Rizzoli & Isles

Rizzoli & Isles debuts on TNT tonight at 10 p.m.

(An imagined conversation between the critic and TNT, which in this scenario is not a cable network behemoth but, instead, a somewhat jolly dwarf with +5 lockpick skill.)

TV: "Nice to see you, TNT."

TNT: "Hey, nice to see you, too, man. We know drama."

TV: "That's what I'm here to talk about. I'm not so sure Rizzoli & Isles ... works. I know you guys pioneered the 'Cable cop procedural that's really a throwback to '70s character-based detective shows like Columbo or The Rockford Files,' but now that everybody on cable is trying that, it's really starting to show its seams. Rizzoli & Isles is kind of a mess of a show. There are interesting elements around the edges, but the writing is just dire."

TNT: "Angie Harmon stars as a cop who leads with her heart, not her head!"

TV: "See, that's my problem exactly. You spend much of the pilot on simple declarative sentences, sentences that try to spell out everything that's happened to every character or explain their motivations or talk about their back stories, and every time the show does this, it becomes laughable. And it does it a lot."

TNT: "Sasha Alexander is a cop who has a big head, but not a lot of heart! She was on NCIS!"

TV: "Yes, I know, but her character here - Isles, for those of you playing along at home - is basically just a redo of the main character from Bones. Alexander plays this character with a bit more nuance than Harmon plays Rizzoli (we'll get to that, I hope), but she's still more caricature than actual person. It's like the creators of the show read the books the show is based on (by Tess Gerritsen, though I assume you already know that, TNT), then decided the way to make hard-boiled crime dialogue work on a show like this is to make it even more declarative. Rizzoli and Isles don't seem like real people. They seem like dudes who corner you in the local supermarket and tell you exactly everything about how they're feeling, and when they show flashbacks to Rizzoli being pinned down by a serial killer and then have her talk about how it really messed her up, well, I didn't need all of that."

TNT: "There's darkness in the city of Boston, but Rizzoli and Isles are just the two cops with hearts of gold to bring the bad guys down!"

TV: "Here's another thing: the one show I can think of that actually builds its entire lifeblood around serial killers, like this one seems to be doing, is Criminal Minds. There just aren't enough serial killers in one city - like Boston - to do this on a regular basis, which is why it takes an FBI show (which can travel everywhere) to make that premise vaguely believable. Now, Criminal Minds is not a very good show, with its weird pretentious obsessions and baffling digressions, but at least the tone of the show fits the topic of the show. It's dark and moody to go with the dark moodiness of chasing serial killers. Again, I don't really like that show, but I can see where there are people who are seriously nuts for it. Rizzoli & Isles, on the other hand, vacillates all over the place. It's quirky like Bones. Only then it's a dark horror movie like Criminal Minds. Then it's like Moonlighting, only between two women, which is weird."

TNT: "Ah, ah, ah! They're not lesbians! They have mainstream appeal!"

TV: "I realize that, strictly within the concept of the show, neither character is a lesbian. I realize it's also kind of offensive to suggest that Harmon's character is a lesbian when she's a tomboy. But here's the thing: Harmon and Alexander have a ridiculous amount of chemistry. And not just friendship chemistry. You half expect these two to fall into each other's arms. I don't think this show SHOULD be about the two falling in love or anything like that, but that's literally the only thing we have to hang our hat on. The attempts to make them seem like old friends fall flat. The attempts to make them seem like partners who don't really like each other fall flat. The attempts to play them as people still getting to know each other fall flat. Pretty much the only scenes that work are the ones where you, say, contrive a way to get them in bed together and then hint, 'Ohhhhhh, are they gonna kiiiiissss?!' Only, of course, they don't because this show has mainstream appeal. I get that fans and critics are always going to read romantic tension into relationships between two main characters, but, for all intents and purposes, Isles is a supporting player in Rizzoli's life, which makes the attempts to thrust the two together even weirder. It's like you want everyone to think they're in love just long enough to get them to watch, so you can remind them they're not."

TNT: "The show has a stellar cast!"

TV: "That, I will give you. I can see a version of this show where Harmon and Alexander - playing the same characters they always play - are able to turn their prickly chemistry into a kind of new crime-fighting duo. And Lorraine Bracco! You know how much I love Lorraine Bracco, even when you're wasting her in the role of an Italian mother. (And did you know she's 18 years older than Angie Harmon? Because I did not.) Michael Massee is one of my very favorite scary-ass character actors, and he has a potentially fun part to play here as the serial killer who very nearly killed Rizzoli and now haunts her dreams (and her real life, since she goes to visit him in jail for some reason). Plus, Bruce McGill! And he's always good, right?"

TNT: "See? Actors you love in a show with promise!"

TV: "More like actors I love in a show that wastes them at every opportunity. All of their dialogue tends to be of the over-declarative variety. There's little wit or nuance to it, and if I'm thinking something, it's inevitable that someone is going to state it outright, ruining the subtext. And that's to say nothing of the general inability to do anything that doesn't involve violence against women, employed in the tawdriest and most manipulative way. I get that it's cool to have a strikingly filmed sequence where a woman is held prisoner, her teacup shaking in her hands, but at the end of the day, it just seems overtly manipulative."

TNT: "But they're strong-hearted LADY COPS, like Cagney and Lacey! They don't take no guff!"

TV: "I get that you want this to be the new Cagney and Lacey, TNT, right down to the name, but there are so many elements competing here that what was the center of Cagney and Lacey - two blue-collar women trying to balance their personal lives with what was, for the time, an unconventional job  - gets lost amidst all of the other stuff going on. If you just remade Cagney and Lacey, it would be sort of pointless, but at least you'd have a better show than the one that's at least equal parts Bones, Moonlighting, Criminal Minds, Cagney and Lacey, and Burn Notice. There are just too many cooks here."

TNT: "Perhaps we can interest you in Memphis Beat, then? Jason Lee! As a cop! In the South! Elvis!"

TV: "I ... just ... no."

TNT: "You're picking up the check, right?"