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In praise of crazy ladies and the men who love them

The Closer (2005-2012)

There’s a worthwhile article to be written about Brenda (Kyra Segwick), the protagonist of the sadly now-defunct The Closer.

Brenda, who went to her drawer for a Ding Dong every time she was stressed. Or anxious. Or jubilant. Brenda, who not only dared not to have children, but who went through menopause - complete with the hot flushes and a femininity crisis - at work. Brenda, with her butter-wouldn’t-melt southern-drawl, who tight-rope-walked the line of propriety every single episode.

Along with Alicia (Julianna Margulies) from The Good Wife, Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) from Big Love and Sarah (Mireille Enos) from The Killing, Brenda has been amongst my favourite female characters in recent years. Strong women, flawed women, screwy but ultimately thoroughly captivating women.

As fantastic a character as Brenda was - and undoubtedy a standout, irrespective of gender, in the genre - I’m less inclined to just write a piece praising her: a) I’m not really the tribute-piece kind of writer and b) TV has offered us dozens of such characters with equal parts smarts and neurosis:

And that’s just in the medical dramedy genre!

The thing that made Brenda more than just a neurotic career woman makin' her way in a “man’s world” was Fritz (Jon Tenney), her sometimes-suffering husband.

From episode 1 right through to 109, Fritz was Brenda’s man. In the pilot when they met for that first drink, Brenda established the pattern for their dyad: she was always going to be more keen to get her hands on his FBI files than on him. She loved him - she loved him for 7 seasons - but she wasn’t going to compromise herself for him.

And over that first drink, and enduring as a quiet theme for the duration of the series, was Fritz exuding the belief that Brenda - in all her career-driven, neurotic, murder-room-at-home, dogmatic sense of right and wrong madness - was worth it. Completely, without-a-shadow-of-a-doubt worth it.

Fritz wasn’t spineless, he wasn’t pussy-whipped, he wasn’t fucking his way around Los Angeles. He didn’t try to change her or fix her or crush her spirits or make her feel any less the detective dynamo that she was. He let her be crazy and he loved her.

For 109 episodes this struck a chord with me.

I tell a story in my contribution to a coming-soon anthology, about meeting my brother’s current partner for the first time. Prior to her, he was seeing a different woman who was pretty much batshit crazy. I write that as the highest of compliments, of course. I met the crazy woman and clicked with her instantly; we were kindreds in that highly-political, highly-sexed, highly-over-thinking way. She and my brother, of course, were never going to succeed.

And then I met the new partner. She was lovely - she remains lovely - and they are good together. The morning after I first met her however, my brother came to my place for a debrief - what did I think, isn’t she nice, yadda yadda - and I burst into tears.

Of course she was bloody nice! And the nice girl won him over and the crazy one evidently wasn’t a keeper.

And isn’t this what happens time and time again in life? On screen? The path of least resistance is picked over and over and over again.

The Closer was able to deviate from this script because of Fritz. Because he loved Brenda enough to make it seem possible that even the most batshit craziest of women can live happily ever after. Yeah, I’ll buy the boxset for that.

The Closer - season 7 screened in 2012

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40 Comments sorted by

  1. Kim Darcy

    Analyst

    Speaking of crazy TV ladies called Brenda, let's not forget the original - Rachel Griffiths' character - Brenda Chenowith - in "Six Feet Under". And the even crazier Toni Collete character - Tara Gregson - in "United States of Tara".

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    1. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to Lauren Rosewarne

      They both had men who loved them for that they were, too. Maybe this a whole new genre: "Ordinary Bloke Who Loves Batshit Crazy Lady" flick?

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    2. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to Lauren Rosewarne

      I don't want a "he said, she said, you started it, no you did", but wasn't Brenda a bit of a strayer? With her own brother!

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    3. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to Lauren Rosewarne

      Done. We're agreed! :) And to Meg below, if you want to see an example of Da Patriarchy's equal opportunity depiction of crazy people, check out Brenda's brother, Billy!

