I’ve only ever been an occasional watcher of The Closer, but I thought the presentation of its spin-off, Major Crimes, did something very smart today: TNT said the show would, in part, be about how California’s fiscal crisis has affected its criminal justice system.
“We’re about to release 30,000 prisoners in the state of California because we can’t house them in a humane way,” said Executive Producer James Duff. “Last year in pursuit of the death penalty, the state of California spent $172 million.”
This, of course, is true—Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget is projected to bring the state’s deficit down to $9.2 billion, which is not small potatoes, and leaves the state with a long way to go. And that fiscal crunch and prison overcrowding are a tremendous problem that has a real impact on how people carry out their duties, whether it’s prison guards using different tactics on maintain control on unit, or the situations in which prosecutors are willing to cut deals and how they think about probation versus jail time. It’s intelligent to have a show acknowledge that, and to draw its drama from the ongoing structural problems of the state. It’s not exactly Tony Kushner’s East Coast Ode to Howard Jarvis, which is about the reasons California is broke and the tax-dodging mentality that crops up like an infectious disease. But it’s still a decision that reflects a sense of both time and place, that actually makes use of the fact that the show is happening in California instead of just being there because it’s easy.