But Rizzoli & Isles, based on the novels by Tess Gerritsen, has one major twist: the respect and friendship of the two female leads.
As in Gerritsen’s novels, Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles respect each other’s insights and skills. They don’t always agree and sometimes are at odds, but that doesn’t affect their relationship. The two characters genuinely like each other.
Call it the female buddy syndrome, or a realistic glimpse at women’s friendships. Whatever.
This relationship is paramount to the inner workings of Rizzoli & Isles, which airs on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET and PT; 9 p.m. EST.
Angie Harmon as Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander as Isles make the viewers believe that these two women would bond over a crime scene, talk about their personal lives in the morgue and, if time ever permits, get together for drinks, dinner, or to help clean up a trashed apartment.
During a recent conference telephone interview with several journalists around the country, the actresses’ chemistry with each other was one of the first subjects that cropped up.
“When we were trying to find the woman to play Maura, it was kind of like a no-brainer when Sasha came in [to audition],” said Harmon. “We just knew it was her right then.”
Alexander agreed: “From the moment we read together, it just sort of clicked.”
Part of the appeal for both actresses also were the surface differences between the characters – the blue-collar Rizzoli is more comfortable in jeans and a sloppy shirt while blue-blood Isles’ ideas of dressing down is flat shoes.
“I really loved the friendship between these two women and watching these two very different women working in this environment, on this kind of gritty male environment,” said Alexander. “That was really the reason that I wanted to be a part of it.”
Both actresses are more than a little familiar with crime drama. Harmon became a household name playing ADA Abbie Carmichael on Law & Order from 1998-2001. Alexander played Special Agent Caitlin Todd on NCIS from 2003 to 2005.
“What stands out [in Rizzoli & Isles] the most is that there’s a lot to these characters,” said Harmon.
“We see their back stories. We see their present situations. To me, that was a lot more interesting than just the regular procedure with four heads standing around a body spelling it out for you. Rizzoli & Isles definitely has got a lot more grit to it. It’s not just a typical procedural show. Our cast will show the different colors of the characters,” said Harmon, who added she spent time preparing for her role by spending time with the actual homicide unit in Boston.
Alexander echoed those sentiments.
"I really love Maura Isles; she’s very fascinating to me,” said Alexander. “I was very compelled by a woman who would choose this profession. [She] came from a very highly educated wealthy background and could have chosen to do a lot of other things. She is this uber-feminine kind of modern woman [who chose] to work this job."
Gerritsen’s novels not only provide the foundation for the series but they also inspire Harmon, who says she is a fan of mystery fiction.
“I hadn’t read Tess’ books until we started playing the characters and now I’m obsessed. I come home, I’m exhausted, but I am ready to read more. I just finished The Sinner, and I’m getting ready to start The Keepsake,” said Harmon.
In a way, the novels are enhancing the way Harmon approaches her character.
“It’s like I’m getting a prequel and a history to these people in the book,” Harmon said. “Here I am shooting the history of these two characters and I’m reading their future. You’re sitting here watching these two characters live, but if you know the books you know what happens to them before they know what happens to them,” said Harmon, who added that the series does not always follow the novels’ storylines.
“I’ve never actually had that happen before in a character that I play. I am shooting a scene with Billie Burke (who plays Gabrielle Dean) and here I am reading about our future.”
Although Harmon has had many roles in the past decade, including a year on The Women’s Murder Club, she will always been Abbie Carmichael, thanks to the endless reruns of Law & Order. Indeed, most of us said we were also watching an episode of that recently canceled drama during the interview. Harmon looks back on those days with fondness.
“I learned some wonderful things from that show. I learned it doesn’t matter how tired you are, you always hang up your wardrobe. I learned from Sam [Waterston] that you never come to the set without your ties. [The Law & Order set] was a wonderful, wonderful place for me. I really thought that the revolving door of Law & Order would sort of going.”
“I would sit in my dressing room and stuff my envelopes with my save the date cards and my wedding invitations,” said Harmon who is married to former football player Jason Sehorn; the couple has three daughters.
But now there is Jane Rizzoli for Harmon to concentrate on.
“Jane is witty, she’s funny. It’s been a fun time playing her humor and playing her attitude. She’s also very serious about her work. And you know she’s a complete tomboy and that’s very different from me. I love playing her.”
Rizzoli & Isles airs on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET and PT; 9 p.m. EST.
Jake wasn’t the brightest lawyer to work out of Miami. And he often let his awkward ways with women get the best of him.
But you could never call Lassiter insincere.
He worked hard for his clients, even when they didn’t return the favor. He knew the law.
He knew his way around the Miami court system, and when to avoid the courthouse steps during the daily cleanup to remove chicken parts and goats’ heads used in Santeria rituals. Ahh, those only in South Florida moments.
And he knew Miami, though sometimes he would get lost in Little Havana because numbered streets were renamed to honor heroes favored by the city commission.
In the hands of author Paul Levine, Lassiter, a Miami Dolphins linebacker turned hard-nosed lawyer, helped launch the current wave of Florida mysteries.
It seems like just yesterday – not 20 years ago – that Levine started the Lassiter series with 1990’s To Speak for the Dead.
It also seems like just yesterday – not 20 years ago – that I started reviewing mystery fiction, and one of the first ones I tackled was To Speak for the Dead. (For the record, I liked it.)
Levine, a former newspaper reporter, law professor and a trial lawyer, published seven Jake Lassiter novels during the 1990s, putting the series on hiatus in 1997.
The series earned Levine the John D. MacDonald Florida Fiction Award. To Speak for the Dead was named one of the 10 best mysteries of the year by the Los Angeles Times.
Jake Lassiter has returned this month – in more ways than one.
To mark the 20th anniversary of his first novel, Levine has put To Speak for the Dead out as an e-book on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords for anyone with a non-Kindle e-reader.
That’s hardly a revoluntionary idea, with many authors now going that route.
But Levine is giving ALL proceeds of the To Speak for the Dead e-book to the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports treatment and research at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.
“I’ve lost three people to cancer in the last few years, one of them the 14-year-old daughter of my best friend, so this is a cause close to my heart,” said Levine.
The Four Diamonds Fund was started by the parents of 14-year-old Chris Millard, a writer of childhood mythic tales, “Sir Millard and the Four Diamonds,” who died of cancer. A portion of one of his stories is on the website.
To Speak for the Dead, which was translated into 15 languages and adapted into an NBC movie in 1995, also has a special significance to Levine.
“The book is meaningful to me, too,” he said. “It got me out of the courtroom. Or at least, out of trying cases. I still visit courtrooms for pleasure and research — but not yet as a defendant.”
All seven Lassiter novels will be published as e-books in the next year.
And Levine is going to bring back the series with the new hardcover novel Lassiter, set for publication during September 2011 by Bantam.
After his series, Levine moved from South Florida to Los Angeles, where he still lives. He wrote 20 episodes of the CBS military drama JAG, and co-created the Supreme Court show First Monday, starring James Garner and Joe Mantegna. He also has written two stand-alone thrillers including last year’s Illegal, plus the four-book Solomon vs. Lord series.
It will be fun to have Jake back again.