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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Check out lead character in ‘Closer’

Kevin McDonough United Feature Syndicate

She’s a tough-as-nails investigator with a CIA background. She’s a bit of a glamour-puss. And maybe she’s a little nuts.

She’s “The Closer” (9 p.m., TNT). Kyra Sedgwick stars in the title role as Deputy Police Chief Brenda Johnson, recently imported to the Los Angeles Police Department by Assistant Police Chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons), who may or may not be her former lover. Her presence results in immediate dissension and turmoil in the ranks.

Her colleagues resent her because she immediately pulls rank on them. But wait – there’s more.

In a roomful of doughnut-crazed gumshoes, she projects the frazzled demeanor of a ditzy college professor. Forever fumbling with her oversize pocketbook and running her hands nervously through her ringlets of hair, Brenda seems more like a driver trying to sweet-talk her way out of a speeding ticket than a lead investigator.

And there’s her accent. An Atlanta native, Brenda speaks in a Southern drawl sweeter than a Lazy Susan full of Waffle House pancake syrup.

So it’s all the more surprising when she cuts off her fellow officers with the brazen abruptness of a New York lawyer strung out on Starbucks coffee.

Brenda’s discordant personality traits make her a confusing co-worker, an interesting character and a feast for an actress as capable as Sedgwick. With so much quirky humanity invested in Brenda, it’s a shame that “The Closer” has to open with yet another gross-out shot of a moldy cadaver.

As pilot episodes go, “The Closer” operates at a slow and meandering pace. In a city as sprawling and dangerous as Los Angeles, Brenda’s squad has but one case to ponder.

The cadaver may have been the remains of the girlfriend of a fugitive software tycoon. Did the mogul’s faithful secretary, a religious zealot with a deeply repressed romantic nature, murder her?

The case has a few kinks that you won’t see coming, but after it is resolved – thanks to our heroine’s brilliant intuition, patient manner and beguiling approach to the lead suspect – Brenda retreats to her hotel room all alone.

In her solitude she consumes a chocolate with an intensity that speaks volumes about her hunger and longing for something more. Or is it merely exhaustion?

Proof that a three-dimensional female character can be “complicated” without being “Ally McBeal,” “Closer” deserves a closer look.

Ray Liotta narrates “Inside the Mafia” (9 p.m., National Geographic), a four-hour history of organized crime that concludes Tuesday. “Mafia” relies on often-repeated dramatic re-enactments and period footage to document well-covered terrain. Interviews include former gangsters, including Henry Hill, the mobster/informant portrayed by Liotta in “Goodfellas.”

Other highlights

Teens sharpen their No. 2 pencils on “The Scholar” (8 p.m., ABC).

Domestic bliss on “Everybody Loves Raymond” (9 p.m., CBS).

Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith and Frank the pug return in the 2002 sequel “Men in Black II” (9 p.m., ABC).

A guest (Jon Lovitz) wants to leave in the worst way on “Las Vegas” (9 p.m., NBC).

Amateurs train to sing “Rigoletto” on “Operatunity” a presentation of “Great Performances” (9 p.m., KSPS).

Cable news adds another voice to its ever-growing right-wing chorale as “The Situation with Tucker Carlson” (6 and 10 p.m., MSNBC) debuts.

Killing for custody on “CSI: Miami” (10 p.m., CBS).

Allison fears Joe may be straying on “Medium” (10 p.m., NBC, ).

“Class of … 2006: Stars on the Verge” (7 p.m., Biography) discusses the talents who will fill tomorrow’s gossip items.

Cult choice

Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy star as Salem witches conjured up by a bored teen in the 1993 misfire “Hocus Pocus” (8 p.m., Disney), a botched combination of broad comedy and terrifying special effects that appealed to neither children nor adults.

Series notes

On two helpings of “Still Standing” (8 p.m., CBS), intimacy issues (8 p.m.), and lens cap woes (8:30 p.m.) … Joe Rogan hosts “Fear Factor” (8 p.m., NBC) … Pint-sized terrors on “Nanny 911” (8 p.m., Fox) … New Year’s Eve on “One on One” (8 p.m., UPN) … Simon’s dormitory woes on “7th Heaven” (8 p.m., WB) … Substance abuse on “Cuts” (8:30 p.m., UPN).

Exit screaming on “Hell’s Kitchen” (9 p.m., Fox) … I’m with the band on “Girlfriends” (9 p.m., UPN) … Home from the waves on “Summerland” (9 p.m., WB) … Seismic shocks on “Two and a Half Men” (9:30 p.m., CBS) … Stacking the deck on “Half & Half” (9:30 p.m., UPN).

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