I’ll be honest – I’d been faintly interested in watching “Rizzoli & Isles,” but I wasn’t completely sold on adding yet another police procedural to my DVR, even one led by two strong actresses (Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander). Apparently, I was one of the few who hesitated. The show (which kicks off its second season July 11) averaged 8.7 million viewers throughout its first season, a number that many a big four network would covet this time of year (for example, ABC's “The Bachelorette” has been averaging just over 8.2 million).
But ultimately, that wasn’t what inspired me to finally sit down and watch. “Rizzoli & Isles” has become the focus of one of those “are they or aren’t they” debates. Are they or aren't they gay, that is. The blogosphere (especially the lesbian blogosphere) and the mainstream media have buzzed about it, created a drinking game about it and mostly concluded that, despite the protestations of the show’s creator, Harmon’s Rizzoli and Alexander’s Isles were, well, you know.
Before I watched the show, I figured I was going to pontificate about the debate even happening at all. It’s all a flashback to the days of “Cagney & Lacey,” an Emmy-winning police procedural starring Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless back in the 80s. Gless was actually hired as a replacement after another actress in the role (Meg Foster) was deemed too aggressive (read: lesbian), and network brass actively pushed for her character to be more conventionally feminine (read: straight).
So, sure, it’s a step in the right direction that, while “R&I” series creator Janet Tamaro swears the characters are straight, the show isn’t above winking at the audience with plenty of clues that they aren’t. In an upcoming episode I watched, Rizzoli tries to steer Alexander away from a blue collar love interest with an argument that ends, “And you don’t want to sleep with me… do you?” and ends with Rizzoli and Isles pretending to be gay to send said love interest on his forlorn way. Yeah, not exactly steering clear of the topic there.
But I wondered if we weren’t past these kinds of debates whenever two attractive single female TV characters appear on screen. No one ever wondered if Briscoe and Green were doing it in the back of the cop car on “Law & Order” or if Alex O’Laughlin and Scott Caan’s beach-bound cops on “Hawaii Five-O” ever sock back a few too many mai-tais and have to make the walk of shame into the squad room the next morning. Why do women always have to be sexualized, whether they’re straight or gay? Why can’t they just go to work and, you know, work? Maybe they're just friends! Nothing wrong with that!
I was going to pontificate on all these lovely points, but then I watched the show. And I’ve got to say, if the second season is any indication, maybe everyone's just stating the obvious. Rizzoli doesn’t seem all that interested in guys. She keeps asking Isles if they’re really best friends in a kind of desperate, slightly annoying way that suggests she’s looking for more of a connection than she’s admitting. She is completely put out when Isles decides she wants to get frisky with a guy Rizzoli deems a poor choice. If I were playing the drinking game created by the CherryGrrl website mentioned in the Los Angeles Times, I’d probably be blotto before the second commercial break.
There are a whole lotta questions I have now that I know will never be answered (were the girls gay in an early draft? Is Rizzoli wearing comfortable shoes for a reason other than increased perp-catching speed?). But those questions are really not the point. Because “Rizzoli & Isles,” while being pretty puffy on the police work, does a nice job of portraying a female friendship, whether or not there’s something bubbling beneath the surface. It’s nice to see two female leads who aren’t mother and child doing something other than shoe shopping or working as horribly self-involved doctors (sorry, “Grey’s”) and aren’t Kardashians. They’re smart, they work hard and they’re sometimes funny. “R&I” isn’t the best thing on TV, but it’s not bad. And maybe that, and not hopes for a kiss or love scene that will never come, is why people are talking about the show at the end of the day.