Dark Holiday Fare

Photo: Courtesy of TNT

Although nothing in the entertainment world will ever compensate for a lost Thanksgiving weekend during which my granddaughter, visiting from Berkeley, California, didn’t get to see Mamma Mia! because of the Broadway stagehands’ strike, at least TNT tries. The Closer: Next of Kin, a two-hour out-of-season television special of the cable-TV cop show, is a surprise Christmas-stocking stuffer—all the more welcome since we’ve done nothing to deserve it. Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), deputy chief of priority homicide at the LAPD, is predictably ambivalent about selling her bungalow so that she and her long-suffering FBI boyfriend (Jon Tenney) can move into a bigger place of their own. She thus lets herself be so distracted by an armored-car robbery with two dead guards that she will end up spending the Yuletide holidays in an RV on the road from Atlanta to L.A., in the company of a fugitive for whom she doesn’t have a warrant.

Of course, the FBI is along for the ride. And so are Brenda’s next of kin: Her father (Barry Corbin) owns the RV. Her mother (Frances Sternhagen) drives it. Even the fugitive has kinship issues—a father who deserted him, a mother who was an addict, a younger brother who might have been murdered. And this is not to inquire too closely into what happened to a controversial CD of Perry Como singing Christmas carols. As in every other holiday television special, we are asked to celebrate, rather than to think about, the ties that bind. Slapstick and tears are both resorted to, equal proofs of sincerity. As usual, Kyra Sedgwick … well, in the past I’ve compared her Brenda to Helen Mirren’s prime suspect, Tennessee Williams’s streetcar, Flannery O’Connor’s peacocks, and Italo Svevo’s Zeno (sugar, not nicotine). But what Kyra can always be counted on to do is delight. So why not just say she sedgwicks?

And yet Next of Kin is surprisingly dark beneath its froth. Among other deceptions, Brenda orders the staging of a violent crime scene, complete with fake photos. She lies her way through these two hours, not only to her boss (about what she’s really up to) and to the fugitive (from whom she requires a confession) but also to Sternhagen, her mother, whose decency and rectitude are as palpable as they are transparent. “I am a professional liar,” Brenda tells her appalled mother, while the body count mounts. And as ambivalent as Brenda feels about selling her bungalow, so do we as to whether to buy her behavior—at least those of us brought up to believe that the ends don’t automatically justify any means; that evil means will corrupt even noble ends; that it’s a slippery slope to waterboarding.

Darker, too, than its Hollywood inspiration—although not the L. Frank Baum original—is the six-hour mini-series Tin Man, an absorbing variation on The Wizard of Oz, with a winsome Zooey Deschanel as DG in place of Judy Garland’s Dorothy. From Kansas, as usual (if we ignore the fact that her putative parents are really robots), this DG is precipitated by tornado into the Outer Zone, where magic and storytelling are at risk from the antics of the power-mad sorceress Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson) and her Waffen SS leather boys, metalheads, and monkey bats. DG, to find her true queenly mother and a holy grail known hereabouts as the Emerald of the Eclipse, follows a yellow-brick road from Milltown and Papay Fields to Central City and Iron Maiden to Prison Island and Scorched Forest, in the ragamuffin company of a heartbroken tin-man cop named Cain (Neal McDonough), a scarecrow named Glitch (Alan Cumming), a leonine scaredy-cat named Raw (Raoul Trujillo), and a wizard much the worse for wear and water pipes (Richard Dreyfuss).

Steven Long Mitchell and Craig Van Sickle, who brought us such series as The Pretender and Medical Investigation, are the unlikely co-writers and executive producers of Tin Man, in which the usual epic journey to find oneself winds up with a brand-new meaning for “twisted sister.” And never mind the Nazi “long-coats”: “Nothing can hurt us when we hold hands.”

Dark Holiday Fare