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TV Preview: 'Rizzoli & Isles' on TNT and 'Covert Affairs' on USA

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2010; C01

While Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and medical examiner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander) check over a naked woman's corpse in the woods to make sure she's been murdered to the exact, telltale preferences of a notorious serial killer, let us occupy ourselves by making a list of all the stylized cop procedurals we've been subjected to lately.

It's like browsing that shelf of faded paperbacks that collect on the living room shelves of a beach rental. One of these new shows ("new" never seems like the right word) was about a smart-talkin' Chicago detective in Florida, called "The Glades." (Is it about air freshener? No, air deadener.) Jason Lee's doing another one -- "Memphis"-something-or-other; "Blue"? "Heat"? Whichever, Lee's character sings in blues clubs after he solves the crime. And there was one about a lady FBI agent sent to a small town (the titular "Haven") to investigate a murder and realizes the town is not what it seems. You don't say.

"Rizzoli & Isles," premiering Monday night on TNT, is just the thing for you silent lambs: easy-on-the-brain depictions of rape and murder, solved in one hour through the power of roguish cop sass and the discovery of semen spots on the ottoman. If you like to come home from work, wait for the microwave to beep, and together with your Brownie Husband watch splatter-patterned murder stories solved by women (and men) with impeccable hair and tiny waists -- well, this is the summer for you. Let the mutual rigor mortis work its magic, as Rizzoli, insulted by a colleague, retorts with lines you've heard a thousand times before, such as: "How is it that you're still single?"

How is it that actual FBI statistics show a drop in violent crime for years now, and yet the TV crime wave continues? Perhaps watching these shows is what keeps real serial killers occupied and vicariously sated?

Thus ends my genre griping. As for "Rizzoli & Isles," it isn't brilliant television, but everyone in it seems to be giving it their all -- even the corpses. It's drawn from a series of crime novels by Tess Gerritsen, where the hard-crusted, soft-centered Rizzoli (that sounds like a dessert!) forms a symbiotic friendship with the calm, encyclopedia-brained Isles. While Rizzoli fumes and fumbles out in the field, Isles meticulously Quincies back at the morgue. While Rizzoli wears hoodies and a ponytail, Isles is always decked out in stilettos. As Rizzoli, Harmon, a long-ago "Law and Order" player, attacks her part with intense crabbiness, which all but obliterates any acting that Alexander, who was on "NCIS," might have had in mind.

After a wealthy couple is murdered, Rizzoli's off to the state pen to play Hannibal-and-Clarice interrogatory games with a serial killer, on the hunch that he's trained an apprentice. There's a hunky FBI agent who shows up to investigate the case, and he distracts Rizzoli and Isles not only from their jobs but from the faintly lesbian undertones that the show keeps trying to establish. Will it be Rizzoli or Isles who captures Agent Hunky's attention? "Somebody should, don't you think?" Rizzoli asks.

"Should we draw straws?" Isles counters.

"Can't we just show him our [breasts] and let him decide?" Rizzoli says.

"Can't someone put a sheet over me?" asks the corpse. "I shouldn't have to watch this."

* * *

Predictable espionage procedurals are not exactly the cure for predictable murder procedurals, but compared to "Rizzoli & Isles," USA's new series "Covert Affairs," debuting Tuesday night, has a lot more zip to offer.

Pert and perky Piper Perabo plays Annie, a Georgetown University grad who speaks more languages than C-3PO. After years of aimless postgrad globetrotting -- and having her heart broken by a man who mysteriously flees their tropical love nest -- Annie decides to join the CIA. (I mean, why not?)

She's such a noticeable, Jennifer Garner-esque spitfire in training camp that she's summoned to Langley before graduation, so she can start being a fulltime spook.

They need the help; all the good spies retired. "Fifty percent of the agency has five years' experience or less," the blind IT guy, Auggie (Christopher Gorham), tells her.

"That's both inspiring and unsettling," Annie says.

Before Auggie can even find Annie a cubicle, she's sent to a hotel in downtown Washington (played once again by Toronto) to pose as a call girl and conduct some espionage-style BlackBerry exchange with a Russian assassin. Here is where the distant relationship of "Covert Affairs" to the "Bourne" trilogy and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (same producers, all) come into play. Bullets fly, Annie runs around a lot, the BlackBerry gets lost, then found. And then there's this and then there's that, requiring Perabo to play cute and tough and sexy and smart all at once -- which, by gosh, she can do. A perpetual motion machine, Perabo is fun to watch.

Her bosses back at Langley are a bickering married couple, Joan and Arthur (played by Kari Matchett and Peter Gallagher), who are on the verge of a divorce because (irony alert) they keep too many secrets from each other. "Why can't you just be a good CIA wife?" Arthur demands of Joan.

"Because I'm not a CIA wife," Joan hisses at him. "I'm a wife who's in the CIA."

"Covert Affairs" (could there be any title that sounds more like being stuck at the airport with nothing to read?) at least does us the favor of introducing storylines that transcend the usual case files. The pilot episode dangles the tantalizing possibility that Annie has been brought to the CIA for a whole other sinister mission; something besides filling the summer TV grid.

Rizzoli & Isles

(one hour) debuts at 10 p.m. Monday

on TNT.

Covert Affairs

(one hour) debuts at 10 p.m. Tuesday on USA.

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