Women, Like 'Rizzoli & Isles,' Are Taking Over the TV Screen. Thankfully

This is true not only in series centered on women like 'Scandal' and 'The Good Wife,' but also in what was considered for a long time, mistakenly, a male domain: The crime and police procedural.

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Angie Harmon (left) as Jane Rizzoli, and Sasha Alexander as Maura Isles in 'Rizzoli and Isles.'
Angie Harmon (left) as Jane Rizzoli, and Sasha Alexander as Maura Isles in 'Rizzoli and Isles.'

The world at large, and the men who think they run it, do not get it yet, but it is going to be a woman’s world, as it should have been to begin with. Hollywood producers got their much needed reminder when they saw that movies aimed at women, their mothers and daughters, like “Princess” or “Cinderella” outgrossed at the box office (where it counts!) multi-million dollar productions of gadget-and-violence-and-visual-effects movies aimed at an audience of men, their fathers and sons.

True, there are not enough female state leaders, and female CEOs are still being paid less than their male colleagues. But one (wide angled and long) look at the TV series on offer can tell you that the women are taking over. And don’t tell me that they have always been there – as beautiful and sexy (and properly dressed and undressed) damsels in distress. For some time now they have been there in their own right, and more than ready and able to fend for their own rights. They are – black, white or any other hue – independent, daring, strong-willed and anything but in distress. The message is rather clear: Whatever mess there is, and wherever they are (and more often than not the mess was created by some male), they are more than ready and able to get themselves (and the men they choose) out of it.

This is true not only in series centered on women – like “Scandal,” “The Good Wife,” “How to Get Away with Murder” – but even in what was considered for a long time, mistakenly, a male domain, the crime and police procedural.

Mistakenly, because the TV crime procedural, which originated in literature, has been a female domain almost since its beginnings. The creators were female – Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, and some of their sleuths are as well: Kinsey Millhone and V.I. Warshawski (created by Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky, respectively).

But enough showing off, let’s get to the business at hand, and that is extolling the virtues (and there must be some virtue in watching a TV series, n’est pas?) of “Rizzoli & Isles,” the police procedural which just ended its fifth season on the cable channel TNT in the U.S., and is in its midst on HOT Zone in Israel. A sixth season of 18 episodes has been commissioned, due in September in the U.S.

Like many TV series, “Rizzoli & Isles” has its origins in a book series, this one by Tess Gerritsen, dealing with crime and police business in Boston. The main eponymous characters of the TV series were introduced only in the second book of the series: the dark-haired, fortyish Italian-American detective Jane Rizzoli, and her Irish-American partner in crime-hunting, the fair-haired, elegant medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles. Oddly enough, unlike their male colleagues, neither of the actresses who impersonate them is listed as executive producer of the series, although it would not exist without them.

As is to be expected of a sleuthing pair, the two are opposites who attract each other, and viewers of both sexes and genders (the average ratings of the series is about five million viewers, dropping to under four million toward the end of the season). Both women have their share of male suitors, stalkers and vengeful serial killers with an ax to grind (literally).

Rizzoli – played by Angie Harmon – is the impulsive, tomboyish part of the duo, who brings some male qualities to the partnership. She prefers to act rather than talk, and sees being female as something of an encumberance. She is at her best in jeans and sneakers, or in a pants suit. Every scene in which she wears a dress and heels (and she has looks to kill, if you’ll pardon the expression) turns into slapstick. And she comes with a family: an overprotective mother (Lorraine Bracco) and a brother who is a cop, and later a detective, in the same unit.

Maura (Sasha Alexander), on the other hand, does not have a “proper” family; she was adopted as a baby, and it turns out that her real father was an Irish criminal. She is all intellect, intelligence and facts (she can spout them, whether they are relevant or not, and some are riveting). But at least outwardly she is all woman, just as Rizzoli is sort of all man, in personalty terms. She is always dressed to kill (pardon the deadly expression again), even when she shows up at a crime scene or a dissecting table.

The point – and part of the charm – of the series is the fact that both women are supposedly very awkward when they have to deal with emotions, particularly their own. And since they are unfathomable women, their relationships, both personal and professional, are infinitely more varied, unpredictable and intriguing, and unfold on constantly shifting emotional grounds.

Around them are many other “arcs” and storylines. There is a crime to be solved within an episode, with both women’s lives on the line; there are the other detectives, like the reliable fatherly-brotherly Vince Korsak; Jane’s younger brother Frankie; and Barry Frost (a character who had to be killed off in a road accident following the suicide of actor Lee Thompson Young, who played him). And there are killers who were put behind bars by Rizzoli, get out and seek revenge or plot against her from within, and males who try to woo the very attractive young women. Ah, and corpses male and female that Maura enjoys being around while talking about their earthly remains as she holds parts of it in her hands to prove a point.

But don’t get me wrong; it’s not that gruesome. It is a sort of feel-good series about young women running their lives as they see fit and always being there for each other. By the end of the fifth season, we’ve seen Jane pregnant (a spoiler for her as well) but I won’t tell you what went on, for fear of a spoiler for you.

So, on to season six for Jane and Maura. And whatever happens, they will always have Paris; in other words – each other.