As a fan of Tess Gerritsen, it caught my attention when I saw an advert a while back about a TV series based on her novels. At first I thought it was an interesting idea, both because I enjoy watching as well as reading crime thrillers, and because I love the characters in Gerritsen's books. I then forgot all about it, until a few weeks ago when I decided to check out Season 1 online. It's odd; the TV series is, really, pretty awful, and yet I seem to be addicted to watching it!
Rizzoli and Isles was produced in 2010 It's currently on Season 4, with season 5 hitting screens next year I believe. I'm already half way through season 3, which sees a little more confidence in the characters and quite a stable 'layout' to each episode having built on the first series. In a nut shell, the series falls within the crime genre, focusing on Rizzoli and Isles as crimes are committed and solved around Boston.
The TV version is 'based on' the novels by Tess Gerritsen, though one of the first things I did when I started watching was obviously start making comparisons between the two. I wouldn't recommend this. You may find, like me, that the characters don't initially match the images of them you had in your head, and that certain things (some quite large) are missed. I won't say too much on the latter, but, for instance, something missing from the TV series was what was used in the books to explain the motivations of a character or to create and explore the relationships between characters. I realise that things have to be simplified for TV but in some instances I do think the choices on what was put in and what was neglected may have caused a fairly large divergence from the book and resulted in a lack of depth.
Each episode seems to start in a fairly similar manner, hitting us with a crime and then bringing us to the central characters, before enchanting us with the opening credits and theme music (which again, seems to become catchier the more episodes you watch!). Each episode is approximately 40 minutes in length, which is quite short considering the central premise is self-contained in each show as you may expect in a stand-alone book. The continuity elements are provided in terms of the character sidestorylines, so it helps to watch each episode in order and not miss any out. If it's only the crime 'who dunnit' elements you're after, however, that doesn't matter so much. The crime storylines aren't really done per book; though some elements may be similar, crimes and killers and events are generally just 'based' on the type of thing you might find in a Gerritsen novel. Again, it makes sense because you really need to simplify what's going on to fit it in to such a short period of time. Those who have read the novels will probably agree they can get quite complex in terms of characters, twists and details, which would prove to be far too much to cram in to a TV show.
The characters were a major bug bear for me at first. The two central characters you would expect to see shining bright at the front are Forensic Pathologist Maura Isles, and Homicide Detective Jane Rizzoli. However, having read the books and feeling like I have a sense of who these two are and what they may act like etc, what I first saw didn't match my expectations. Rizzoli seemed to be trying too hard to own a gruff voice and act like a macho woman who fits better with the guys; Maura seemed a little too fashion conscious and airhead-like on occasion. Neither seemed to look, talk or act quite like what I'd thought, mainly because they seemed too dolled up for the cameras, too 'Hollywood' with their perfect teeth and bodies. It seemed to take away some of the realism and the down to earth grittiness you feel from reading the novels. After the first episode I told a friend that the show was a disappointment, that it was pretty stupid and I wouldn't bother watching any more. The next night I was bored and thought I'd give I the benefit of the doubt by seeing whether episode 2 got any better. The next thing I knew, I'd watched all of season 1 and was on to the next.
I think part of the draw is the easiness of the episodes. Each compartmentalises the crime and simplifies the list of characters and events, keeping things none too difficult to keep up with on an evening when you don't want to strain too many brain cells. It's not that it's too dumb either, however, as we still get the 'Maura-ness' in terms of history, biology and forensic lessons, and there is still some crime / detective work done that requires the viewer to pay attention to. It's also the familiarity, and the way in which the show brings us the characters and makes them quite warm; we start to know what to expect from them and also what to expect from each episode in general. And lastly, it's the light-heartedness. I love the humour and quirks that Gerritsen adds to her novels through the witty banter between characters and Rizzoli's sarcasm. I'm glad to say that wasn't lacking in the TV spin off. It's not always quite as razor sharp but it's what I'd hoped for. It brightens up the program and adds a little humour of a more witty and sarcastic nature, which is my favourite!
Other characters you may expect are also there, such as Detective Frost, Jane's mum and brother, etc.
Again, don't expect a reflection of what's in the book. But the basics are there. And each character brings something with them to flesh out each episode, be that by adding some depth to a relationship or by bringing some humour. Acting was generally reasonable, if a little stereotyped on occasion. Again, some of the 'grittiness' and darkness is taken from the TV series to make it more mainstream and appealing to those who want something a little lighter and prettier.
All in all, it's hard to say whether I'd recommend this. At first, I hated it and thought it was awful. Having read many of Gerritsen's novels, this just didn't do the storylines or the characters justice as it is 'made for TV' and as such has a lighter touch. However, I can also appreciate that the series is just 'based on' the books and needs to be far simpler, and that having the characters look and act the way they do probably opens up the audience range. For me, what it lacks in quality and in doing justice to Gerritsen's work, it seems to make up for in addictiveness. I find the shows to have something almost comforting and entertaining about them that keeps bringing me back for me, even if I can't quite put my finger on why. For that reason, I'd recommend giving it a try, just don't have high hopes for consistency if you're a Gerritsen fan.