In reviews of the new TNT police drama The Closer (Mondays, 9 p.m. ET), much has been made of the main character's obsessive relationship to food. LAPD police detective Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), known as "the closer" because of her vaunted ability to extract confessions from suspects, spent much of last night's premiere episode gulping yogurt, sucking on mints, and snacking secretly on bags of candy. After wrapping up the wildly improbable and lurid murder case of the week (one that Gil Grissom and his team would have solved a good 20 minutes earlier), Brenda, alone in her hotel room, sensuously consumed a foil-wrapped Ring Ding as the show's credits rolled.
The Times' Alessandra Stanley speculates that Brenda's sweet tooth might be there to "add some humor" to this otherwise grim new procedural drama. Maybe, but there's an edge of dramatic tension to the way food is treated in The Closer. A scene midway through the pilot, in which Brenda spots a box of doughnuts on a fellow cop's desk, is typical; though the case-related banter continues in the background, the focus of the scene shifts to the doughnuts. The camera lingers on the pastries as Brenda considers taking one, changes her mind, then finally grabs one and carries it back to her office, only to abandon it, uneaten, on her desk. This is exactly the way liquor is filmed in TV shows focusing on a character's alcoholism; for example, in The OC's recent storyline about Kirsten Cohen's (Kelly Rowan) drinking, whole conversations were subordinated to shots of the cranberry-and-vodka cocktails she sneaked under her husband's nose.
Entertainment Weekly's Gillian Flynn sees Brenda's face-stuffing as a cute quirk provided by the writers in lieu of good character development. Flynn writes, "The I love burgers and I'm a reg'largirl! ethos jump-started by Cameron Diaz circa There's Something About Mary has now become shorthand for 'she's down to earth.' Have a woman jam a large lamb shank down her maw, and she's just swell." Though I wholeheartedly agree with Flynn's analysis of Cameron Diaz's annoying persona, I disagree with her comparison of the Diaz-style maw-jam to Brenda's oral fixation in The Closer. Brenda's doughnut jones doesn't seem to signify a one-of-the-boys sportiness as much as it does a specifically feminine neurosis. Does she have an eating disorder? Will junk-food addiction become an ongoing plot thread in The Closer, the way Kirsten's alcoholism is on The OC? Or will Brenda's snacking on sugary treats remain a gimmick, a gumshoe trademark on the order of Kojak's lollipops or Columbo's rumpled coat?
The press coverage of Brenda's eating issues has also ignored one salient fact: Kyra Sedgwick has an absolutely slammin' body. At 39, she's reed-thin, with toned, ropy arms and the generous yet buoyant breasts of a teenager (amply on display in a tank top in one scene last night.) If the show continues to focus on Brenda Johnson's compulsive eating, it'll have to reconcile that story line with Sedgwick's slenderness. Is Brenda a bulimic? An exercise addict? (That trait would seem to conflict with the portrait of her as a workaholic, at the office till all hours.) Or is she just a metabolic phenomenon, able to maintain a constant state of skinny blond hotness through any caloric onslaught?
If The Closer wants to fulfill its ambition of creating a complex, layered female cop character (Kyra Sedgwick has cited Jane Tennison, Helen Mirren's sublimely realized chief inspector in the British series Prime Suspect, as one of her influences), the show could make a brave choice and write in Brenda's as-yet-unnamed eating disorder as a regular plot element—neither a cute eccentricity nor a pat psychological problem to be solved in one episode, but a chronic, humiliating and semi-secret struggle, as eating issues are for so many women in real life.
That, or Kyra Sedgwick could just get fat. Which is not outside the realm of possibility; as she told USA Today, since relocating from her hometown of New York to Los Angeles to star in The Closer, "I haven't even had time to exercise."