Review: Rizzoli & Isles, Part II

R: I’ve seen all of S4 of Rizzoli and Isles to date, and have started back through S1. Which is, btw, an informative leap to make in most shows.You get to see where the actors have settled into their characters, and then see where they were/weren’t still breaking them in.


Gemma: So in S4, I’m deeply interested in the Frame-Up Episode. It’s something that I always want to watch in any procedural. (Although now Law & Order SVU has had like sixteen of them.) I think it speaks deeply to a cop show’s capability of challenging its own premise.


R: Yes, it does seem like a requisite interrogation of the form by the form itself and speaks also to the police-as-protagonist piece that I wanted to talk about. I hadn’t thought about it that way until you named it, but I agree. Now I’m going to be looking for it. And thinking about writing it.


Gemma: Since we talked last week, I noticed that even more than other cop shows, R&I uses the phrases “good guys” and “bad guys” to a ridiculous degree.

R: Oh jeez yes. I have some feelings about the normalized, ol’fashioned kind of conservativism that underlies this show…but I’m gonna hold on that for a minute.


Gemma: Well, I think we should bring it in. It’s an interesting combo with the feminism that we discussed last week. I do think there is a general trend in mainstream arts that explore crime to get way more black and white in the last 20 years, in spite of what we hear about the antihero shows. And yes, I’m being deliberately provocative by naming it black and white.


R: Well, I’m tempted to say the feminism and criminalization combine so seamlessly in R&I because #solidarityisforwhitewomen. I was actually struck going back to the first season that there is more emotional connection to the pain of Black folks. Though honestly, it was rough business to see the young Black man on Maura’s autopsy table and watch these two white women banter over him. Rough.


Gemma: I guess that didn’t read to me as distinct from the show’s general emotional obtuseness, but I hear you.


R: Cape Verdean mom comes in to identify her son who collapsed for no apparent reason. The actress playing the mother gives what feels like the only actual emotion on the show.


Gemma: I was thinking about what you said last week about the show being PG, which is true, but we do get a lot of very visceral shots of very destroyed bodies. What makes it PG is ignoring the emotional impact.


R: I’ll go with that. I think I’m comparing the gore to shows like Bones and the CSIs, which have the gore as featured, elaborate set pieces. I would agree that it feels more candylite to me because of the shallow emotional waters, despite content that folks should have a hell of a lot of feelings about.


Gemma: Yes. Given the groundwork we’ve just laid, can we talk about two R&I episodes, the fracking one and the frame-up one? Let’s talk about cop show hegemony, and try to use those two as examples. In grad school I read an article about “cultivation theory” in media studies, which applies to this. Namely, the differences between individual shows have significantly less social influence than The World According to TV—it is most significant to look at what many shows have in common.


R: (Before we go there, my first reaction to the frame-up episode was: Maura cannot catch a break in the dating world. Writers, why do you love Jane Rizzoli more? Though I did appreciate that her wounds where offensive in nature.)


Gemma: (Hehe! That may be from the books, where Maura’s long-running affair is with a priest who has to hide it, and she is otherwise completely isolated)


R: (WHAT?!! why can’t we have that ON TV?!!)


Gemma: (RIGHT?!?!!? I wouldn’t mind Jane being married to Dean with a kid on TV, but I don’t think they’d know how to keep Jane & Maura BFFs if that were happening. But yeah. In the books she’s a total orphan, and her birth mother is a multiple murderer incarcerated for life, and she was once married to a figure kinda like Ian who appears in I think S3, and … yeah)



R: Hm. That is interesting. Well, in the spirit of naming what cop shows have in common in The World According to TV (TWAT-TV, for short)–


Gemma: OH LORD.


R: YES. I would name the following:

  • Cops (and the people who work with cops) are the main characters
  • Cops’ lives are set up as the ones we know intimately and are set up to understand/sympathize with
  • We only meet non-cops when those people have to interact with cops
  • Cops think other people are lazy, stupid, weak, liars who must be outsmarted.
  • Cops can really tell who the criminals are, and so when there isn’t evidence…
  • Cops are justified in bending the rules to do “what’s right” or get to the “truth beyond the facts”
  • Internal Affairs investigations or any other police oversight are always about personal vendettas or political maneuvering.

That’s my first flush. I’m sure there’s more in there.


Gemma: That’s an excellent starting point. Of the ones you listed there, the “lazy/stupid/weak” one is the only one that reads as incomplete to me, but I’m not sure why yet. Can you bring that one to either of these episodes?


R: To me, that one seems important because it justifies a kind of swaggerous, belligerent, adversarial approach to all people interviewed. In the Frame Up, Maura is not interviewed as a hostile witness, and she confesses more than they want her to. I’d offer this: TV shows (R&I included) very seldom show people being badgered/harassed/abused in interviews/stops and then turning out to be innocent.


Gemma: Yes. I’ll take that, for sure.


R: If folks are going to be innocent in the end of the episode, they’re treated gently in the interview (that girl’s parents in the fracking episode) before they’ve even talked to them.


Gemma: Good people do good things, bad people do bad things, and Cops Just Know.


R: More than just that: Cops are only ever Mean to Bad People. They are Always Nice to Good, Innocent People. We know who those people are because they are always nice to the cops and trust them.


Gemma: Gotcha. Yeah. That makes tons of sense. (As an analysis, not a practice.)


