Television

The Women of 'Rizzoli & Isles' Are Complex, but the Cases Are Simple

If just some of the subtlety found in Rizzoli and Isles themselves could enter the crime-fighting in the show, TNT might find on its hands not only an audience favorite, but also a critical ground-breaker.


Rizzoli & Isles

Director: Greg Prange
Cast: Angie Harmon, Sasha Alexander, Bruce McGill, Lorraine Bracco, Idara Victor, Brain Goodman
Subtitle: Season Six Premiere
Network: TNT
Air date: 2015-06-18
Website
Amazon

Rizzoli & Isles closed its fifth season in 2014 as the leading scripted drama on basic cable, after appearing consistently in the top five since its premiere episode. The show has achieved this status slowly, after the first season justifiably drew critical brickbats for its weak scripts. Since then, the writing teams have sharpened the ensemble's repartee and sculpted the central characters, Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and medical examiner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander), into emotionally complex women.

Both are entering their 40s, oozing professional competence and confidence. The show's focus on the Rizzoli family-and-friends nexus (cajoled, shepherded, nurtured and, most of all, fed, by Lorraine Bracco as Jane’s mother Angela) has it exploring the usually unattached leads' experiences not as if they're waiting for heterosexual coupledom, but as these might be an emerging norm. (The US census indicates that in 2013, more than a quarter of all Americans lived alone). Yet, despite its improved writing and topicality, Rizzoli & Isles lacks a basic ingredient for a weekly crime show: a tantalizing or even interesting mystery as the core of every TV hour. It also lacks, even after 72 episodes, a firm identity: is it comic mystery fluff or a taut cop drama?

Even in the areas of its strength -- the give-and-take between strong-minded friends, the camaraderie of colleagues, and the bonds of a multi-generational family -- the show tends to probe lightly the critical issues it consistently raises. Season six’s premiere, for example, spirals around Jane’s rookie detective brother, Frankie (Jordan Bridges), stumbling into an officer-involved shooting. The plot plays straight down the line, including the cliché of the deceased’s missing gun and the grim determination of Internal Affairs to prove that Frankie discharged his gun illegally.

This happens as Frankie's interactions with his sister and others highlight the pain of taking another human being’s life. Frankie spins from defensive to tearful to horrified at his own capacity to kill when he feeling threatened in a crowded subway. He’s young enough to confess to his mother his fear of prison and vulnerable enough to cry in front of his older sister. But when he initiates a conversation about his new self-knowledge, the show too quickly wraps up with a soggy platitude, in this case delivered by the usually acerbic Jane: “That’s how we tell the good guys from the bad guys. The good guys always feel it when something bad happens.”

The season's second episode looks at another sort of angst. A jobless professor of poetry turned neophyte fisherman scores win after profitable win in high-stakes bass fishing competitions, while the skilled female partner who coaches him and ties his lures finds herself shunned by big-money advertisers and magazines. They can’t wait to endorse and publicize the poet-fisherman with five-figure checks, but the woman powering the wins can’t earn a penny or even much notice from them.

While this episode showcases an apparently ever-trending topic (a woman's travails in a male-dominated field), the women investigators' plots are rendered in the mundane manners. Databases and surveillance cameras provide clues. Maura, in the cleanest, shiniest medical examiners' lab on TV, extracts physiological esoterica to nudge the action forward. Rizzoli’s older partner, Vince Koslak (Bruce McGill), reminds her regularly that if the job were easy, anyone could do it. The guilty always confess at the mere whiff of an interrogation, as if the cases are simply a frame for an old-fashioned family drama with a 21st-century family of blood and choice at its heart. The second episode's side plot -- in which a besotted but charming bass fisherman pursues Jane for a date -- generates more tension than the central crime, with the bonus that Harmon can show off her gift for off-the-cuff physical comedy and snarky put-down in every single encounter.

Such deft exchanges generally provide Rizzoli & Isles' most effective action. During the final sequences of the premiere episode, the family members gather in Frankie’s new apartment after the resolution of the case. In a few delicately scripted and played interchanges, he gives each person a gift for standing by him -- only he is too overcome with emotion to actually finish a single sentence. Not only does the audience see in the choice of gifts his evolving thoughtfulness and maturity, but each individual's reaction shifts the dynamic of the group. Jane, for example, takes the framed baseball Frankie gives her with the cynical look every older sister has delivered to a younger brother at some time in their lives, only to burst into delighted laughter when she recognizes the prized signature on the ball. If just some of this subtlety could enter the crime-fighting in the show, TNT might find on its hands not only an audience favorite, but also a critical ground-breaker.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.