Review: Rizzoli & Isles, Part I

Rasha: Alright. Given that Rizzoli and Isles is already in progress, and I haven’t seen every episode, do you have a preference for where we start or how we limit/unlimit this first review?

Gemma: I think we gotta experiment. I’ve seen ‘em all, I think, though I might’ve skipped a few in S2 and S3, because I got bored and yet couldn’t stop watching, which to me is the fundamental confusion of the show.

Rasha: I started it, and watched the first and last episodes of seasons 1 & 2 and some of season 3. The last ep of season 2 made me quit halfway.

Gemma: Why so?

Rasha: When Isles jumps out of the way of the oncoming car and leaves her mother in the street to get mowed down. Is that even plausible? Or Humanly decent?

Gemma: It’s so interesting that you saw the scene that way. I thought the episode was terrible, but you saw a decision made that I don’t remember seeing.

Rasha: Oh, I mostly wondered if it was bad blocking. It looked sloppy.

Gemma: Well, the entire show is bad blocking. There’s an episode in Season 2 where they finally kill off Hoyt (the serial killer of S1, who Jane has that history with), and it’s seriously the worst blocking I’ve ever seen in my life. And I have seen some BAD theater.

Rasha: Maybe this opens us up to the pilot episode, which is a special case with any series. Did it feel weird to you? I mean, they’re going for some depth by trying to drop you in a world where there’s WOO-BACKSTORY! and it just didn’t quite land for me…

Gemma: Well, that’s because they, um, cast Angie Harmon, I think.

Rasha: …though Angie Harmon is good at playing squicked out. :)

Gemma: You have just defined her entire professional range. I saw what they were trying to do (maybe partially because I’ve read the books, though I saw the ep first), but Harmon can’t take us to the necessary depth of WOO-BACKSTORY.

Rasha: I’m a sucker for Harmon’s type, and for the Rizzoli-type tomboy. But they need someone who looks less like an easy-breezy-beautiful CoverGirl model, it seems. I keep trying to think of an actress who should play that part. Mariska Hargitay? That’s not fair of me.

Gemma: Isn’t she already doing that?

Rasha: RIGHT. I hear that’s working out well for her.

Gemma: That is what they say. I am an equal sucker for the Rizzoli-type tomboy, and for “opposites attract” BFFs, and for pretty much every circumstance that sets up this show. I love feminist procedurals!

Rasha: It is that, for sure.

Gemma: I love powerful single women and weird lesbian subtext! I love ongoing stories with weird serial-killer trauma that we conquer with our badassitude! I should love this show! And I do love this show in spite of the fact that it is terrible!

Rasha: OMG, the specter of Hoyt just popped up again in late Season 3.

Gemma: Yeah, there’s a spectre-of-Hoyt episode in S4 as well. They milk it for all it’s worth. But Jane officially kills him in S2 to save Maura and herself. Except it doesn’t look like that, because the blocking is terrible, so all you can think is “why is Maura being so passive?”

Rasha: HAH. Now I want to watch it.

Gemma: I think it’s episode 10.

Rasha: Can we talk about how they want to milk all this !BACKSTORY! but conveniently we don’t talk about—

Gemma: They have a very confusing relationship with backstory!

Rasha: Yes! They are confused.
Gemma: They ask for more continuity of thought than the classic procedurals (
NCIS, all the Law & Orders), and yet, they seem much more committed to having everybody HAPPY! at the end of each and every episode. They seem committed to the continuity of emotions they’re artistically determined to cheapen.

Rasha: Snap. Yes, They want the pay-off to work both ways: depth of story and Hallmark-grade catharsis — after Season 3 Ep 1, we don’t hear a peep about dying mobster dad…

Gemma: Oh, dying mobster dad comes back.

Rasha: I totally believe they will pull out dying mobster dad for the season end/beginning, but Dr. Isles seems to compartmentalize VERY efficiently the fact that her dad might be dying and is also a mobster and her mom and her real mom and her dying kidney sister…

Gemma: Yes.

Rasha: Then, Eddie Cibrian—

Gemma: When was Eddie Cibrian? He is not someone I know by face.

Rasha: (Dennis something, love interest for Isles) —is resurrected, gets naked, tags some shit, and then disappears … until suddenly he’s back! with a best-selling book!