R: Police Brutality only happens to people who Deserve it. And this is why #solidarityisforwhitewomen, because that frame is so kyriarchical: the only people who are being treated badly are those who were Asking For it. and Deserve it. And R&I sits firmly in that corner.

The first time I typed “shits firmly in that corner,” which is also true and takes me back to the underlying conservatism. ‘Cause every cop show sets off my Patriot Act alarms.

Which maybe goes back to your analysis about the last 20 years or so.


Gemma: I think we’re at a particularly pathologizing point in cop shows/crime novels/etc.

I’ve read the complete oeuvres of several crime novelists who have been writing for 20+ years, and in each case, the early works are about whodunit, what were their motivations, how do we figure it out? That’s where the suspense comes from. Whereas the novels written more recently are much more gore-filled, look at crimes and say “only someone subhuman/with no conscience could do this,” and the only suspense is about “how are we going to catch this monster.”

Which is one reason the fracking episode interested me, because the criminal—who can’t possibly have any legit interests besides murder, mayhem, greed and destruction—is trying to protect his fracking interests, has a very right-wing point of view. I think R&I thinks it’s a genuinely left-wing show, although it’s casual and shallow about it. And looking to cultivation theory, to the postulates you listed, we’re engaging the ways it’s really not left-wing. It’s almost an aside that the bad guy’s doing illegal fracking for corporate profit, the point is He’s A Bad Guy.


R: Yeah. Though I’d probably offer R&I as a show that thinks of itself as Liberal/Liberated with respect to white, professional women. That is a very narrow slice in which to operate as a champion for liberation.


Gemma: Agreed, but I think the fracking episode pokes at the edges where it’s trying to get beyond that and is too weighted down by what it is, what it has made itself. That confusion exists in the frame-up episode on most cop shows, and Maura’s frame-up in S4 is the worst in that it isn’t even pretending to challenge the hegemony of Cops Are Good Guys.


R: I wonder about those Hot-off-the-Presses episodes, because it can get so muddled when we fictionalize a story whose facts are still being verified in the news. It becomes very easy to substitute the fictional tale for the facts in the world. In the fracking episode, I ended up being uncomfortable with the weird mash-up of Conservative and Liberal signifiers. The fracking is a cause of Energy At Home conservatives, but it’s shielded/veiled behind this super-touchy-feely woo-woo Yoga cult of ascension, which is a very Liberal hallmark, and one that conservatives make fun of liberals for.


Gemma: Ah. I did not see that in there, but I see what you mean.


Rasha: And so this episode is also telling fiction on top of real stories in a way that colludes with the propaganda on “news” networks IRL. And so the fracking episode feels to me like a lesson in why we don’t give religious tax status to anything other than Christian churches. Because those liberals are greedy.


Gemma: So you think the takeaway was more about woowoo than fracking. I can see that, in the arc of the episode. It’s also supposed to represent the polarity of Maura and Jane, but yes, the show thinks Jane is more NORMAL than Maura, including all her interests.


R: Going back to the early episodes, it’s almost painful how much Jane mugs at Maura’s sometimes-vulnerable geekiness. Maura is much less worldly and commanding in the early episodes.


Gemma: Another media studies class foray: there was this episode of Clifford the Big Red Dog where they made friends with a dog with three legs, but all the other dogs were kind of grossed out/freaked out by him. Until finally at the end they Talked About Disability and Learned Their Lessons. But most kindergarteners didn’t take the lesson away as much as the arc of the story. They’d lost their focus by the last three minutes when the Lesson came around.


R: Yeah, that’s the problem with stories that have Morals.


Gemma: The kindergarteners were still worried about the three-legged dog having diseases, not being able to have adventures with us, etc. Few kids took the episode’s ostensible lesson, to Accept folks with disabilities, and that goes back to what you said about woowoo and fracking. I was seeing it as politically relevant that he’s fracking, but in the arc of the episode, you’re correct, it isn’t really. The point is, his yoga center is a front and he’s evil.


R: I think the distinction you’re making between Arc and Moral clarify why activism via story doesn’t work.


Gemma: Propaganda and art are not the same thing. Don’t assume you know what people will take from a story. You don’t know all the people.


Rasha: This comes back to some Sinner’s Creek manifesto-level ish we’ve been sketching out: Don’t try to do activism with stories.


Gemma: I have one more Media Studies example that relates back to this. A buzzword in children’s media is “prosocial,” usually used as Teaching Kids To Do Good Things


R: Yes, I have totally heard this word.


Gemma: Now, for my children’s media class, my friend and I did a presentation on the kids’ movie G-Force, in which presentation we were trying to challenge this notion of prosocial. G-Force believes it is teaching the lessons of being kind to others, not being greedy, etc. However, it is also part of the cop show hegemony, which I’m just observing now. What we observed then is that it is racist and sexist as all get-out. I mean, if you think Penelope Cruz playing a guinea pig cannot be objectified, please think again.


R: I believe. I think she would have to fight against that type in any form. I have a hard time not objectifying PC.


Gemma: Fair. But it’s big. Also Tracy Morgan’s guinea pig was made to conform to “black behavior” stereotypes, and the guinea pig voiced by the white actor Sam Rockwell was the “neutral” hero. And from our POV, it’s these that go with kids from the movie, have more social impact than the Prosocial Messages that come at the end.


R: And this is how we get folks who think they’re free human beings who are actually racist, misogynist clueless wads.


Gemma: Boom.


R: They think they learned the lesson that was being taught. And they did. ALL OF THEM.



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