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  2. Fred Pribac

    logged in via email @internode.on.net

    Strong woman - yep. Quirky women - tick. Weird - no worries. Unshaved. unplucked and unprimped - cool. Creative, outspoken, five standard deviations form the cultural norm ... all excellent. Fine with everything up to the batshit crazy part.

    In my experience BSC folks are often the first folks to select "nice" partners.

    Perhaps there is a recognition that BSC x 2 carries a distinct possibility of spectacular emotional conflagration and self-destruction. Not to mention the collateral damage to family and friends and poodles.

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    1. Lauren Rosewarne

      Senior Lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      I'd agree that the batshit crazy bit becomes a problem with it's sabotaging the self or others, but it can't be ruled out as desirable completely - I haven't met a single person, man or woman, who doesn't have at least a little of it in them.

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    2. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Lauren Rosewarne

      I suspect it's just one of those undergraduate definition problems - first we aught to agree on the definition of batshit crazy!

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    3. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      I think it's a bit like 'racism', and a whole lot of other things, that really defy official definition, BUT 'you know it when you see it'.

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  3. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    I was beginning to worry about the author, and worry about women in general.

    Every other article written previously by the author has been about men, such as male authors, male actor or male producers etc.

    There could have been two reasons for this:
    A/ Women were not significant or interesting enough to write about.
    B/ The author wanted to be critical of men, and every article previously written about men does contain maligning and denigrating comments about men.

    But now, an article written about women that describes them as “Strong women, flawed women, screwy but ultimately thoroughly captivating women.”

    And it was about fictional characters, and all made up.

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Grendelus Malleolus

      Yes, I will admit I have known a few “bat shit crazy" types.

      But to be very frank about it, I have found the vast majority of Australian women to be highly self-important, and also highly boring, highly non-appreciative, and take far too much for granted.

      I attribute most of this to a feminist education system.

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    2. Grendelus Malleolus

      Senior Nerd

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      I was beginning to worry about the Dale.

      Every other comment written previously by the Dale has been about women, such as female authors, female actors or female producers etc.

      There could have been two reasons for this:
      A/ Men were not significant or interesting enough to write about.
      B/ Dale wanted to be critical of women, and every comment previously written about women does contain maligning and denigrating comments about women.

      But now, an comment about women that describes them as “Strong women, flawed women, screwy but ultimately thoroughly captivating women.”

      And you can only accept that if it is about fictional characters, and all made up.

      The reality is Dale that many women are just like the fictional characters described in the article above. That you have not met any suggests you need to date more feminists.

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  4. Stephen Ralph

    carer

    Spookily I have just finished watching The Closer on Gem.

    What can i add about Brenda - I have loved watching her for years. I have never seen ANYONE on the telly
    expose herself in the most intimate way as does the amazing K.S.
    And Fritz ! Yep stuck with his gal when she was SOOOOO infuriatingly Brenda......

    There are holes in some episodes you can drive a truck thru, but in the end who really cares.

    The last episode was a sad day, but at least we have re-runs.

    I know it's only the telly, and I know it's hardly reality, but SHE was something to look forward to each time.

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    1. Lauren Rosewarne

      Senior Lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      On the upside, Fritz and nearly the entire cast in fact (except KS) have taken their wares to "Major Crimes" which started screening in 2012. I haven't watched it yet, but I look forward to it. And a second series has been commissioned.

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  5. Stephen Ralph

    carer

    C'mon Dale you're having us on right?

    the vast majority of Australian women to be highly self-important, and also highly boring, highly non-appreciative, and take far too much for granted.

    thats highly speculative and highly improbable...........................perhaps the one or you've dated, but surely not about 5-6 million adult Australian women!

    Now you are an analyst, I think you need to take yourself in hand.

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      This is an interesting situation between reality and fiction. Characters on TV are of course fictional, but everyday I would have to “accommodate” some woman chucking some “hissy fit”.

