Women in Television, Rizzoli & Isles

(continuing the discussion of women in television… procedurals are my jam)

I finally got around to Rizzoli and Isles, Project Runway Junior isn’t as distracting as the normal Project Runway. (Teenagers competing in a fashion contest are cute, but their abilities are rather limited and don’t drive me to rage as much as normal Project Runway does.) Rizzoli and Isles is yet another cop procedural show. What can I say? I like these types of shows. And so far, the great thing about them is that I have something different to say about each one. (At some point I should talk about Grimm, but the women on Grimm were so terrible, I just can’t justify it for this series.)

Detective Jane Rizzoli is a Boston Homicide Cop. Her best friend is Doctor Maura Isle, Chief Medical Examiner for the Common Wealth of Massachusetts. These are two women who couldn’t be more different. Jane is a brilliant, tough, no nonsense cop who enjoys sports (Baseball) and has twenty identical t-shirts in her closet for work, but isn’t afraid to use her femininity to get ahead at times. Maura is extremely intelligent, slightly people challenged, by the book, Medical Examiner with a fondness for Parisian fashion and an addiction to shoes. Jane comes from an intrusive Italian family and Maura was adopted by a wealthy professor couple in France. (Maura’s biological parents play a big part of season 2 and 3.)

The stories run through every gimmick that you can think of for a cop procedural. You watch enough shows, you start to learn the formulas and see the same types of cases over and over. In the first few seasons, they really liked to play up the Boston angle and use cases that were particular to Boston and settings, such as the Boston Marathon. As the show has gone on, that isn’t as much the case anymore. There were two long running plots in the first four seasons, Jane and her relationship to the serial Killer Hoyt and Maura’s biological family. At the beginning of the fifth season, both of these plot lines were dropped and the show started to take a turn for the worse. At the fifth season, the show got new show runners and they seem determined to ignore or at least try to forget, what happened in the previous four seasons.

The real highlight of this show for me was the interactions between Jane and Maura and their families and watching how Maura was brought into the Rizzoli family fold. The show was more about two women holding their own in a tough workplace as they dealt with their families and the problem of finding and holding onto love while the crimes showcased their talents. Maura’s brilliance at forensics and Jane’s ability to work through Maura’s tech jargon and get to the point quickly in order to close cases. And at the end of season four they seemed to be on track to something of a happy ending. There were even two more female characters, Riley, a new Homicide Detective and Susie Chang, Maura’s assistant in the Crime Lab that seemed set to take larger roles in the story.

Angela, Jane’s mother, is a really divisive character of the show. Some people love her, some people hate her. I am of the point where I’m not sure she should remain in the show, because she’s not learning anything or contributing anything. See, Angela is the intrusive mother type that interferes with her children’s lives even if that means she disregards that two of her three children are cops and they can’t tell her everything and do everything she wants, because it can be illegal! Despite this, Angela is still sometimes portrayed as the ‘best mom ever.’ When, really, being with a mother like that is annoying and grating and Jane has it right. “Get me away from her!” If the character exhibits some growth and faces that her behavior can be wrong. I will see the point in keeping her. Otherwise, it is time for her to go.

Cue season 5, and things began to go strangely. One thing I really liked about this show is how close they stuck to the cop procedure book and how the female characters were smart. There had been a few cases of smart characters doing stupid things in the first four seasons, but they weren’t horrible enough that I was willing to put the show down. It was getting annoying that every time we turned around either Maura or Jane were in danger for the ‘drama.’ It was also a minor annoyance that neither Jane nor Maura could find a happy relationship. For the most part, I was willing to overlook this because Maura’s men kept ending up serial killers or dead or just wrong for her, and the fact that Jane and Casey talked about their relationship and made decisions about it together. (Granted Casey did do that stupid thing but that was pointed out that he was stupid.) I wasn’t happy that the writers couldn’t figure out how to write the women into loving and stable relationships that allowed them to work the jobs that they loved with minimal compromise, but I was willing to live with it.

But Season Five started a new trend that has continued into Season 6 and made me furious. It started out small, but cop procedure was being put by the wayside. In fact, cop procedure was so ignored it felt that the writers had written themselves into a plot that they didn’t know how to get out of otherwise and instead of dealing with what they had done, they put Jane into a life or death situation in order to end that plot line. And then, smart characters started doing stupid things, things that these characters would never do if written properly or if procedure was being followed. Characters just disappeared or were written out with little explanation, this even included the pets. In fact, smart characters doing stupid things ended up with one character dead and another, well, that would be a spoiler for the midpoint of season 6. The one character who ended up dead was replaced with a male character who I gather is supposed to be likeable, but isn’t being written that way. (Weird characters are hard to write likeable, especially ‘weird’ characters who do things to ‘test’ their bosses and are in general disrespectful to said bosses. It isn’t weird. It isn’t funny. It is just another man giving a woman in authority a hard time.) It was a disappointing decision.

It feels like the writers don’t know how to do two things. Write these characters in supportive love relationships and write love interests in as permanent cast. And, they don’t know how to advance their plot without their characters doing really dumb things. Things that a trained Medical Examiner and an experienced homicide cop like Maura and Jane would never, ever do. And they have lost really good actors and actresses and amazing characters because they can’t figure this out, instead they take the cheap and easy way out for cliffhangers and drama. (And I understand these actors leaving. They have to eat and if other shows offer them steady work, good on them for taking a steady job.)

I have a love hate relationship with cliffhangers. I understand their point. In fact, if used sparingly, they are extremely effective ways to keep your reader going with “What is going to happen next?” This is the entirety of 50 Shades of Grey. It was written in such a way that the reader, even if they didn’t like what they were reading, felt impelled to keep reading just to see what would happen. (this is also the formula of the DaVinci Code and just about any beach read.) Rizzoli and Isles use cliffhangers as mid-season and season finales. Instead of wrapping up a season storyline, they decide to put the characters, usually Jane or Maura in danger in order to ‘hook’ viewers for coming back for more. I love a good cliffhanger.

I hate Rizzoli and Isles cliff hangers. They are exhausting. And infuriating combined with the knowledge that if these characters were being written to character, they wouldn’t do what they were doing and wouldn’t be in danger in the first place. Like the difference between Bones and Castle, character consistency is the key. If you are going to have smart characters, who have been shown they know how to defend themselves, and are exceptional at their jobs, show them as smart characters who know their jobs. Don’t have them do stupid things and put themselves in needless danger for the sake of drama and cliffhangers and formula.

Fortunately for my sanity, TNT has only ordered one more, very short, season of Rizzoli and Isles. (In fact, it is so short, that it will be over at the end of the ‘summer’ season instead of the ‘winter’ season.) I’ll give them to the end of season six to see if their smart characters start making smart decisions and with the knowledge that they only have one more season, see if they figure out how to write these women happy endings (even if that means they are happy single, but then they need to be shown happy being single and neither of them have been expressly shown that way.)

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