TNT, USA launch women against crime

  • Article by: NEAL JUSTIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 10, 2010 - 3:31 PM

After nearly 70 years, Wonder Woman has gotten a much-needed makeover. Some shows have embraced the new era -- and some haven't, as evidenced by TNT's "Rizzoli & Isles" and USA's "Covert Affairs," both debuting this week.

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Sasha Alexander and Angie Harmon in "Rizzoli and Isles"

Photo: Darren Michaels/tnt, Star Tribune

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After nearly 70 years, Wonder Woman has gotten a much-needed makeover. Last week's edition of her comic book shucked her red-white-and-blue swimsuit, one that never required X-ray vision to eyeball her buxom body, replacing it with a darker, sleeker and much more practical outfit for those chilly nights of crimefighting. I'll admit, I spent a considerable amount of my youth gawking at Lynda Carter's Weapons of Mass Dimensions on the campy TV series, time I probably should have invested in something more appropriate, like my neighbor's Playboy collection. Women deserve better heroines, something cable executives figured out a few years ago.

The success of TNT's "The Closer" and USA's "In Plain Sight" proves that you don't have to put your protagonists undercover at female prisons, cheerleading camps or strip clubs to make them compelling and, yes, sexy. I wouldn't trade the sight of Kyra Sedgwick or Mary McCormack intimidating a suspect for a Skinemax film festival. Some shows have embraced the new era -- and some haven't, as evidenced by TNT's "Rizzoli & Isles" and USA's "Covert Affairs," both debuting this week.

"Rizzoli & Isles," the more mature of the two, stars "Law & Order" veteran Angie Harmon as ambitious detective Jane Rizzoli, who barely flinches when her brother accidentally breaks her nose during a pickup basketball game and is even more cool-headed when she enters a grisly crime scene.

Her first opponent, a slippery serial killer who probably sipped Chianti with Hannibal Lecter, is a doozy, and in their final confrontation, you half expect her male partner to jump out of the bushes and save the day. But Rizzoli has to rescue herself, which she somehow manages to do without whispering sweet nothings into the bad guy's ear. The pilot doesn't give the other title character -- Maura Isles -- much to do, but since she plays a coroner, I expect actress Sasha Alexander to go all Quincy on us in ensuing episodes.

It doesn't surprise me that the series is overseen by a woman, Janet Tamaro, and is based on a series of books by Tess Gerritsen.

It also is no shocker that "Covert Affairs" appears to be supervised strictly by men, including Doug Liman, who previously punished us with "The O.C." Piper Perabo, best remembered for slow dancing on top of the bar in "Coyote Ugly," stars as Annie Walker, a CIA trainee who is plucked out of school for a high-profile assignment. Is it because she's one of the training center's best students? That she can speak seven languages? That she can drive like Danica Patrick? No, it's mostly because she's shapely enough to pass as a call girl.

And when she confronts the enemy in the climactic scene, does she pull it off all by her lonesome? Well, let's just say that a dreamboat from her past manages to make a convenient reappearance.

"Covert" isn't a bad series. The action scenes, directed by former "Animal House" troublemaker Tim Matheson, are crackerjack and Perabo has great chemistry with her colleague, Christopher Gorham ("Ugly Betty"), who plays an agent blinded in the line of duty. And, yes, Perabo is a knockout in a bikini, a fact the producers remind us of about three times in the first hour. But why not give a talented young actress a chance to shine without leaning so heavily on her sultriness?

"Rizzoli" is proof it can be done -- at least until the episode where Harmon goes undercover at a porn shop.

njustin@startribune.com • 612-673-7431

  • RIZZOLI & ISLES

    ★★★ out of four stars

    When: 9 p.m. Mondays.

    Where: TNT

    COVERT AFFAIRS

    ★★ out of four stars

    When: 9 p.m. Tuesdays.

    Where: USA

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