Friday, October 5, 2012

Rizzoli & Isles

A few weeks ago, I watching season 1 of Rizzoli & Isles on DVD. If you haven't seen it, go out and get it. While it's not exactly ground-breaking in plot, in that it's a crime drama featuring a homicide detective unit and the medical examiner; what is rare is that there are two female leads on the show. Jane Rizzoli is the detective--athletic, sarcastic, blue-collar family, and slightly abrasive. Maura Isles is the medical examiner--intelligent, fashionable, prestigious family, and slightly socially awkward (she has a thing about diagnosing her dates with medical conditions). What is also rare, is that the two are very good friends, who support each other. I've been thinking over other crime shows trying to come up with any similar. And there aren't many. In most drama shows that feature a female lead, she is generally the only female in her squad: In Plain Sight, Prime Suspect, Castle, Cold Case, Law and Order SVU, Police Woman, etc. If there is more than one woman in the squad, she is very much a minor character such as in The Closer.
Or if there are by some miracle more females in the squad and the show is more of an ensemble piece, most of the females are relegated to much smaller parts: The Mentalist, Southland, Criminal Minds, various incarnations of Law & Order, Homicide: Life on the Streets, various incarnations of CSI, and so on. In fact, on Criminal Minds, the producers of the show figured it was so much about the male characters that the audience wouldn't mind if they fired two out of the three recurring women on the show. Both of the cut characters were on the squad and therefore more visible than the third character they were keeping on (as she does computer stuff back at the office while the others are out in the field)....there was so much backlash from the fans, they hired both of the women back.
So yes, the big one I haven't mentioned yet is Cagney & Lacey. One of the only other ones I can think of with more than one female lead character. And that show was over 30 years ago. I watched the first season of that this past year also, and it's held up pretty well. They weren't afraid to deal with some "controversial" issues like sexism, homophobia, racism, domestic violence and so on. Why is this such a rare thing? Why are women friends in dramas like unicorns? Um, in that you hear about them but don't ever see them. Or that the woman on the squad or in the superhero gang, or whatever, is like the Highlander in that there can be only one? (And of course if there is a second woman, the two generally aren't really friends, or rarely interact or talk to each other. Certainly not enough to pass the Bechdel test.)
Back to Rizzoli & Isles. The tv show is based on a series of books by Tess Gerritsen. I received the latest in the series, Last to Die from the publisher. I hadn't read any of the others, and was looking forward to it. This is the tenth book in the series, so obviously stuff is referenced that hasn't happened on the tv show and it's probably not the best place to jump in. Unfortunately, the book was kind of disappointing. There wasn't much differentiation between Rizzoli and Isles (it's third person point of view, so although you get in their heads, it feels very removed and I couldn't really get a sense of either woman's personality). The plot is rather convoluted, and writing kind of mediocre. Apparently Isles in an earlier book testified against a cop, so the women's friendship at the start is a little rocky. Three unrelated kids have not only their families killed, but their separate foster families as well. They've all wound up at this incredibly secure boarding school, which is run by a thing called the Mephisto club, and all the other children there have had murders in their families also. Cheerful. The Mephisto club is all conspiracy theory/demons afoot and the two main characters have had run-ins with them in the past. So with the murder of the third boy's family is where the main characters start to investigate and try to figure out the link between them all. And then mysterious things start happening at the school....(it kind of felt like it was suddenly going to veer into an urban fantasy sometimes with all the Mephisto/demon/evil/strange things afoot at the Circle K talk). Like I say, convoluted. Sadly, I wouldn't recommend the book. Stick with the series.

The tv series: 4 stars out of 5
The book: 2 stars out of 5

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