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Television Reviews

New cop dramas are a lighter shade of blue

‘Rizzoli & Isles,’ ‘Covert Affairs’ soften the law

By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / July 12, 2010

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‘The Closer,’’ which premiered five years ago, started a small revolution in summer TV. The TNT cop series starring Kyra Sedgwick was an instant basic-cable record-breaker, and, along with USA’s “Monk,’’ it drew droves of viewers hungry for fresh, non-reality, off-season programming. By 2006, summer ad-supported cable TV was winning twice the primetime viewership of the broadcast networks.

Naturally, TNT and USA have been trying to continue and build on that success by unrolling crime-oriented dramas every June and July that are geared to a light summer mood. What exactly is a summery show, when it doesn’t involve a waterslide? Dead bodies are allowed, but the downbeat realism of, say, “CSI’’ is discouraged. Attractive heroes with EZ-to-identify quirks — a Southern accent, an Elvis fixation — are definitely a plus. And the shows must fit into a somewhat dated formula — nothing challenging permitted.

This week brings two new basic-cable summer series, coupled with the returns of “The Closer’’ and USA’s “White Collar’’ and “Psych.’’ Tonight at 10, TNT is premiering “Rizzoli & Isles,’’ in which Angie Harmon is a Boston detective and Sasha Alexander is the coroner. And tomorrow at 10, USA is bringing us “Covert Affairs,’’ with Piper Perabo as a CIA trainee who’s plucked from the academy to work on a special case. Neither show is as good as “Burn Notice’’ or “The Closer,’’ but then neither is as mediocre as “Royal Pains.’’ They’re both take-’em-or-leave-’em ventures.

Based on fiction by Tess Gerritsen, “Rizzoli & Isles’’ is supposed to be a female buddy drama, but the premiere focuses on the buddy with the bigger fan base — Harmon. Since her days as A.D.A. Abbie Carmichael on “Law & Order,’’ Harmon has developed a following that TNT is banking on. She plays Detective Jane Rizzoli, a bit of a tomboy who shoots basketball with her brother (and gets yelled at by her mother, an irritatingly shrill Lorraine Bracco) when she’s not in detective mode. She’s not the smartest cookie in the bag, as she walks into an obvious trap tonight involving a serial killer; but she has grit and ambition and great hair.

The familiar show, which is set in Boston but too clearly filmed elsewhere, adds in some romantic intrigue, as both Harmon and Alexander appear to be interested in the same FBI agent (Billy Burke). But the dominant theme on “Rizzoli & Isles,’’ as on “The Closer,’’ is fighting crime and not fighting tears. “Covert Affairs’’ is a more flippant series, and Perabo’s Annie Walker is steeped in romantic complications involving a former lover (Eion Bailey). Annie is witty, and klutzy and cutesy, and brainy, and her love life figures importantly into the ongoing plotline. She’s as sparky and rebellious as Rizzoli and Isles are soberly dutiful.

“Covert Affairs’’ is essentially a lightweight version of “Alias,’’ with a far more sexed-up star, a simpler story line, and a more openly comic tone. Perabo is quite watchable, as she goes undercover as a hooker or suffers an awkward fix-up courtesy of her sister. Her bosses are a humorously sparring married couple, well-played by Peter Gallagher and Kari Matchett, who submit to disastrous couples therapy sessions. And her tech guru is a blind guy (Christopher Gorham) who milks his blindness to win female sympathy. The mood is bright and whimsical — easy to take and just as easy to forget.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

RIZZOLI & ISLES

Starring: Angie Harmon, Sasha Alexander, Billy Burke

On: TNT

Time: Tonight, 10-11

COVERT AFFAIRS

Starring: Piper Perabo, Eion Bailey, Christopher Gorham, Eric Lively, Peter Gallagher, Kari Matchett

On: USA

Time: Tomorrow night, 10-11