Disappointment – Rizzoli & Isles

As an incentive to keep myself from giving up on my dissertation today I promised myself that if I wrote 1000 dissertation words, I’d reward myself by writing a review of TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles.  All the books say never to reward yourself by taking a day off writing, they don’t say anything about rewarding yourself by more writing.  Yes, it does sound a little sick when I say it out loud.

As a fan of Tess Gerritsen’s books, when I learned TNT was giving Gerritsen’s central characters a show of their own, I was excited, and set my dvr accordingly. Then, I set about waiting to see who had been cast in the titular roles.  Don’t ask, it never really occurs to me that I could, you know, use the internet to find out stuff like that in advance.  It was obvious from the first commercials I saw that whatever TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles was going to be, it wasn’t going to be too much like the books.  For about 7 books I’d imagined Rizzoli, as she is described, with a mop of unruly dark curls, and as good looking, but in a unconventional way;  Dr. Isles was, as she is often described, the queen of the dead, a little goth, with red lipstick and straight black hair cut in a bob with straight bangs – which is, as it turns out, how Ms. Gerritsen looks (well, not exactly goth, but you get the idea).  While there was never any doubt in my mind these women would be beautiful in their own ways, um … Angie Harmon and Sasha Anderson were not exactly the faces that lept into my mind as I read these books.

To paraphrase Mr. Gump, casting is as casting does.  It was silly to have any hopes that these women might be cast differently.  This is a review of the show not the books, so this is the last comparison I will make between the two.  One of the most compelling aspects of these characters as written are their insecurities, and Jane Rizzoli’s insecurities are tied to her place in a male profession, and what she sees as her inability to meet feminine standards of beauty; it is impossible to make those insecurities play when the woman playing Rizzoli is Angie Harmon.

Like I said, although I’d initially hoped for something a little different, this review isn’t about comparing the television show to the books.  The characters, stories, and tone of each is distinct enough that a real comparison is impossible.  The books are detective fiction, pure and simple.  The television show walks the genre lines between serious police procedural and comedy.  It is almost as if the producers really wanted an hour long comedy, and knew stretching a sit com that long would grow tedious, so they decided to incorporate a police procedural to bump up the story.  I’ve never seen an episode, so I could be wrong, but Rizzoli & Isles makes me think it is like a female Nash Bridges.

It might surprise you, but the light nature of the show is not really what bothers me.  A lot of police procedurals err in the opposite way, taking themselves too seriously. What bothers me about Rizzoli & Isles is that the light tone is achieved at the expense of the title characters. At every turn the show undermines the power of two strong women working together, and becoming friends by making every second conversation between the two about getting, or having, a relationship, every third conversation about the case – as if their jobs are an afterthought, and the remaining conversations about clothes and shoes.  There has to be some sort of heterosexual romance for at least one of the women in nearly every episode because the writers are working overtime to ensure that it is clear Rizzoli & Isles are not lesbians.  (Well, except for those episodes where they pretend to be lesbians – you know, for laughs.)  As a viewer it is impossible to take either Rizzoli or Isles seriously because at every turn we are reminded that Rizzoli can’t get a man because she is not feminine enough, and that despite looking like a fashion plate Isles can’t function socially because she is just too smart.

I keep watching, hoping, for that moment when instead of going for the obvious – undermining women stereotype or joke, the writers will surprise me.

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