E: A few days ago, a little present arrived for me in the mail – a promotional copy of TNT’s newest drama (because you know, they’re all about the drama) Rizzoli and Isles. The disc made quite clear that the episode had been “sweetened”, but wasn’t complete. It’s a pleasant thing to get an advanced copy of something – sweetened or not – in one’s mailbox; I like mysteries (though not necessarily cop shows) and I like shows with women as the lead characters, and it’s summer, so I thought sure, I’ll check it out.
Then this past Friday, Haven aired its first episode. Based on Stephen King’s short story The Colorado Kid, that too seemed like a good enough bet. I’m still searching for that exciting scripted summer series, the one that captures my attention and imagination, and like I said, I like mysteries, and science fiction. Memphis Beat has been pretty good so far but not addictive. The Gates has a moderately appealing teen love triangle, but some of the adult actors are so stilted and dreadful that I’m questioning the sanity of the casting director. And I’m sick of rooting around! I’m used to The Good Wife, damn it! I know, I know, we can’t expect that from the summer – but I could really use some Castle or Bones or something similarly snappy and fun. I’d like to stop fishing around and just enjoy something already.
And, not bad, but neither of these two new shows is knocking my socks off like I want. At least not yet. I’m going to sound very critical of a lot of things, so I’ll say straight off that Rizzoli had nice production values, an interesting cast, and some genuinely frightening moments. Haven had some snappy dialogue, a great setting and the potential for an interesting future. And pilots usually don’t come in the knock your socks off, plane crashing on a deserted island variety. And both star female protagonists, which I’m pleased about. So I guess I’m not without hope, but I’m not chock full of it, either. Mild thematic spoilers to follow…
What puzzles me about both shows – and perhaps this is a summer show issue? – is that neither one sets up with a clear long term plan. Haven started like a miniseries, with a situation clearly defined as limited. And Rizzoli and Isles really comes off as a mostly decent tv movie rather than the start of a series.
Rizzoli and Isles‘ first episode, “See One. Do One. Teach One.” begins with a gruesome crime taking place – a man with a shaking china cup on his knees, and a woman being held at knife point and presumably about to be raped in front of him. Mercifully the camera cuts away before any other kind of cutting occurs, but fair warning – it wasn’t pretty, and there’s a really unpleasant crime scene to follow. I’m horrified, but also a bit distracted. That’s my china pattern! (Note to the writers and prop department; that’s not technically a tea cup, not unless they changed the shape since I got married. It’s their coffee cup. Just saying.)
After busting her nose playing pick up basketball with her brother (and being blamed and fussed over by her mother), disheveled tomboy Jane Rizzoli shows up at the crime scene. The costume designer is clearly a fan of season six Project Runway winner Meana Irina’s Urban Warrior collection, where her models wrapped themselves in big chunky cardigans (in grays and blacks) as armor against the cruel world outside. This is Rizzoli to a T – a little sloppy but still chic. Arriving at the same time is Maura Isles, dressed to kill in a cocktail dress and sleek stiletto boots. Rizzoli’s got a green new partner named Frost and a curmudgeon of a former partner neglected who to warn her that she’s walking into what may be a copy cat of a Surgeon murder. We find out in a series of flashbacks that Jane was kidnapped by, but eventually caught, a gruesome serial killer known as the Surgeon. Because there are details to the killing that were never released in the press, Jane doesn’t believe it’s a copy cat; she thinks that the Surgeon has somehow trained an apprentice. It’s a bit similar to The Mentalist’s Red John – except, of course, Red John is still haunting Patrick Jayne, several seasons in, and the Surgeon is in prison.
The hour that follows certainly holds your interest, although Rizzoli makes a few annoyingly dumb decisions mixed in with her generally smart ones. Angie Harmon has that dry, deep voice; the voice is a character in itself, but the longer I listen the more I wonder whether she has more than the one tone. Rizzoli’s mother (played by Lorraine Bracco, who can hardly be old enough for the task) and brother (Jordan Bridges, a love interest from The Bionic Woman) are enjoyable characters, as is animal loving ex-partner Korsack (Bruce McGill, so memorable in MacGyver). Frost, last seen throwing himself off a building in Fast Forward, hasn’t been given much to do besides barf. I’m looking forward to seeing the excellent Donnie Wahlburg as a fellow cop and Oscar nominee Chazz Palminteri as Rizzoli’s dad, if I keep up with the series. Isles, played by Sasha Alexander, lives in a immaculate mansion; who knew that being a coroner paid so well? I’m inclined to think she’s supposed to come from money – that or the wardrobe and set department went insane over her. She’s supposed to be like Temperance Brennan in her alleged lack of friends, but she’s not really convincing at being unapproachable. I can’t quite tell how close the women are supposed to be – are they becoming best friends now, or have they been for a while?
