Rizzoli & Isles: Gerritsen’s Gals Come to Life on TNT

Ever since Cagney & Lacey went off the air, I haven’t been able to find a female detective series that I could get behind, until now.  TNT’s newest drama Rizzoli & Isles is based on a series of novels by Tess Gerritsen. Tess is a doctor who began her writing career with romantic suspense novels then moved on to medical mysteries. Though I was a fan of her work, I never picked up her Rizzoli & Isles books because I’m not a fan of female buddy stories. About six months ago, though, I picked up The Apprentice at a used book store and I was intrigued but I found the story a little far-fetched.

Fast forward to this week. I pop in the pilot screener and within a few minutes I’m thinking, wow, this sounds very familiar.  Here was the book, come to life and this time I found it to be much more satisfying.

Law & Order’s Angie Harmon stars as Detective Jane Rizzoli. She’s a woman with family and relationship issues but she’s not dysfunctional despite having been victimized by a serial killer in an earlier book. As a viewer, I found this a little distracting. I felt like I’d missed an episode of the show and since I also skipped that book, I was really twisted around.  Harmon is not an actress I gravitate toward but she suits the role perfectly. I believe her as a cop and I believe her as the beleaguered daughter of parents who can’t let go.

The real joy of the show is Sasha Alexander as medical examiner Maura Isles. I was a fan of Sasha’s on NCIS and I missed her greatly when she left the show.  What’s funny to me is that here she’s tossed off the tough, tomboyish cop in favor of a well balanced, very feminine character who is too brilliant for her own good. Maura knows everything about everything and she’s not afraid to speak up about it, but she’s a fashionable nerd, which is so refreshing.

The pilot episode revolves around a series of murders that mimic a case from Rizzoli’s past.  The original killer is played by Michael Massee and he is delightfully creepy. Unlike many other female leads, Rizzoli is actually afraid when she realizes that she’s a target – again.  It may sound silly to be excited about a fearful lead character, but there’s nothing I hate more than a female lead who is so tough she’s laughs in the face of danger. That’s not realistic. She may be a cop, and she keeps it together well, but she’s still a human being and she’s barely recovered from a traumatic experience and now she has to face this killer again. Well played Angie, well played.

There are a few missteps in the pilot, a couple of spots where things don’t quite figure. I think much of that may come from the fact that this 40 minute episode came from a full length novel. I wish they had gone with a two-hour opener so they could do the book justice. The upside of the hour is that it moves quickly and you get a lot of characterization and action packed into that time.

If you’ve never read Tess Gerritsen, watch the show then go pick up the book, you’ll enjoy it. If you have read Tess, I think you’ll be pleased by the casting and the style of the show. And let’s face it, even though Rizzoli and Isles aren’t technically partners, they’re going to be compared to Cagney and Lacey. After the pilot, I’d say the show doesn’t have the impact of its predecessor, but it’s definitely worth marking “series record” on my DVR.

Photos: Eric Ogden/TNT

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