(Yes, Murder Mystery 2013 was this weekend! That means pics and recaps next week! And also that I’m exhausted. In the meantime…)
When it comes to books adapted into TV shows or movies, I often feel as though one can adopt a Pascal’s Wager-style two-by-two outcome grid:
|Things they changed||Things they kept|
|Things I liked||Pleasantly surprised!||Already knew this was awesome|
|Things I didn’t like||Why???||Not the movie/show’s fault|
I’ve read Tess Gerritsen’s ten novels and single novella that comprise the literary Rizzoli and Isles series upon which the television show is based. If you haven’t, and you want to, stop here. If you have read them (or you haven’t and you don’t want to), you can watch the exact same third of a season of the TV version, Rizzoli & Isles, I did on the ShowCase website here. I’ll wait.
Overall, I enjoyed the show enough that I’m on the fence about whether to buy the DVDs to watch the rest of the series. I like it enough that I want to watch the rest; I know I don’t like it enough that I’ll want to re-watch it. Why and why not? So glad you asked.
1. Already knew this was awesome
Detective show. Two female leads. Need I say more? If so, is this the first post of my blog you’ve read?
Jane Rizzoli. I like Jane, book and TV series, for the same reasons I like Deb on Dexter. She likes the same kinds of things I do. She’s the kind of girl who hung out with the guys growing up. She’s awkward and vulnerable and also bada$$. She’s the hero detective who stretches the rules but always gets her man (in the detective way, not [necessarily] the romantic heroine way). In the book, she’s way more flawed and hurting than in the TV series, but the TV series has a lighter, fluffier tone in general. And she has a deep voice. I have a deep voice. Clearly, I can sympathize with this character based not at all on superficial physical similarities.
2. Not the movie/show’s fault
Goofy mysteries. It’s pretty easy to spot who’s going to be the bad guy, and a lot of the plot-related stuff is improbable. But then, so was the plot-related stuff in the novels. Even though they’re different mysteries with different clues and criminals and premises and so forth, both series tend to strain the suspension of disbelief.
Dr. Isles’s brain swap. The TV version preserves some of what I like about the books’ Maura Isles. She’s smart and good at what she does. She’s elegant and used to being upper-middle class. But I’m not sure why this new Dr. Isles also has to be a weird combination of effusive super girly-girl and Sheldon Cooper. The books’ Dr. Isles is socially suave but has earned the reputation being of an ice queen for never showing emotion. She commands detectives’ respect but can just as easily lose it all by crossing the thin blue line to testify against a cop. And she would definitely know better than to shoot off a bunch of scientific jargon to laypeople without explanation or ask a grown woman, “Oh, were you one of the ‘mean girls’?” without irony. The TV Maura Isles has friendly relationships with everyone, but lacks her literary counterpart’s gravity and dignity.
The Rizzolis. Overall, the books are a lot more angsty than the TV show. The book characters have Big Serious Problems That Don’t Go Away, like Maura and Jane constantly running into sexism and/or having to deal with overtly chauvinist colleagues who are permanent fixtures in their workplaces. In the books, Jane struggles with the fact that her brothers and father expect women to be happy taking care of men. She’s surprised to discover that her hardworking mother, a woman Jane has always thought enjoyed the status quo, is as unhappy as the family cook/cleaning woman/maidservant. In the TV series, Angela Rizzoli still has marital issues going on, but she’s generally played for laughs. Frankie Rizzoli is no longer Jane’s macho and insensitive nemesis but a devoted brother who wants to make detective just like his big sister. Granted, this dynamic is fun in its own right, and Book!Frankie would probably play as over-the-top onscreen. But I still feel like the TV series loses some of the overall issues that ground the books.
Love interests/dark secrets. I’m actually not sure if I like these changes, because I haven’t seen enough of the series to know where the showrunners are taking them. But from what I can tell, the TV series has a habit of tweaking big secret reveals for its characters. For instance, I’ve seen at least one TV-series-original love interest for Rizzoli that makes me wonder if the character serves an actual purpose or is just there to extend the character-arc until Jane marries her canonical husband. Similarly, in both book and TV series, Isles has deep, dark family secrets, but TV version seems to be going a different direction: (vague spoilers) instead of a parent who’s a monster but doesn’t affect Maura’s life, Maura has a parent who does bad things but loves her on the inside.
4. Pleasantly surprised!
Frost. It’s been a while since I read the books, but as best I can remember, Barry Frost is described as blond and implied to be white. I’m glad the showrunners chose colour-blind casting (sort of… it seems pretty obvious that they didn’t consider it for the two leads, but I digress) so we get Lee Thompson Young.
Korsak’s personality. Korsak is a sadder, angstier guy in the books, but I like that he’s been lightened up. Bruce McGill is fun as the experienced cop/mentor character, and I like that he has family problems of his own but seems to be an overall solid guy. As opposed to sad-sack literary Korsak, who always seems to be almost toppling over from a heart attack or kind of creepily having an unrequited crush on Jane. (Which is a good fit for the tone of the books, but not so much for the more upbeat TV series.)
Rizzles. Although the two titular characters are friends in the book series, they don’t actually spend much time together, and they don’t have the same BFF vibe as they do on the show. I like how this version of Rizzoli and Isles depend on each other emotionally. I like the light, buddy-cop vibe (that understandably encourages the slashers!) and the humour and closeness they have in their relationship. If I continue watching the series, it’ll be for their banter and fun scenes together. Yeah, I like seeing female characters interact in deep, well written stories, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy fluff now and then. Rizzoli & Isles, so far, is fluff, but why shouldn’t my fluff shows have fun lady leads like these two?