Monday, August 30, 2010

The first great 'Rizzoli and Isles' episode

Rizolli and Isles 1.7: Born to Run (2010)
Starring: Angie Harmon, Sasha Alexander, Bruce McGill, Lee Thompson Young, and Jordan Bridges
Director: Matthew Penn
Rating: Eight of Ten Star

Seven episodes in, TNT's new detective show "Rizzoli and Isles" finally delivers something new and unpredictable with "Born to Run," the episode that aired on August 23. They've come closest to excellence previously with "The Boston Strangler Redux" on July 19, but the series debut episode--which started in an odd sort of in medias res place with Rizzoli being haunted by a serial killer who almost cost her life and who scarred her both physically and mentally--and the other ones so far have all had a been-there, seen-that feel to them. Which is a shame, because this show has a great cast.

"Rizzoli and Isles" centers on a tomboyish, tough-as-nails homicide detective from a working-class Italian background (Harmon) and an overly bookish, somewhat socially maladjusted coroner of an upper-crust, Boston First Family background (Alexander), co-workers and best friends despite their different personalities. They are supported by a great collection of actors with been-around-forever Bruce McGill being particularly fun as a gruff veteran detective and Rizzoli's ex-partner who's caused so much trouble that he's on permanent desk assignment.

For the most part, the show plays as an inferior copy of Fox's long-running "Bones," with the odd couple of Rizzoli and Isles being an almost direct rip-off of Boothe and Bones from the other show. The main difference here is that the focus is mostly on the police work, with Isle's lab activities being about as central as Quincy's lab work as on that show. However, the way Rizzoli's family plays into the story lines adds a slightly different flavor to the show... not quite enough to bring it out of the shadow of "Bones," but enough to make it somewhat distinct.

Perhaps if I were familiar with the Jane Rizzoli-starring novels the series is based upon, the differences between this show and "Bones" would be more evident. But a good adaptation means I should be able to come to the series with no prior knowledge whatsoever. And coming to it cold, the show mostly feels like a run-of-the-mill detective show that's copying "Bones" and trying to sell itself on the fact it's got two women as its main characters. For the most part, this hasn't been enough for me. And I was about to give up on the show.

With episode #7, however, the writers finally delivered an episode that wasn't predictable and that didn't make me think of "Bones" every five minutes. In "Born to Run," Rizzoli is badgered by Isles into signing up for the Boston Marathon, so the two can something together as friends. This being a cop show, a couple of runners get shot, and Rizzoli must solve the mystery while trying to keep the shootings secret in order to prevent a mass panic. The story was unpredictable, the setting was unusual, and the way the various characters worked to solve the crime on many different levels, both police-wise and management-wise, was very nicely done. The red herrings subtly tossed into the mix were also nicely executed; I thought I knew who the killers were because of them, but thankfully I was wrong. I also appreciated the way Rizzoli's family played into the story... they emerged as characters rather than just flavoring in this episode.

I'm going to give "Rizzoli and Isles" a few more episodes before I make up my mind. It would be nice to see Angie Harmon in a new series that lasts more than a couple of seasons. She's an interesting and quirky actress who deserves a higher profile than the one she currently enjoys. It's also nice to see Sasha Alexander again... I enjoyed her very much on "N.C.I.S."

"Rizzoli and Isles" currently airs on TNT on Monday nights, with a second airing on Tuesdays.

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