Sexier than Cagney and Lacey, brainier than Laverne and Shirley and way better at tracking down serial killers than the women of The View, Rizzoli and Isles are TV's favorite gal pals of the moment. The show's ratings are through the roof. Bloggers obsess over the characters' "secret" love lives. Big-name guest stars are on the horizon. Still, for Angie Harmon, the show's chisel-cheeked costar, the true sign of success was getting a shout-out from Liz Lemon. Last spring, when Tina Fey's character on 30 Rock heard that her boss Jack was buying a cable network, Liz practically started hyperventilating: "Is it TNT? Are Rizzoli and Isles friends in real life?"
"I know it was a joke, but I kinda went, 'Hey, we made it!'" says Harmon. She's taking a break between scenes on the Rizzoli & Isles set in Los Angeles and talking about the 101 unexpected side effects of having the hottest new cable show of the past year. In its debut run last summer, Rizzoli & Isles drew nearly 9 million viewers a week, making the one-hour drama about a duo of mismatched crime investigators the highest-rated commercial-supported cable series of all time. And it's not just Tina Fey: "Old guys from Boston, young girls who tell me we inspire them, moms on the street," Harmon says. "I'm in awe of all the fans of this show."
All season long, viewers did a collective head tilt at the curious pairing of Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli (Harmon) and medical examiner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander). Rizzoli is the tough-as-brass workhorse who digs being a chick in a dude's world of perps and stooges. Isles is the erudite investigator whose flair for Latin is offset by a Paris runway model's love of couture. "I can only aspire to having a wardrobe like Maura's," Alexander says of the chic ensembles her character wears to murder scenes. She's quirky like that. "You don't see a lot of other TV characters Googling for fancy handbags from an office inside a morgue."
But it wasn't Rizzoli and Isles that viewers were talking about after the finale; it was Rizzoli and Rizzoli. In the season ender, a commando team of killers invaded Boston Police HQ, shooting every cop in sight, including Jane's younger brother, Frankie, a uniformed officer played by Jordan Bridges. He's the pup to his big sis' K-9 personality, and Jane ended up shooting herself (in episode-ending slow-mo) to get Frankie medical attention. The season faded to black even as Rizzoli family blood was still oozing.
"We're both here today, so clearly we're not dead," Bridges says with a laugh after a scene with Harmon. The three-month story gap gives the sibs time to heal, though emotional scars linger, especially for Jane. The instinct to put herself in the line of fire — her own fire — has profound repercussions. As exec producer Janet Tamaro explains, Rizzoli realizes it wasn't a good idea to turn a gun on herself. "Note to viewers," Tamaro says: "Don't shoot yourselves."
Adding to Jane's challenges this season (spoiler alert!): The senior Rizzolis — played with Boston "blue cawlah" charm by Chazz Palminteri and Lorraine Bracco — are splitting up. Mama Rizzoli moves in with Maura and has to get a job. "Jane is not happy about watching her mother take orders from the creepy guy who runs the café where she works," Tamaro says. But the breakup of the marriage was inevitable. "The Rizzolis were already starting to come apart, and the trauma to both kids did them in," Tamaro says.
On the upside, Rizzoli and Isles each develop new romantic attachments in the season opener. Jane has a fling with an ex-flame from high school (Chris Vance), now a West Point graduate who's been commanding troops on the front lines. "I love a good make-out session on the couch," Harmon admits. Maura, meanwhile, sleeps with Jane's surgeon.
What remains unclear is whether all the lip-locking will quiet the rumors. For months, more than a few bloggers have speculated about the sex lives of the show's lead characters. Apparently, one softball game and an innocent girls' sleepover at Rizzoli's was all it took to nail Rizzoli & Isles as "TV's first lesbian buddy cop show [that] just doesn't know it yet," in the words of one blogger. OK, so there was that episode where Jane had to go undercover at a lesbian bar. But Tamaro is happy to set the record straight, as it were. "The lesbian theory endlessly amuses me, and it amuses the cast," she says. "Rizzoli and Isles have been heterosexual from the first episode, though there is no way I would want to interfere with my viewers' fantasy lives." Alexander, who in real life is married to director Edoardo Ponti, Sophia Loren's son, adds, "It's a great compliment. Angie is a beautiful woman, and I can't say we don't make a hot pair."
For more on Rizzoli & Isles, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, July 7!
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