TNT has spent years trying to find a show that would even approach “The Closer” in terms of ratings. The now retired “Saving Grace,” which frequently followed “The Closer,” wasn’t it.
Instead, TNT found its newest hit last summer with the less ambitious, more conventional “Rizzoli & Isles,” which featured two friends, one a tomboy cop Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon), the other a fashionable medical examiner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander) The show even beat “The Closer” one week in ratings, a first for any TNT show.
“I’m so incredibly grateful for ‘The Closer,’ ” Harmon said in an interview earlier this month. “If it had not been for ‘The Closer,’ I don’t think this avenue would have been explored. And that being said. women identify with the characters. I’m thankful viewers are enjoying it so much.”
The show is back tonight three months after Rizzoli shot herself during a hostage situation. She did so at the time to not only hurt the person who had a gun on her but to ensure her brother (who had also been shot) received more immediate medical attention. That self-sacrificial move meant a lot of time on the couch being a lazy slob after the fact. But a case in tonight’s episode draws her back into police work. She also has to grapple with her parents’ divorce and the fact her mom moved in with Isles.
“People enjoy seeing me in roles in which I’m feisty and tough,” said Harmon. “I love playing them. It’s always about being able to show the cracks in the armor, show a little bit of vulnerability. She doesn’t have all the answers. She doesn’t have everything perfect. But when the moment calls for it, she can kick someone’s [butt.]”
She loved the moment when her character shot herself. “Only in this make-believe world do you get to have such a definitively heroic moment like that,” Harmon said. “She did it for her brother.”
Harmon, who lives Charlotte now, said it was tough spending months on end in Los Angeles while raising three daughters with her husband and former football player Jason Sehorn. “I had a lot of mommy guilt,” she said. “I realized how much I missed taking care of my family. I missed brushing their hair, getting them dressed.” Fortunately, part of the shooting schedule is during the summer so her kids can spend time with her.
The chemistry between Harmon and Alexander helps draw viewers. “I find it funny when Maura goes off about something,” Alexander said. “Jane has this deadpan look. Okay, enough. Her voice starts to trail off.” Their real-life personas are different but they still get along, she said. “We laugh a lot. We dance a lot. We have on the spot dance offs. The whole crew gets involved.”
There is also a running joke among many fans about the two characters and possible feelings between the two that go beyond mere friendship. “I don’t know about the quote, ‘lesbian undertone,’ ” Harmon said. “It’s what people put on it. People think that if a girl has a girlfriend, they must want to make out with them. I don’t feel that way.”
“I know it’s difficult to believe there are some women who are completely hetero,” Harmon noted, “and have never kissed a girl. I happened to be one of them.”
Alexander is even more bemused. “It’s a huge running joke,” she said. “It’s hilarious. I actually asked my friend Jane Lynch about it.” “What is it with your show?’ Lynch said. “I think everyone wants these two girls to hook up. I like projecting this thing on you guys.”
In the episode airing two weeks from now, the writers even bring the topic up. Isles was lusting after a car mechanic named Giovanni. Skeptical Rizzoli scoffs.
“Tell me what you have in common with him. He’s a blue collar, Boston Italian auto mechanic,” Rizzoli said.
“So are you – except being an auto mechanic. And we’re best friends!” Isles said.
“But I’m interesting,” Rizzoli reasoned. “And you don’t want to sleep with me.”
Pause. Rizzoli looks perturbed.
“No! No! But that’s my point. That’s all I want to do with Giovanni.”
“Rizzoli & Isles” TNT at 10 p.m. Mondays