Gemma: And is a serial killer!

Rasha: DAFUQ?

Gemma: I remember figuring that one out while I was watching the episode. (Which I’m usually really bad at.) “Wait, they have one too many plot threads in this episode! There’s no time to tie them all up! Two of them must be linked! Shit, Dennis is the killer!”

Rasha: That is hilarious.

Gemma: And then they manage the least suspenseful, least upsetting moment of rescue possible.

Rasha: They did the same thing for Rizzoli’s rescue when she was kidnapped by Bianchi the Mad Baker of Boston.

Gemma: Right?!?! Rizzoli’s rescue = WTF? I can think of almost nothing about the idea of this show that I do not love, and almost nothing about its actual production that I like.

Rasha: But yes, you seem to be at the heart of it with your earlier comment. I think it’s clearly aiming to be a Feminist Procedural.

Gemma: I do appreciate the opportunity to observe feminist paradigm shift in TV. The fact that neither of these women has married or has any serious interest in marrying simply breezes by. Which I guess would be a bigger deal if there were anything that DIDN’T breeze by, but nonetheless. (And it’s noteworthy, because in the books Jane marries Agent Dean. Makes me think there’s something to the theory that they’re maintaining the lesbian subtext on purpose, as producers.)

Rasha: That would be market-savvy of them. Again, trying to have it both ways…I do agree that their world centers on women’s lives, women’s perspectives, more than any other procedural I’ve watched (more than most other shows, to tell the truth). The number of times the women watch the men do something foolish, embarrassing, or inept is marked by the minute.

Gemma: Definitely got the L&Os beat on that front, Mariska Hargitay or no Mariska Hargitay.

Rasha: Bones is another one I’d like to come back to. However, I’m not sure I’m with you on the breezes-by-marriage piece. I thought about this when I first started watching it, because you’d mentioned this before. I was struck by how much time is spent on the women’s romantic lives. It felt a little Lifetime television in its version of feminism in that sense. Or Sex and the City? I never watched that show, but I’m thinking of the fake kind of centering of women’s lives that still is about relationships even if there’s a lot of protesting, which seems to be back to back in the latter episodes of Season 3 on Rizzoli and Isles.

Gemma: Well, I watched all of SATC, which disappointed me in its latter days, but has a lot of potency.

Rasha: I can believe that.

Gemma: These relationships, while they get a lotta screentime, do not impede the women from doing their jobs. When they do, it’s an aberration that’s explicitly commented on. At no point is either one’s professional competency called into question because of her relationships. The friendship takes as much weight as the romance, there’s a very deep besties-before-testes ethos (as Issa Rae and Gena Showalter would say). There is no “he’s the one!” conversation, ever. In this world, we’re attracted to men because we’re attracted to them. We sleep with them because we want to. It hurts when we have bad breakups or they go to Afghanistan, because we genuinely do care about them and our lives are complicated. But there’s no “can women have it all?!?!?” discussion ever. That has nothing to do with the way this world works.

Rasha: I did like how Jane cut Dean out when it looked like he’d gotten close to her just to advance his own case/career. I respect some boundary setting.

Gemma: I find the show all about that. Professional boundaries, romantic boundaries, friendship boundaries, the relationships among all these things. The fact that they’re talking about relationships a lot does not, in and of itself, harm the feminist ethos for me.

Rasha: Hmm, I’m gonna think about that one.

Gemma: Then there’s the problem that Maura gets way involved on cases it makes nooooooo sense for her to be involved in.

Rasha: YES. Like, suddenly she’s the psych evaluator.

Gemma: Right? What’s that about?!!?

Rasha: I do appreciate that the Odd Couple dynamic between her and Rizzoli neutralizes her attempt at flexing expertise in SOMETHING SHE IS NOT TRAINED FOR EVEN A LITTLE BIT. Also, I like that she has a tortoise.

Gemma: I also like the tortoise.
Rasha: Okay, so here’s what it comes down to for me: Is this show just about wish fulfillment?

Gemma: Yes, I believe it is.

