The city of Boston is nearly 400 years old now, and it feels it. For centuries the city has accumulated its secrets like heirlooms, storing them in alleys and neighborhoods and fussy old buildings. Its ways can be impenetrable, its habits inscrutable. It has more than a culture, this harbor town; it has cultures, to which more than one film director has been drawn over the years. Often what we see on the screen suggests that these colliding worlds of color and calamity are as exotic and gritty and dangerous as anything you'd encounter on the hard streets of Moscow or the alleyways of Khartoum.
Now it's TNT's turn to take a look. But Rizzoli & Isles, a Boston-based crime procedural, doesn't really explore the ticklish terrain that lays here. It only pretends to.
The setup is simple enough: Detective Jane Rizzoli is a cop who talks tough and acts tougher. "I'm just a girl from Boston who hunts monsters for a living," she tells us on the show's website. "Yeah, I know I'm not supposed to call 'em that, but that's what some of them are. Monsters. If you saw what they've done, the lives they've ruined, you'd want to take them down too."
Dr. Maura Isles, meanwhile, is a bookish, somewhat chilly forensic pathologist who feels more at home with a Petri dish than she does at … home. She's a nerd, plain and simple. "I want to believe that there is a scientific explanation for everything that happens," she says online. "Fate has nothing to do with it. Death is not a mystical process; it is organic. I find that comforting."
Rizzoli and Isles both see dead people, by the way. No, no, not that way. They just actually see loads of dead folks in their line of work. Then they chase after the crime lords and union bosses and psychopaths who did the original damage, all manifesting only slightly more depth than you'd see in a Dick and Jane book. ("See Hoyt. See Hoyt kill. Bad Hoyt!")
Rizzoli are Isles are almost laughably stereotypical cops trapped in a paint-by-numbers crime procedural airing on an, um, quality-impaired cable channel. If I didn't know that the show was based on a series of fairly popular books by Tess Gerritsen, I would've assumed that the writers came up with it during a particularly slow afternoon brainstorming session: "Hey, I've got an idea! What would happen if we, like, teamed up "Pepper" Anderson from 1970s Police Woman with Dana Scully from The X-Files! Only with fewer men. And more angst. And jokes! Wouldn't that be cool?"
The weird result? Rizzoli getting tortured and almost killed by a notorious serial killer—one who seems to escape from prison just in time for each season's finale. And Isles? Well, her father is Patty Doyle, a mob boss who kills with impunity and leaves an ice pick in his victim's chest as a calling card.
Because while the show may be mindless, it's not harmless. It has shamelessly cribbed from a variety of television shows both past and present, but it seems to have a particular fascination with CSI-level gore. Language can seriously push the envelope for basic cable. And sexuality can be a problem.
Speaking of sexuality, there's a certain lesbian subculture that believes, or at least wants to believe, that Ms. Rizzoli and Ms. Isles are gay. And fan-fiction based on the show is supposedly rife with their intimate encounters.
Series creator Janet Tamaro insists the friendship is strictly platonic. But Dorothy Snarker on the AfterEllen blog turns such claims on their head, writing, "Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles are not gay. They're outstanding heterosexuals who just happen to flirt, sleep in the same bed, touch each other gratuitously, look deeply into each other's eyes and have crazy, crazy chemistry while not maintaining any long-standing or significant romances with members of the opposite sex. They're straight, OK? Straight."
Maybe we should just say that Rizzoli & Isles feels about as stereotypically schizophrenic as some of its own criminals.
"Cold as Ice"
At a game, a woman gets punched in the face by a hockey mom—a blow that breaks her nose and sends blood flying. Shortly thereafter, that same woman has her throat slashed. (We see the cut and the grotesque spurt of blood in the darkened garage, then watch as she bleeds out.)
When detectives find her, the camera zooms in on the gory wound on her neck as they crack jokes. Two of them bump fists when one manages to keep his lunch down. (The hockey mom isn't so steely stomached when she gets the news.) An autopsy is performed, with Isles again poking at the jagged wound. Pictures of the mutilated corpse show up too. And we hear about other assaults and murders.
Cailin, Isles' 19-year-old half-sister, moves in with her for a few weeks. She jokes about marijuana-laced brownies and buying six-packs of beer. People drink wine. They say the s-word once (unbleeped in our iTunes version of the episode), along with "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n" and "h‑‑‑." God's name is misused a half-dozen or more times.
A man's dead, and Rizzoli and Isles must infiltrate a well-to-do sex club to track down the killer. The murder victim was killed through a compound injected into his penis, which prompts closer inspections of and conversations/jokes about the state/size of his sexual organ. We see the murderer, dressed in lingerie that showcases her cleavage, buttocks and midsection, injecting the substance. (Critical body parts are obscured.)
We see a ripped-off ear, another gruesome head wound and a body floating facedown in a blood-tinged pool. Isles holds a human heart. We hear about drive-by shootings.
A nun chastises a criminally suspect rapper (whose music video features scantily clad dancers), "Children are dying because of you." His retort? "Shaking booty never killed nobody." Someone has an affair with a prostitute. People talk about venereal diseases, urination, same-sex attraction and "coffee porn." They drink wine and champagne. They say the s-word once, "h‑‑‑" three or four times, "d‑‑n" and "a‑‑" twice each, and misuse God's name.
Oh, did I mention yet that and in her spare time, Isles contemplates secretly donating her kidney to her dying sister?
"Gone Daddy Gone"
Rizzoli and Isles investigate the murder of a woman who, in turn, was investigating the critical injury of her own father while working on the docks. We see the woman attacked through a broken car window. And we see Rizzoli and Isles examine her blood-covered car. Later, they discover her body tied to a pier post—her throat cut (the horrific wound gets screen time) and an ice pick puncturing her chest. A man is also found dead with a pick to his chest. And he apparently had two of his fingers broken before dying. Another man is shot through the shoulder, the bloody entrance and exit wounds both visible.
Some intentionally misdirected dialogue seems to be referring to sex. Rizzoli tells Isles to "not sleep with my brother." Longshoremen make crude come-ons to Rizzoli, even grabbing their crotches and touching her behind. (Rizzoli nearly breaks one guy's arm and takes him in for questioning.) Somebody says the s-word once, and it's unbleeped. Piling on are "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑," "t-ts," "b‑‑tard," "a‑‑" and a crude word for testicles. God's name is abused.