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Television review: 'Rizzoli & Isles'

Angie Harmon portrays a Boston police detective on a TNT series that also stars Sasha Alexander.

July 12, 2010|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic

What is it about Angie Harmon that makes you want to watch her ensure that justice is done? Is it the cheekbones? The pre-Brazilian-blowout hair? That she has that great voice and the same sort of angularity as a firearm?


FOR THE RECORD:
'Rizzoli & Isles': A review of the TNT series "Rizzoli & Isles" in Monday's Calendar described Donnie Wahlberg as Mark Wahlberg's younger brother. Donnie is older than Mark. —

Whether she's playing a hard-as-nails assistant district attorney on "Law and Order" or a homicide detective on "Women's Murder Club," there's something about Harmon that undeniably captures the archetypal image of the tough but lovely enforcer. Her appeal was not enough to save ABC's "Women's Murder Club" but it might just make TNT's "Rizzoli & Isles," based on the books by Tess Gerritsen, a light, bright addition to the network's cadre of female cops.

But then again, it might not.

Jane Rizzoli (Harmon) is a Boston police detective with a family so close-knit it's headed by Lorraine Bracco, which is one reason to watch. ( Chazz Palminteri shows up in the second episode as her dad, which is another.) Her unofficial partner and best friend is medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles ( Sasha Alexander of "NCIS") and, of course, though sharing the same dogged dedication to law enforcement, the two could not be more different.

Rizzoli, though beautiful, could not care less — she drags her hair into a ponytail, wears sensible shoes and clothing that has been carefully chosen by a stylist to look as though they were grabbed up from her bedroom floor. Isles, on the other hand, wears silk and heels to clean out the garage.

This Oscar and Felix wardrobe situation is regrettable, as is the whole tired trend of outfit and footwear fetish as female character development. Not only is it mildly insulting to both audience and actor, but did you see the numbers for the second "Sex and the City" film? The Manolo era is over, people.

Fortunately, Janet Tamaro's dialogue and Harmon's and Alexander's performances are too good to be confined by costume, infusing the BFF-chatter-over-grisly-crime-scene construct with a grace and maturity that lifts it out of both staginess and sexism. Their friendly science (Isles) versus instinct (Rizzoli) tension is reminiscent of "Bones" — Isles shares Dr. Temperance Brennan's troublesome tendency to say whatever is on her very literal mind — but "Rizzoli & Isles" is a cop show. That is was originally titled "Rizzoli" is clear from early story lines, which start out strong and then slump more than a bit.

In the pilot, Rizzoli is concerned that a series of gruesome murders are the work of a copycat trained by the Surgeon, a serial killer she put behind bars years ago, but only after he just about killed her as well. And she is right to be concerned — after a "Silence of the Lambs"-like interview, the Surgeon busts out of prison intent on, of course, finishing what he started.

It's a compelling enough tale, with Harmon projecting just the right amount of fear and defiance and Isles a complementary mixture of comfort and good sense. If it all works itself out a bit too quickly and neatly, well, "Rizzoli & Isles" is clearly more about character than plot.

Attention to either is, unfortunately, completely forgotten in Episode 2, in which a ridiculous storyline involving the possible return of the Boston Strangler quickly undoes all the pilot's hard work. Now, it's tough to make a good pilot and often second and even third episodes suffer by comparison and relative lack of time — with many new shows, you don't really know what you're getting until, say, Episode 4.

But this isn't so much a slide as a free fall, and one that neither Harmon, Alexander nor the appearance of Palminteri and Donnie Wahlberg (Mark's younger brother) as a brash young lieutenant can save. As for Bracco, she should sue for character abuse — the short time she is allowed on screen, her overly protective mother is reduced by terrible dialogue to a cardboard cutout.

One can only hope the pilot is more indicative of the show's future and the show's writers rely less on surface shtick and more on the appeal of the characters and the talent of the cast. Because it's all there, it just needs a little room to breathe.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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