Are you disappointed in a TV series you’re watching? I don’t mean a show you knew was utter tripe from Day One, or something you watch behind closed doors because you’re embarrassed to be found out. I’m talking about a series with real potential that just hasn’t bloomed the way it should have. I’m talking “Rizzoli & Isles.”
I’m a huge fan of author Tess Gerritsen’s novels featuring Boston Homicide Detective Jane Rizzoli and Medical Examiner Maura Isles. I devoured the entire R&I series in sequence one summer when I was
unemployed between projects. At that time there were eight books with “Ice Cold,” an excellent suspense novel, as the most recent. So when TNT announced that a series was in the offing, I couldn’t wait to see that caliber of mystery on the tube.
The reality, of course, proved to be somewhat different. TNT isn’t CBS, let alone HBO, so production values weren’t the greatest. More than that, what we saw on the screen bore little resemblance to the literary versions of Jane and Maura. When we first meet Tess Gerritsen’s Detective Rizzoli, she’s really a supporting character, though she ends up saving the life of her partner’s love interest at some cost to her own psychological and physical well-being. If memory serves, Maura Isles doesn’t show up until the third novel in the series, and at first, these two have only a work relationship. Several books later, while their mutual regard is quite high and they’re friends of a sort, they’re not exactly the type to sit down over a beer, unlike their TV counterparts. Their personal lives have diverged during the course of the series—Jane marries and has a daughter, Maura is divorced. As written by Gerritsen, Dr. Isles is by far the more interesting character due to her family history, her work (not surprisingly, since Gerritsen is a physician by trade) and the intriguing people we see in her life: that rat of an ex-husband; her lover, a Catholic priest; the teen-age boy who becomes her ward; and most of all, her mysterious millionaire friend, whose motives are still somewhat ambiguous, even after several books.
While I appreciate that the TV show and the books are two separate worlds, I’m not exactly thrilled with some of the choices made by the show runners. The leads are basically cartoon versions of the literary characters—Jane as blue-collar tomboy, Maura as brainy but socially challenged fashion plate—and their respective families soak up entirely too much air time. But what I find irritating are the usually ridiculous whodunits, generally solvable by three year-olds or beyond implausible; as a result, it’s not surprising that the suspense level frequently suffers from low blood pressure. It seems the producers are finally getting some heat about this, because the last two episodes have perked up a bit, the most recent heavily borrowing from characters originally created by Gerritsen (Hoyt and the psychiatrist).
I prefer it when an author’s intentions are better realized, which is why the British show “Wire in the Blood,” based on Val McDermid’s novels featuring psychologist Tony Hill, is among my all-time favorites. Robson Green (be still my heart!) was the power behind that show, and he and the creative team did a wonderful job maintaining the tone established by McDermid. Not to mention the fact that Green, who played Hill, and Hermione Norris, as DCI Carol Jordan, had superlative chemistry. While “Wire in the Blood” came down a notch when Norris left the show after three seasons, the quality remained.
Speaking of chemistry, I see Angie Harmon’s knickers are yet again in a twist over fans thinking that Jane and Maura are gay and/or they should get it on already. Frankly, I think she ought to chill out. Between Jane and Maura’s sleepovers, the flirting, the clothes swapping, the constant togetherness and the fact that their dates invariably turn out to be serial killers or plain old duds, how can she be surprised? The tease between leading characters, especially in detective stories, has been around forever, and it was a smart move on the producer’s part to play it up, given the lag on the mystery score. Why complain that a Nick and Nora Charles routine has resulted in a hit show, especially since Sasha Alexander, your co-star, effortlessly makes you look so good in the part? It sure beats serving time as yet another A.D.A. on “Law & Order.”
The end result is that “Rizzoli & Isles” is still viewable, especially as a summer show when your brain is rarely engaged anyway. But if you’d like to see what this series could have been, pick up any one of Tess Gerritsen’s novels (“The Mephisto Club” and “Ice Cold” are my favorites) and have a great read. Enjoy!
Note: I began this post the day before Lee Thompson Young, who played Detective Barry Frost on the show, committed suicide. By all accounts he was a sweet guy, and he’ll be missed. May he rest in peace.