TV Review: Strong Personalities Carry TNT’s Summer Hits ‘Rizzoli & Isles,’ ‘Franklin & Bash’

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CHICAGOTNT begins their summer 2012 assault tonight, a plan of attack that includes nine original series, including their first primetime reality show (“The Great Escape”), a spin-off of “The Closer” (“Major Crimes”), and a new series for Will McCormack (“Perception”). The summer season starts with two reliable hits as the second season of “Franklin & Bash” and the third season of “Rizzoli & Isles” return tonight. Both shows are solid if not spectacular, driven by the titular leads and the charismatic people who play them. They’re not going to change the TV landscape but they make for enjoyable diversions on a Tuesday night and sometimes that’s all you need.

“Rizzoli & Isles” Television Rating: 3.5/5.0
Television Rating: 3.5/5.0

The night starts with one of cable’s biggest hits, the increasingly popular “Rizzoli & Isles,” the show that will be the network’s flagship once “The Closer” heads off into the sunset this season. The surprising hit has averaged over 8 million viewers in its first two seasons and the success should continue for years to come. While I still think some of the writing could be stronger, Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander have a solid, engaging chemistry and it’s their likability that serves as the bedrock of the show. It’s what keeps people tuning in.

Rizzoli and Isles
Rizzoli and Isles
Photo credit: TNT

Harmon plays tough Boston cop Jane Rizzoli and Alexander her friend and medical examiner Maura Isles in the series based on the books by best-selling novelist Tess Gerritsen. The oil-and-water “Odd Couple” dynamic of these friends and crime solvers (Jane is more blue collar and rough around the edges while Maura is more privileged and type A) was a bit too prominent when the show began and it often felt like the writers were falling back on cliche. Luckily, the talent of the actresses, particularly Harmon, overcame the show’s pitch line. They’re the best reason to watch the show.

The season premiere picks up right after the end of season two as Jane has just shot Maura’s father, the gangster Paddy Doyle (John Doman). The fall-out dominates most of the episode as Doyle recovers in a hospital room and Rizzoli learns that she may be set up for an internal affairs investigation. There’s also the little matter of what shooting dear old dad does to a friendship. Ed Begley Jr. guest stars in a comical supporting role as Isles’ replacement.

Harmon truly anchors “Rizzoli & Isles” with a perfect combination of attitude, sexuality, and believability. She’s underrated here and Alexander has elevated her game over the show’s three seasons to nearly match her. I’m still not sold on the “meddling mother” aspect of the show courtesy of Lorraine Bracco as Jane’s mother. Almost everything she does feels over-written and over-performed. And the writing doesn’t ring true as often as I’d like. But people gravitate to characters in the Summer and it’s easy to see why they keep getting drawn in by “Rizzoli & Isles.”

“Franklin & Bash” Television Rating: 3.5/5.0
Television Rating: 3.5/5.0

What’s better than two strong characters on Tuesday nights? How about four? The decision to pair Jane Rizzoli & Maura Isles with Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer) & Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) was a smart one on the part of TNT as both shows work because of their strong friend protagonists. This season, Franklin & Bash have to face a new degree of responsibility after being made partners at the high-profile firm at which they work. Can these two rebels work within the system that they’ve fought against for years?

Franklin and Bash
Franklin and Bash
Photo credit: TNT

“Franklin & Bash” is a simple show, the kind that opens with Franklin holding his breath in a magician’s water tank in the middle of a courtroom. It’s built around wacky behavior, the kind of semi-comedy legal show that has been a part of the TV landscape for years. No one’s breaking new ground here in terms of writing but the guys are fun enough to watch that it doesn’t really matter.

It feels like the team behind this hit show knows that they’re not breaking ground (there’s zero pretension, which is refreshing) and have simply embraced what works about the program — the friendship dynamic of the two leads. One honestly believes that Franklin & Bash are best buddies, the kind of guys who have each other’s backs in the courtroom and outside of it. Gosselaar and Meyer have an infectiously enjoyable rapport that makes “Franklin & Bash” a pleasant diversion every week. It’s the kind of light, clever show that one wants to watch in the Summer. TNT and USA have battled for Summer dominance the last few years and the former is sending out four of its biggest guns on night one. Your move, USA.

“Rizzoli & Isles” stars Angie Harmon, Sasha Alexander, Lorraine Bracco, Lee Thompson Young, Bruce McGill, Jordan Bridges, and Chris Vance. The third season premiere airs on Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 8pm CST.

“Franklin & Bash” stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Breckin Meyer, Garcelle Beauvais, Reed Diamond, and Malcolm McDowell. It returns on TNT on Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 9pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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