      The modern woman probably has the least number of skills of any woman in history, but has become the most demanding, and rarely would anything suit, and she also seems to have immense difficulties reproducing.

      Nearly everything that surrounds the modern woman has been built, designed, installed or is being maintained by a man, but the modern woman has been trained to devalue, denigrate and deprecate men, and in that way she also devalues, denigrates and deprecates almost everything around her.

      So the reality of the situation is that the modern woman is now the least skilled, most demanding, most consumerist, whinging whining thing that appreciates the least amount of any woman in history.

      Perhaps she shouldn't be reproducing.

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    2. Grendelus Malleolus

      Senior Nerd

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      "but everyday I would have to “accommodate” some woman chucking some “hissy fit"

      But Dale? How can this be a problem? Surely "do unto others" applies here and on The Conversation we regularly accommodate you...

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    3. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Grendelus Malleolus

      The Conversation is run by taxpayer money that mostly comes from men.

      Men pay for most things in life, as well as earn most of the money.

      But I am interested why the author is "In praise of crazy ladies and the men who love them ", and not "In praise of crazy men and the women who love them"

      I think this means "Most modern women are actually crazy".

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  6. Stephen Ralph

    carer

    Hi Dale

    tell me you're kidding...please.

    Years ago I was working for the Vic govnt in promulgating throughout the Barwon-South Western region the then new Equal Employment & Sexual Harassment policies.

    We were in Hamilton and speaking to the area principals...all men.

    After our presentation I was talking to one of Hamilton's principals and he casually mentioned -
    "we all know that women are intellectually inferior to men"
    The rural areas around the city supported many one teacher…

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Well, suffice to say that women have to be constantly looking at picture, images and photos of other women, to help them figure out their own identity.

      This has to occur right throughout the life of the modern woman.

      But here is an early Australian made video (yes, there still is such a thing as Australian made), and it features Australian nymphs.

      It has recently been modernised, and it now features flashing pictures, images and photos of Kate Middleton, to provide something of interest for the modern woman.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DT3kLBCMxxE

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  7. Meg Thornton

    Dilletante

    Where I'd like to start in this one is by asking why it is you, as a writer, felt a woman who was depicted as stepping out of the "normal" pattern for a female life plan (career oriented, childfree by choice) automatically qualifies as being mentally ill? You refer to her several times in this piece as "crazy" - a long-time synonym for insane, or mentally ill. Is there any evidence (aside from some minor neuroses such as stress eating) for your armchair diagnosis? Your profile at the head of the…

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    1. Lauren Rosewarne

      Senior Lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Meg Thornton

      No part of me considers Brenda mentally ill in any formal diagnostic sense. I saw her as very similar in personality to me, hence my claim that she - and her relationship with Fritz - struck a chord with me. If she's crazy, then I'm crazy. I use "crazy" in the colloquial sense, of course.

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    2. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to Meg Thornton

      Meg, I'm a bit concerned you would privilege the 'diagnosis' of a medico over anybody else of a FICTIONAL TV character. Sheesh. Oh, and a heads-up on Da Patriarchy. I think you'll find Da Patriarchs are pretty much equal opportunity vilifiers. If you actually have watched any TV over the past 20 years or so, you'll have come across more than a few not-very-nice-or-sane male FICTIONAL characters. The female characters that have appeared on our screens over at least the past decade have been sensational, and shown ladies in all their wonderful diversity, and then some. And that includes what is also true in reality. Some ladies are not nice, not admirable, some ladies are very nice, some very bland, some very naughty, some batshit crazy, some....You dig?

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  8. Stephen Ralph

    carer

    Hi Meg

    In defence of Lauren I think you have over-reacted to her article.

    In the mostly homogeneous world in whch we live, we are served up mostly homogeneous fare on the telly.

    Every now and then it's refreshing to see a character who I guess could be described as idiosyncratic, crazy, flawed, looney, loopy etc etc.