Rasha: “Imagine a world where women are treated as equals in their professional lives… and the men around them bumble.” Damn. I really long for some stories and characters that exist in that bridge space. I have no idea how to get from the present to a place where police chief supervisors tell their female detectives: (to Jane, about Riley) she’s a strong detective, but I’ll never see another Rizzoli.
Gemma: While dating her mother, no less …

Rasha: Well, and then it just sounds kinda messed up with all that math. Also, how cool is it that the show is just named after the women? I dig that.

Gemma: Yes, I dig that too. And how TNT has since modeled other shows on it, with the men’s names, but clearly coasting on R&I‘s success.

Rasha: <cough>Franklin & Bash</cough> Have you watched that?

Gemma: No, never wanted to. Did you?

Rasha: Not even a little. Which is also how much I would have watched of this show if you had not talked about it.

Gemma: I recently read that R&I has literally double the viewership of Mad Men. I don’t know what that means if it means anything, but it is a factoid.

Rasha: It is the NCIS of feminist procedurals. It’s PG for one thing,

Gemma: Sasha Alexander’s previous job was on NCIS.

Rasha: Ah. So it really is some Illuminati ish.

Gemma: I watched an episode with her on the plane, and to her credit, she was playing a completely different character, albeit not very well either.

Rasha: Poor girl. It’s hard to play a geek and not fetishize it.

Gemma: It is, and the writing does her no favors.

Rasha: None.

Gemma: But not a single actor on this show is capable of overcoming clunky writing, which is a notable difference from, say, L&O. I mean, give Bruce McGill exposition, and it’s like EXPOSITION WITH JAZZHANDS!!!!

Rasha: What do you think about an anti-supercut of all the bad blocking and poor pacing in Rizzoli and Isles?

Gemma: I think it would be entertaining to make and torturous to watch.

Rasha: YES, exactly what I thought. I feel like it could be important evidence though.

Gemma: But: None of these people are good actors. The late Mr. Young was the closest among the regular cast.

Rasha: Damn, I was just thinking that. And now I’m sad. There are all kinds of thoughts I don’t even know how to have about his passing, and I don’t even know his work.

Gemma: Yeah, that is terribly sad.

Rasha: I do not have faith in the ability of this show to handle it any better than Glee…except… then I think about the wounded soldier who loves Jane.

Gemma: What about him?

Rasha: Well, you know I’m susceptible to a wounded soldier storyline.

Gemma: Indeed.

Rasha: I thought Casey’s character was a rare moment of showing a tragic but sincere male character on that show— who feels things, can try to reach out, but has limits and pride and is struggling. I thought he felt like one of the most real male characters on the show.

Gemma: Interesting. He made almost no impression on me, but I see what you’re saying.

Rasha: Also: Tommy is more real as a character. Though I feel ridiculous saying that.

Gemma: More real than whom?

Rasha: I don’t know. Sympathetic. Do we get to know much about Frost or Korsak?

Gemma: We get bits and pieces of both Frost and Korsak, though less of the latter.We meet both Frost’s parents, and both have interesting episode arcs.

Rasha: Cool. I’m glad to hear that.

Gemma: Frost’s mom is gay, like Frost finds out in the episode and there’s a sweet li’l GAY IS OK story.

Rasha: Aw. Gay mom!

Gemma: It involves Jane and Maura playing on opposing softball teams. I am just saying.

Rasha: Wow. That one definitely needs to be addressed.

Gemma: I think his dad shows up, he’s a naval officer, they have a hard time with each other but it’s fuzzy men at the end, I forget what happens exactly.

Rasha: Fuzzy men? Like teddy bears?

Gemma: Like, the schmaltzy ending, but the tough men version. You’ve seen this movie a million times. Military father, son “softer” in one form or another, the father has to demonstrate that This Is How He Shows Love.
Rasha: Yeah, it’s totally a thing. I think you just coined a term for it, though. FuzzyMen.

Gemma: All right, I’ll take that. I think the actor playing Tommy is a better comedian than the rest of them.

Rasha: Yes. I think that is exactly what it is. I think he is funny. And in a world where no one can act, that makes him seem Deep.

Gemma: The core problem of the show is that neither Harmon nor Alexander is funny, and the show insists on being written as a comedy.

Rasha: Yes. Talking with you about it is funnier than the show. Which, to be fair, would be true about most shows.