‘Riz­zoli’ finds hu­mor among crimes

TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROB OWEN

This is un­doubt­edly the busiest week of sum­mer for new and re­turn­ing cable se­ries pre­mieres, in­clud­ing “Curb Your En­thu­si­asm” (10 p.m. Sun­day, HBO), “Eureka” (8 p.m. Mon­day, Syfy), “Ware­house 13” (9 p.m. Mon­day, Syfy), “Al­phas” (10 p.m. Mon­day, Syfy), “Res­cue Me” (10 p.m. Wed­nes­day, FX) and “Haven” (10 p.m. Fri­day, Syfy).

TNT has its own pair of pre­mieres Mon­day, with the sev­enth sea­son of “The Closer” (9 p.m.) lead­ing into the sec­ond sea­son of “Riz­zoli & Isles” (10 p.m.). While “The Closer” is on its way out — a fi­nal sea­son, air­ing next sum­mer, will usher in a spin-off se­ries, “Ma­jor Crimes” — “Riz­zoli & Isles” is just get­ting started. It de­buted last sum­mer and quickly be­came a hit with rat­ings that some weeks eclipsed those of “The Closer.”

Last year “Riz­zoli” av­er­aged 8.8 mil­lion view­ers, mak­ing it not just a cable hit but an over­all TV hit, par­tic­u­larly con­sid­er­ing that some broad­cast net­work se­ries were re­cently re­newed with fewer than an av­er­age 7 mil­lion weekly view­ers.

“Riz­zoli & Isles” stars Angie Har­mon (“Law & Or­der”) as Jane Riz­zoli, a no-non­sense Bos­ton po­lice de­tec­tive. Her best friend/co-worker, med­i­cal ex­am­iner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexan­der, “NCIS”), is her po­lar op­po­site. Where Jane is a tom­boy; Maura is fash­ion­able. Jane is brusque; Maura is sweet. It’s an amus­ing, of­ten funny, part­ner­ship that makes “Riz­zoli & Isles” lighter than many po­lice shows.

The new sea­son picks up where last year’s ended: Jane is re­cov­er­ing from a shoot­ing and chaf­ing to get back to work. Her younger brother, Frankie Jr. ( Jor­dan Bridges), is also on the mend and the si­b­lings will learn of new fam­ily tur­moil in the sea­son pre­miere.

For the ac­tresses who bring Jane Riz­zoli and Maura Isles to life, their ca­ma­raderie and the show’s lighter mo­ments are a big draw.

“Life is funny and you can laugh at a fu­neral,” Har­mon said. “To me, it’s more re­al­is­tic when we have things that are funny in the show. That be­ing said, this sea­son some episodes are re­ally funny, some episodes are flat-out silly and some episodes are scary and dead se­ri­ous, and I love that.”

Alexan­der agreed, say­ing hu­mor trav­els well.

“When you’re watch­ing stuff that’s so heavy, when the crimes are so heavy, it can get tiring,” she said. “Ul­ti­mately, you love char­ac­ters and what’s hap­pen­ing be­tween them, and that’s driv­ing us through the dif­fer­ent mys­ter­ies each week.”

Some­times the crime sto­ries need to be leav­ened with hu­mor, Alexan­der said. “It’s a lit­tle like a zom­bie movie ... be­cause you have this re­ally funny scene that has to do with some­thing to­tally me­nial and light and yet you’re deal­ing with a grue­some crime.”

Fu­ture episodes will in­clude the in­tro­duc­tion of Jane’s youngest brother, Tommy (Colin Eg­gles­field, “Mel­rose Place”), who gets out of prison.

“He’s just a derelict,” Har­mon said, laugh­ing. “The two older Riz­zo­lis are in law en­force­ment and the baby is in prison and I think that’s fan­tas­tic and ... makes for a su­per-fun fam­ily dy­namic.”

Maura will also gain some fam­ily ties as her hit-man fa­ther re­turns and wants to be a part of her life and her adop­tive mother, played by Jac­que­line Bis­set, comes for a visit.

“She flies in from Paris and we get a glimpse into Maura’s child­hood through this woman who isn’t the warm­est per­son,” Alexan­der said. “What I think is in­ter­est­ing is that Riz­zoli is the tougher one on the sur­face, more ... out­spo­ken and yet her fam­ily life, be­sides some def­i­nite prob­lems, is a tightknit group. Maura, who seems sun­nier, has this re­ally dark side that we’re dis­cov­er­ing as we go.”

Work-wise, one of the show’s chal­lenges has been to come up with ex­cuses to get the med­i­cal ex­am­iner out of the lab. There are only so many times one can be called on to per­form an au­topsy at, say, a marathon.

“I think they fig­ured out a way to do it this sea­son. Of­ten Jane and Maura will be some­where to­gether and they get called to a crime scene,” Alexan­der said. “Also, be­cause we’re deal­ing with more per­sonal stuff, we spend more time at Maura’s new house that we see this sea­son. There are a lot of Riz­zoli fam­ily din­ners hap­pen­ing at Maura’s house this sea­son, and not all suc­cess­fully, I might add, but Maura’s house has be­come the ‘Cheers’ of the show.”

Angie Har­mon stars in “Riz­zoli & Isles,’’ which launches its sec­ond sea­son Mon­day on TNT.

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