After braving the mind-numbing stupidity of NBC’s ‘Whitney‘, I’m back again to check out another seemingly mediocre TV series that somehow remains on the air. Taking a break from sitcoms, this time I’ll look at the popular (enough) TNT drama ‘Rizzoli & Isles’. Once again, I’ll ask some pretty hard-hitting questions.
What Is It?
‘Rizzoli & Isles’ is a procedural detective show that airs on TNT. Based on novels written by Tess Gerritsen, the story follows the lives of Detective Jane Rizzoli (played by Sasha Alexander) and Dr. Maura Isles (played by Angie Harmon). Wait a sec. Strike that. Reverse it. Harmon is Rizzoli and Alexander is Isles… I think. A rag-tag group of supporting players, including Lorraine Bracco as Rizzoli’s mom, Bruce McGill as Detective Vince Korsak, and Lee Thompson Young as Detective Barry Frost, round out the cast. Hold on, Lee Thompson Young? The Famous Jett Jackson is in this?! Awesome.
Anyway, the episode I watched, titled ‘Throwing Down the Gauntlet’, is from the series’ recent third season and focuses on the murder of a young woman (shocking, I know). Isles and Rizzoli (Isles deserves first billing every now and then too!) jump on the case, while a subplot involving Rizzoli meeting her biological mother develops. Damn it! I mean a subplot involving Isles’ biological mother. Note to self: Rizzoli = Dark hair, Isles = Blonde hair. Basically, it’s a classic tale of rape, murder and mommy issues. Also, a nun from Rizzoli’s Catholic school shows up and hangs around the police station for some reason. To be honest, I don’t really remember why, but I prefer to think that there’s no actual reason. Somehow, it makes more sense that way.
Is It Really That Bad?
Yes and no. On the one hand, Harmon and Alexander have nice chemistry and bounce off each other fairly well. In fact, some might even say too well. The episode I watched had a few throwaway comments from some guy who wished that Rizzoli would switch “teams.” Since I’d never seen the show before, I actually took these comments at face value and assumed that Rizzoli and Isles are dating. After all, they appear to live together, and there’s undeniable sexual tension. To my disappointment, however, it turns out that the characters aren’t actually lesbians… yet. Still, I recommend watching the show under this false assumption. It makes their interactions much more interesting.
Despite the dreary subject matter, the series has a pretty light tone (at least in this episode), and some faintly amusing moments of awkward humor (though you’d think they’d take the rape and murder stuff a bit more seriously). Unfortunately, the show is nowhere near as witty as it thinks it is. Many attempts at comedy are uninspired, such as when Jett Jackson faints during an autopsy. The quick banter between characters attempts to mimic the verbal sparring found on shows like ‘House’, but the writing just isn’t up to par.
Of course, the real problem with ‘Rizzoli & Isles’ is the simple fact that it’s yet another mediocre procedural in a sea of mediocre procedurals. Nothing about the premise sets it apart, and the characters aren’t interesting enough to invest in. The standard detective show formula is in full swing here, with no deviations. The episode starts off with a crime (dimly lit so the killer is masked in shadow), and from there we systematically go through the motions. We get standard interrogation scenes complete with quirky witnesses who desperately try to make an impression during their brief screen time, and a hand-holding musical score that reminds the audience when to laugh or cry. Then comes the inevitable climax where the killer is revealed and swiftly brought to justice. (It’s not the guy they think at first; it’s that other guy who happens to stand next to him a lot.) It’s just predictable, disposable, episodic TV through and through.
Why Is It Still on TV?
Despite my personal aversion to the genre, most audiences seem to enjoy procedurals like this, and they’re pretty inexpensive to produce. The episodic nature of the show makes it easy to follow on a week-to-week basis without having to invest in complicated, serialized storylines, and the characters have just enough personality to offer some entertainment value. Also, it’s extremely easy for new viewers to jump onboard. I’d never seen the show before, but could follow its “intricate” web of characters just fine. For a cable series, it attracts a respectable audience (the Season Three premiere pulled in a 1.2 in the 18-49 demo), and it’s already been renewed for a fourth season.
Should You Bother Watching It?
Probably not. To be honest, the show isn’t terrible and never outright offended me with its mediocrity, but I still have absolutely no desire to ever see it again. Even the lesbian subtext (it’s there, damn it!) and Jett Jackson aren’t enough to pull me back for another episode.
Verdict: For Procedural Junkies Only.