and Yang of cable TV cop dramas

They are two of the most popular dramas on cable television, aired on the same channel, lined up in the same, two-hour block on Monday nights.

But TNT's The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles couldn't be more different to this critic — like the distinction between a block of fine, port wine cheese and a slice of processed dairy product.

Which leads to an interesting question: How did two series with such varying levels of quality wind up with similar success, like the Yin and Yang of cable TV cop dramas?

The Closer returns at 9 tonight to start the beginning of its end, unspooling the last of its episodes before star Kyra Sedgwick rides into the sunset, tired of balancing her star turn in the Los Angeles-based series and her family life in New York with uber-connected actor and husband Kevin Bacon.

The episode kicks off with a disguised preview of the series expected to take The Closer's place, as Mary McDonnell's Capt. Sharon Raydor takes center stage. Raydor is auditing murder investigations by Sedgwick's Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson as the Los Angeles Police Department faces a potential $50 million lawsuit based on Johnson's handling of past cases.

McDonnell's character will lead the new series, to be called Major Crimes, presumably taking over the department previously led by Johnson. Tonight's episode finds a by-the-book Raydor walking through the opening stages of a murder investigation with a zeal for rule-following sure to become a hallmark of the new series, and annoying detectives who have grown used to Johnson's creative rule bending.

I've said before that Sedgwick's Johnson is one of the most nuanced characters on television; a capable crime solver who avoids most of the clichés about female officers on TV. No leather jackets, violence issues or guy-like manner, unlike just about every other lady cop on TV.

As it becomes more obvious that someone in her department is leaking sensitive information to the attorney suing her, Johnson must consider if two of the most important men in her life may have been lying to her.

Contrast that with Rizzoli & Isles, a cop show balanced on the backs of two serious stereotypes. Brassy Angie Harmon is Jane Rizzoli, your typical Lady TV Cop; prone to violence, aggressive, tomboyish by attitude but a knockout beauty in appearance. Her pal and medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles, played by Sasha Alexander, is another knockout given to social awkwardness, blurting out anatomical information and definitions to words in regular conversation.

It's a loose recreation of the same dynamic fueling Fox's cop show Bones — science nerd solves crimes with street-smart cop — but the bond between the lead characters on TNT's show isn't sexual attraction; it's sisterhood.

It's also a combination so transparent it's almost insulting, making two super-attractive female characters just dysfunctional enough that they might seem accessible to guy viewers and relatable to women.

Tonight's episode, airing at 10 p.m., features Fox News Channel bloviator Bill O'Reilly playing himself, heading to Boston to sign books and "cover" the murder of a community activist by a drug dealer. A key witness in the trial gets killed, leaving the two stars to figure out who lured the guy from his hotel room.

The mystery's answer is unpredictable only because it is so outlandish, coming to Isles after she spots the signature tire tread on a car she had seen before. Really.

Both shows rely on a familiar family of characters to usher viewers through complex mysteries. But while The Closer seems to break many TV conventions and mediocre habits, Rizzoli & Isles wallows in them right down to the way no one in this Boston-set TV series seems to have a Boston accent.

The Closer does a bit better in the ratings, drawing an average 8.1 million viewers for the first half of its last season starting in July, compared to 6.3 million viewers for Rizzoli & Isles in the same period.

Here's hoping Major Crimes keeps pushing creative boundaries in a way that surpasses its more mediocre sister series. Because the last thing TV needs is another collection of cop-based stereotypes masquerading as a TV series.

The Exes debuts at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, TV Land: The laugh track is loud, every female character is sexy, and the premise makes no sense at all. Welcome to TV Land's newest regurgitation of an old school, multicamera sitcom sure to make you feel like the 1990s never went away. Kristen Johnson (3rd Rock From the Sun) rents an apartment to divorced, dysfunctional guys Donald Faison (Scrubs) and Wayne Knight (Seinfeld). When she asks them to take on newly divorced David Alan Basche (The Starter Wife), hijinks centered on commitment issues ensue. Bet you could write half the jokes yourself right now. Ti-NO.

Scott Turow's Innocent debuts at 9 p.m. Tuesday, TNT: Creating a showcase for original made-for-TV mystery movies is a wonderful idea. But the TNT Mystery Movie Night series stumbles with this update to the 1990 Harrison Ford film Presumed Innocent. Bill Pullman plays Rozat "Rusty" Sabich, the prosecutor accused of murdering his mistress in the 1990 film. Pullman has none of Ford's wounded charm, so when his wife turns up dead and viewers learn Sabich had been having an affair, the guy mostly looks like a whiny weasel. Figuring why Sabich, now a chief appellate judge, would have an affair when his mentally unstable wife killed his last mistress, will only hurt your brain more. Ti-NO.

'The Closer,' 'Rizzoli & Isles' are Yin and Yang of cable TV cop dramas 11/27/11 [Last modified: Sunday, November 27, 2011 5:49pm]

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