What the NY Times missed about “Rizzoli & Isles”

Earlier this week, New York Times TV critic Mike Hale reviewed the opening of the seventh and final season of the TNT original cop show, “Rizzoli & Isles.”

Here’s a relevant snippet:

On television, as in life, comfort food comes in all sorts of flavors. There’s the tart apple pie of “NCIS,” the solid corned beef and cabbage of “Blue Bloods,” the wacky loco moco of “Hawaii Five-0.”

“Rizzoli & Isles,” which begins its seventh and final season on Monday night, is in the TNT section of the menu. Like those other shows, which are on CBS, it’s good reheated. But it’s lighter and easier to eat with one hand while doing other things. It’s the thin-crust pizza of prime time.

That makes it the type of show that doesn’t generally garner much attention when it announces that its run is ending. (The final 13-week season will bring the show to a more-than-respectable 105 episodes.) A lot of people will notice, though, when “Rizzoli & Isles,” a formulaic buddy-cop drama — with the twist that the buddies are women and one’s a medical examiner — goes away.

I’m more charmed by the series than Hales, but I accept and agree with his point that “Rizzoli & Isles” is light fare, a far cry from “House of Cards” or even “Orphan Black,” but he misconstrues the lookalike shows that bring what’s interesting and distressing about “Rizzoli & Isles” into focus.

The real consideration set should be the other Holmes & Watson pairings where an eccentric genius teams up with a normal-but-tough partner.  By this definition, the peer group for “Rizzoli & Isles” are “Castle,” “The Mentalist,” “Elementary” and “Psych.”

When you look at this group, then the thing that immediately pops out is how much more eccentric the male geniuses are allowed to be than Maura Isles (portrayed by Sasha Alexander).   Rick Castle, at least at the start of the series (ignore the stupid, audience-betraying finale from last month), was an impish, annoying horndog who happened to be preternaturally insightful.  Holmes in “Elementary,” is a recovering drug addict who might be on the autism spectrum.  Patrick Jane in “The Mentalist”  was morally ambiguous at best: a con man who was only working with the cops to get revenge for his slain family.  In “Psych,” Shawn Spencer is another con man, in this case a hyper-observant young man who pretends to have psychic powers as a gimmick for a detective agency.

So what, in comparison, is so eccentric about Dr. Maura Isles?

She’s usually over-dressed for her job as a medical examiner.

Oh, and she is a tiny bit socially awkward when not talking about science.

That’s it.

When you look at “Rizzoli & Isles” in this peer group, then you quickly see how much narrower our conception of women’s range of eccentricity is when compared to how men can be eccentric.

Unless, of course, the woman is playing a villain.  Then you can get Alexis Carrington, Cruella DeVille, or any of the other snarling, scenery-chewing bad girls.  Think of the delight the camera takes in all the previews and stills from Margot Robbie’s forthcoming portrayal of Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad.”

A crazy man can be a hero or a villain.

A crazy woman is a villain.

I’ll keep tuning in, but just once I’d like to see the show runners of “Rizzoli & Isles” give Sasha Alexander the kind of acting material that Nathan Fillion, Simon Baker, Jonny Lee Miller and James Roday regularly received in their shows.

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