    Brenda in The Closer is one, but also Monk, Columbo spring to mind immediately.

    Now it may seem silly to dissect these "people" who are fictitious, but nevertheless they become part of our
    world by virtue of being on teev and being famous.

    I don't personally know anyone like the above-mentioned, and I would probably be driven "crazy" by them if I did. But nevertheless I loved all of the above tv shows.

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  9. Stephen Ralph

    carer

    Hi Kim

    never heard that one......she was married and divorced prior to fritz and had a seemingly tense relationship with her parents. But incest...........who knew!

    Where did your info come from?

    again a touch weird to be talking about a fictional character.......but hey that's life

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    1. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen...It's been a while, maybe we've got our TV wires crossed. My post was about Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) from "Six Feet Under" who from memory had a batshit crazy brother, Billy, and their relationship.

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  10. Tracy Heiss

    logged in via Facebook

    I absolutely detested Barb from Big Love!! She was such a bloody over achiever, yet weak as piss at the same time. Nup! I agree with everything else ;). Oh...and for the record, Ruth from 6ft Under is my most hated character of all time, followed closely by Nate.

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    1. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to Tracy Heiss

      But I thought the depiction of the gay brother (who would become Dexter) and his relationship with the cop, was one of the more honest depictions of gay men ever seen on TV. Ordinary people, with all sorts of contradictory/weird/tedious stuff going on inside their heads/bedrooms/workplaces...

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  11. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    Now listen up Ms R... I hate to be bringing the ice cold water of truth to this public gushing of empathy - but see, a lot of the things you'll be seeing on TV aren't actually true. That's right Miss Lauren, folks just make them up ... out of thin air. It is just lying for money. Not even as truthy as Big Brother.

    Worse, rather than base these characters on their bipolar friends and dysfunctional families and other more or less real folks, these characters with whom you "identify" - who strike…

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    1. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, I don't know what reality is like Farmer-Land, but here in Sydney, my reality has/had characters like the 2 Brendas and Tara. And the TV-writer social dynamics that swirl around these TV characters never looked or felt alien to me in the least. You need to get out more and get your Batshit Crazy Freak on, man.

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    2. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Lauren Rosewarne

      Have a careful look at that poster for The Closer, Lauren... what's it saying? Does it look "real"? To me it looks quite absurd and rather strangely "authoritarian" ... yep I'd be voting for as nasty fall down the lift shaft.

      And the scripts - sorry "word arranging" - is torn straight from comic book --- each line is delivered like a burst from an Uzi. Blam, kapow, whack!

      Reality is totally oversold quite true - but I think we should be most selective in "liking" anything these entertainment manufacturers and engineers serve up. It is deeply manipulative this popular culture we buy into.

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  12. Stephen Ralph

    carer

    Oh Peter you spoilsport

    we all love to dream, to escape , to imagine.

    Of course none of it is real in La La Land.......................but surely you've read a book or watched a movie that has transcended your/our dreary lives and enjoyed the thrill of another possibility.

    To sleep, perchance to dream.

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      To dream?

      That hasn’t done much for the Australian woman.

      I have known the strong feminist type who were petrified of a kangaroo when they saw it in real life.

      While they may like to watch someone being blown away by a magnum in a movie, they were too afraid to step off concrete or carpet because they could be bitten by an ant.

      I have had them on boats, and they spent all the time cowering in the cabin.

      The more feminist they were, the more useless they were.

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    2. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Oh no Mr R ... give me imagination every time. Chekov was inventing characters far more "real" - human and flawed and all - than anything coming out of these mathematical mincing machines that manufacture our popular "culture".

      And yes I have no doubt that our Big Cities are chockers with folks who have adopted peronalities based on the morality and narcissistic characters plotted out by the marketers. Our popular culture can give us simple off-the-peg identities complete with lifestyles and ambitions.

      That's one of the best reasons for going bush. It's all starting to feel a bit like the Truman Show to me... too close for comfort.

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