'Rizzoli & Isles' review: A killer thriller

rizzoli-and-isles-02-320.jpg "Rizzoli & Isles," like its lead-in "The Closer," brings TNT a solid drama featuring spirited female leads who have a knack for taking down the bad guys.

The series, debuting on Monday, July 12 at 10 p.m. ET, stars Angie Harmon as Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander as chief medical examiner Maura Isles and is based on stories and characters by novelist Tess Gerritsen.

Although "R&I" exhibits strong plotting -- no doubt from its literary roots -- it's the characterizations and skillful performances that makes the show compelling.

Both leads have experience with crime procedurals, and after the dismal and short-lived "Women's Murder Club," we're happy to see hear Harmon's signature rasp back and sounding outraged. In the premiere, titled "See One, Do One, Teach One," the Rizzoli character is tough, tomboyish and no-nonsense, but when a murderer demonstrates a disturbingly familiar modus operandi, she's afraid that a serial killer who once had her at his mercy now has a copycat.

In contrast to Rizzoli's earthiness, Isles is cool and put together, wearing designer duds even though she mainly deals with the dead. She often sees people as subjects to diagnose first and as personalities later, which can get in the way of relationships. Nevertheless, she and Rizzoli have built an easy and loving friendship over the years based on mutual trust and respect.

rizzoli-and-isles-01-320.jpgHarmon and Alexander both bring substance, humor and vulnerability to their attractive characters, and the possibility of a mutual love interest ( Billy Burke) could add extra spice to their relationship. The series also includes worthy performances from Lee Thompson Young as a detective who has yet to become jaded; Bruce McGill as a veteran detective with a soft spot for rescuing furry animals; and Lorraine Bracco as Rizzoli's outspoken mother.

"R&I" isn't any fluffy, girl power, shoot 'em up, but a gritty and occasionally gruesome drama that delves into the unpleasant side of humanity while keeping suspense and surprises alive. Expect some equally strong language to reflect the harshness of the crimes, but enough charisma from the protagonists to keep the show from derailing into glorified grisliness.

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Photo credit: TNT