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Holiday punch: TNT's The Closer re-opens for a Christmas special

Meet the parents: The Closer does Christmas, murders included.

The most-watched series in basic cable history celebrates the Christmas season Monday night by mixing a double homicide with a missing Perry Como CD.

That's the way The Closer rolls in a new two-hour special (7 p.m. central) saved for the holidays by TNT.

It's no small event in the cable firmament. The Sept. 10th "summer season finale" of The Closer drew 9.2 million viewers in breaking its old ratings record. Monday's Christmas show will be the last new episode of the series until next summer, when Season 4 is due.

Subtitled "Next of Kin," Closer begins at home, with Deputy police chief Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) none-too-happily helping to trim a Christmas tree with live-in boyfriend/FBI agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney). Making their place more Christmas-y is supposed to increase its sales appeal, but Johnson grouses, "I do not like it when I'm ordered to be festive."

"Just hand me the damn angel," Howard retorts before topping the tree.

A bank robbery and attendant double homicide soon intercede, complete with blood-spattered candy cane decorations at the crime scene. But the episode also is spiked with a fair amount of comedy as Johnson and Howard trail a suspect to her hometown of Atlanta.

Her parents, gruff Clay (Barry Corbin) and the very Christmas-y Willie Ray (Frances Sternhagen), had hoped that their prodigal daughter really wanted to spend an unfettered holiday with them. But that's not in the cards, and all concerned wind up in the elder Johnsons' big-as-a-house RV for a hasty trip back to L.A. with fugitive in tow. Someone's hidden Clay's beloved Como disc, though, and he understandably can't get into Christmas without it.

The episode loses some of its muscle tone in time. There's really no need to go on for as long as it does. Sedgwick's always a joy, though, even as a Grinch. And Corbin shines as brightly as his newly shaved pate. The Lamesa,Texas native and former Northern Exposure regular also has a key scene down the homestretch of the Coen brothers' acclaimed No Country for Old Men. It's good to see him gainfully employed again in worthy roles.

The Closer ends up spooning a little Christmas sap, but just a little. For the most part it's an unconventional holiday outing, complete with closing shootout. Enjoy.

Grade: B+