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Friendship between Rizzoli and Isles makes the show

December 21, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
"Rizzoli and Isles" is a show I thought I'd probably like when it came out last year, since it's based on a mystery series I've read by Tess Gerritsen.

I wasn't willing to subscribe to cable just so I could watch it on TNT but I did buy the first season DVDs used online this fall and then streamed episodes from the second season on Amazon.

I discovered there's a lot to like in this TV police procedural that revolves around the friendship of the tough, casually dressed working class Italian-American Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander), a somewhat geeky though still fashion-conscious Boston Brahmin.

Most of the show's strengths lie in the chemistry between the two veteran actresses, both of whom were regulars on other popular long-running television procedurals: Harmon as an assistant DA on "Law and Order" and Alexander as an NCIS agent on "NCIS." Another strength is a strong supporting cast that includes Rizzoli's animal-loving veteran cop ex-partner Korsak and her squeamish new partner Frost, who throws up at the sight of dead bodies. Rizzoli's well-intentioned if smothering mother and her two younger brothers, one also a cop and the other an ex-con, round out the supporting cast of characters. The show is very loosely based on the novels, since I don't remember the characters in the books looking like models or being nearly as close friends as they are in the TV series, but I find the TV series more entertaining anyway.

The show is leavened with a lot of humorous moments, even when the plots are pretty dark. For instance, in one early episode, Rizzoli and Isles are running a marathon as representatives of a charitable organization with the acronym "PUKE" and a sniper starts taking out participants in the race. In another episode, Rizzoli's ex partner Vince Korsak is seen watching amateur dog videos on YouTube to take a break from a murder case.

The plot usually revolves around Rizzoli and her family, but I think Isles has the more interesting back story. She was adopted as an infant by wealthy, disinterested parents, was a child genius and was shipped off to boarding school at age 10.

In one first season episode she ran DNA on a murder victim, only to discover he was her biological half brother. When her biological father showed up at the morgue to identify the brother's body, he turned out to be a notorious hitman who had given up Maura to protect her and was still willing to kill any of his enemies who might try to get to her through him. Viewers of FOX's show "Bones" might see some similarities between Isles and "Bones's" Temperance Brennan, also a geeky scientist with a criminal father and brother, but Isles comes across as considerably warmer and more likeable.

The show seems to have quite a following among lesbians, judging from the "Rizzoli and Isles Subtext Recap" at, but so far I'd say that the characters have been portrayed as decidedly heterosexual. Both characters have hit and miss dates with various guys and rely on each other for emotional support, which probably fuels the wishful thinking of fans who'd like to see Rizzoli and Isles as a romantic couple. Other fans probably enjoy it as a female buddy cop show, a modern day "Cagney and Lacey," and like seeing a show with two women in the lead roles.

"Rizzoli and Isles" should appeal to most mystery fans and fans of light crime procedurals. It airs Mondays on TNT.


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