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August 23, 2010

Rizzoli & Isles - From Books to TV

Long-time readers of this blog know I've been a fan of Tess Gerritsen for a long time now, ever since getting the first five books of her Rizzoli & Isles series for review from Curled Up With a Good Book. The series is about Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles, and they are extremely well-written. If you like the "bloody knife" genre of detective thrillers, this series is definitely for you. I took a chance asking for all five books, because I would have been obligated to review them all even if I hated the first book, The Surgeon.

Thankfully, I fell in love with them, and they just continued to get better and better. The characters are wonderful, with Rizzoli's hard edge which has been tempered somewhat by more recent events in her personal life. Isles has been having a lot of relationship issues lately, with the forbidden love she's had with a priest dragging her down even further. I love Gerritsen's mastery of her characters, making them both fascinating and bringing them all to life. Even as it's been taking me long stretches of time to read books that I've enjoyed, I still race through the next Gerritsen book when it presents itself (I still have to do a review of her latest, Ice Cold).

So imagine my pleasure when I heard that some of my favourite characters were coming to TV!

TNT optioned a television series starring Angie Harmon (Law & Order) as Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander (NCIS) as Isles.

(From the TNT web site)

I was sad to see that it hadn't been picked up in Canada yet, but I have managed to watch the first five episodes now, and I have some thoughts about it.

The good news is that it is an awesome series. Yet it's also different.

The first episode is based on the first two Rizzoli & Isles books (The Surgeon and The Apprentice), and understandably, a lot of it is dropped (2 books into one 45 minute episode?). That's ok, though, as the producers do a pretty good job of making the case interesting anyway.

After this episode, the producers go completely their own way, and that's both good and bad.

I love the show, and once readers of Gerritsen's books get past the fact that things are pretty different from Gerritsen's work, they will learn to love it too. But it is definitely off-putting at first.

The series is quite light-hearted compared to Gerritsen's books. Rizzoli & Isles have a nice, comfortable, teasing relationship. People are cracking jokes all the time. They're in-character jokes, as this is not a comedy or anything. But the tones of the book series and the TV series definitely do not match.

Angie Harmon *is* Rizzoli, though. She nails the character, and she is much like she is in the books, except that they've softened the edges. They've also changed some of the personal stuff (she gets married and has a kid in the book series, and her husband is in only one episode of the series, which obviously means they don't get married on TV). The relationship with her mother (wonderfully played by Lorraine Bracco) is much the same, with Mom being overbearing but just wanting to look after her daughter.

(From TNT)

The biggest change, and the one that could be considered the most objectionable, is Maura. In the books, she's a loner, called "The Queen of the Dead" because she's more comfortable with dead bodies than living bodies. She's quite comfortable in that role because she is uncomfortable around people. Her relationship with the priest has made her seem even more morose, for lack of a better word.

In other words, she's not really a "fun" character. Fascinating, definitely. But fun? Uh uh.

In the television show, she's still a loner (other than Rizzoli) and also more comfortable with the dead than the living, but it's played much more for laughs. On a date, she finds herself pointing out that the guy she's with has some obscure disease that he might want to get checked out. She is definitely from the upper crust, having been to boarding school overseas, and she wears designer gear (her reduced-friction baseball suit in the second episode is hilarious) and high-end purses with satisfaction.

While she may be a loner, she's often played for laughs (though not at the expense of her character, as she's often shown as being extremely intelligent and competent) and she's a much lighter character. The conflicted nature she shows in the book doesn't exist, or at least not so far.

Yet once you get over that little nugget, the show is just as brilliant as the books. Just different. I do find myself having to stop myself from comparing the two occasionally, but when you're not doing that, you can enjoy both of them on their own terms.

I love the interaction between Harmon and Alexander, the easy camaraderie that they have.

You can see the basis of each character in Gerritsen's books. But they breathe new life into them as different people. Enjoyable people to watch.

And definitely a lighter tone. This series is both funny and serious, while the books are mainly serious (though Gerritsen has added some of the normal "cop humour" that these types of books usually have).

Both are good in their own way.

And it is safe to love both.

Give them both a try! You'll like them, but perhaps for different reasons.


  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    I don't know about this, so I can't say anything about it, but some books-tv adaptions are great.



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