The biggest misfire of the pilot – aside from the odd decision to begin the series with the most emotionally weighted case the protagonist could have – involves the morose, charmless FBI Agent Gabriel Dean who arrives to investigate a national security angle in the murder investigation. He seems attracted – and attractive – to both Rizzoli and Isles. I guess I question whether we should have had their friendship more fully established before it was tested this way? Or whether we learned enough about them through the test, at least. Generally, I just don’t know where the show goes from here. The action of this episode seems hard to top for emotional impact, and that’s a puzzling choice. You don’t start a mix tape with your very best song. You need to draw people in, of course, but there has to be some sort of “up” from here, and I can’t imagine what that’d be. Also, the story was told completely from Rizzoli’s point of view. Shouldn’t we have gotten a bit of pov from Isles? We never even see her without Rizzoli. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only scenes without Rizzoli involve the baddie. Will later episodes switch back and forth, one week Rizzoli, another week Isles? Because so far, the lead character is clearly Rizzoli, and Isles does not merit her title card.
Then there’s Haven. In “Welcome to Haven,” orphaned Audrey Parker, FBI, is sent to the town of Haven, Maine to apprehend a prison escapee. Parker looks like a pert, snub nosed cheerleader, with a sassy, sarcastic delivery. She’s rootless and cheerfully loveless and devoted to her job. She reads teen vampire novels – something much slimmer than the Twilight or Vampire Academy series, since her boss pockets the one he finds. And something happened to her on a previous case which makes that enigmatic boss chastise her for believing in the impossible (or at least the unorthodox). Where Rizzoli and Isles are no nonsense pragmatists, Parker is a Mulder-style true believer.
Haven is far more recognizably East Coast than Rizzoli and Isles, which is set in Boston. It might not actually be a town in Maine, but it definitely looks like it could be one. The harbor is gorgeous, and the downtown buildings authentic, too – although it’s clear from the size of the downtown we’re not looking at a tiny population. There are astounding cliffs – which, it turns out, Parker’s fugitive got blown off. Yep. He doesn’t fall. He’s chasing someone, and he gets blown off. When Parker drives towards Haven for the first time (perfectly timed to check out the possible crime scene), a strange sinkhole opens up in the road and sends her rental car (thankfully without her in it) off one of the towering cliffs. She’s rescued from said car, as it hangs off the bluff, by a handsome local detective who can’t feel pain (popular malady lately, no?); I can see the appeal as a meet cute, but did she really need to be rescued? Especially since all he did was open the car door? Why undercut her authority that way, before we even get to see her do the smallest little bad-ass thing?
In their investigation they meet up with a the gruff chief of police (who turns out to be the detective’s father) , a sexy smuggler (played by show-killer Eric Balfour, the only cast member I recognized), a handyman with Gulf War PTSD, townsfolk whose moods can affect the weather, and a pair of nutty newspaper editing brothers. The brothers turn up an old newspaper clipping with headline “The Colorado Kid” and a large photo from 27 years before the present, of a young boy and a turtleneck wearing woman who looks exactly like Audrey Parker. The mystery of the week turned out to be pretty perfunctory; the true culprit is immediately obvious. The overarching mystery? I’m curious. There seems to be some sort of murder linked to the news paper article, though we don’t have even the most basic facts yet. Audrey asks for time off to investigate the mystery of her parentage, but she’s not assigned to Haven, I’m left wondering how long things can be strung out, and also how many other mutant citizens can have migrated to a single town in Maine. (Assuming that the show is about the quirky, crazy citizenry, which I get the impression it’s going to be.) What can the show do with a couple weeks of vacation time? Her boss gives her the time with no questions asked; it turns out he’s actually watching her from one of Haven’s cliffs. He’s on the phone with someone interested in Audrey’s whereabouts. Ah, a conspiracy! Mulder would approve. As he drives away, one of those strange straightline sinkholes follows him out of town. Got to be hard on the municipal budget, whatever it is lurking in them thar hills.
So far, we don’t see Haven’s dark underbelly so much as its whimsical surface (where even the villain of the week wasn’t remotely villainous), but this is a Stephen King project, so the darkness has to be hiding there somewhere. And it’s even less clear how we’ll get a long term series out of the set up. Will Parker assist the police as she works on her own research projects? Will she be unable to solve the mystery, will she quit the FBI and move, will she establish a permanent task force there, to contain all the darkness (or quirkiness) we’ve yet to see? I have no idea. Still, Emily Rose brings a unique energy to her role as Agent Parker, and it’ll be fascinating to see if Balfour can actually get a job lasting more than a few months. He and Rose share a nice, sparky chemistry. Ah, bad boys. We good girls love ’em. And our local hero hates smuggler Duke Crocker (yes, seriously) enough to make Audrey very, very curious. Lucas Bryant, playing Detective Nathan Wuornos, fills in the final arm of our potential love triangle; his most recent regular work was on a series irresistibly entitled Faux Baby. I’ll be curious to see if he can bring anything remotely as interesting as that name to his so far stolid character.
Will one of these shows turn out to be what I’m looking for? I can’t say yet, although I wouldn’t have bothered to review them if I didn’t think they could up their game. Unless a show is obviously bad or boring, it’s far kinder to give it at least a few episodes, and these shows are neither. The pilot can’t always tell you enough to make an informed choice. It’s a rare show that finds it’s voice and rhythm that early. And it’s summer. We’ve got the time to let them ripen.