Writing something for Femnista is always something of a challenge. Sometimes the article just clicks, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all — so inevitably there is a “castoff pile.” My contributors have already seen our December issue revolving around crime-solvers, but the rest of you will be able to see it in all its glory on December 1st. In the meantime, I bring you an offering from the slush pile, an article that worked but just wasn’t quite good enough for me to be excited about publishing it in magazine form. I bring you Friends & Frenemies, the women of TNT’s crime dramas!
Whether on the street hunting down a serial killer, testing DNA in a white lab coat and Prada heels, or interrogating a suspect with the intent of tricking them into a full confession, TNT dominates crime dramas with female leads. The Closer has been a top-rated drama for seven seasons, and Rizzoli & Isles has wormed its way into the hearts of viewers. Each is a ensemble with a wonderful cast and quirky sense of humor but what really draws us in is friendships and rivalries on both shows.
Jane Rizzoli and Myra Isles could not be more different. Jane spends her free time cleaning her gun and playing basketball with the boys; Myra spends hers buying shoes and cooking gourmet dinners. Jane is a tough-talking, street-wise tomboy while Myra is naive and as girly as they come… well, minus working in the morgue. Jane works on theories and hunches while Myra waits for the forensic evidence to come through. Jane uses emotion at times to solve her cases, but Myra is so logical that she doesn’t get sarcasm. And although Myra might drive Jane nuts when all she wants is a theory of death, at the end of the day they are best friends to the bitter end… even if that means suffering through a hostage situation together, solving a triple homicide in the middle of the night, or dealing with Jane’s mother living in Myra’s guest house until her divorce goes through. Like any friends, they have their fair share of personal and professional arguments, usually revolving around Jane being protective of Myra and Myra keeping secrets from Jane. One of the most touching scenes in the series came in the second season, in which Jane became fed up with Myra craving her mother’s approval and never getting it, so she told off her best friend’s mother, in proper fashion. It made all the difference, believe it or not, and both of them learned something about Mrs. Isles that they hadn’t known before (maybe she’s not as much of as snob as Jane originally thought!).
We come to know these girls in increments, learning a little bit about them at a time. Myra comes from an Ivy League household in which she was largely ignored by her successful and extremely wealthy parents; she went to all the best schools and dated all the right multi-millionaires, but remarkably she isn’t much of a snob, just blunt in informing you that she knows more about some things than you do. Jane comes from a low-income family with more drama. Her younger brother is a police sergeant and her older brother is in jail, since he has “sticky fingers.” The most traumatic event of her life was having been caught and held by a serial killer not once but twice, a brutal and terrifying incident that has left her with physical scars (he nailed her hands to the floor) as well as mental ones. Jane naturally gains the upper hand the second (and third) go-around, but her initial feeling of utter helplessness impacts each decision she makes. Myra similarly is more insecure than she lets on. Both succeed in a male-driven workplace, but through different attitudes (Jane is much more vocal about any perceived sexism, and inclined to arrest men who get out of line), and each is memorable for their quirks and habits.
Though a lot of fun, Rizzoli & Isles isn’t my favorite offering from TNT. It’s predictable and I haven’t watched any of the episodes more than once; the same cannot be said of its “big sister” show on the network, The Closer.
For many seasons, there was only one strong female on the show in Brenda Lee Johnson. With a fondness for sweets and a habit of bending the rules, Brenda heads up a special division in the LAPD that handles “major crimes.” She is known for eliciting confessions and solving cases swiftly but her arrival in the department causes resentment among her male coworkers. By the end of the first season, she has won over most of her critics and proven efficient in her job. Brenda as likable for her faults as her strengths, and is one of the best-written characters on television. She is a female Columbo, throwing off suspects with the appearance of stupidity while manipulating them behind the scenes to get the confession she wants. Her blonde hair and Southern manners cause many others to underestimate her, even at times the love of her life, her FBI boyfriend/husband Fritz Howard. Brenda is a workaholic and often wrong in her treatment of Fritz, but still he stays, determined to keep the relationship steady in her darkest hours.
It isn’t until a rival enters her life that the dynamic of the show changes, with the arrival of Sharon Rayder, a by-the-book Internal Affairs agent who makes everyone at Major Crimes miserable, most particularly Brenda. The two have an instant dislike for one another, in part because they are so much alike but in different ways. Though we know nothing of Sharon’s past or personal life, hints are given that reveal she is not as cold and collected as she seems. Though she disapproves of Brenda’s methods and her former love affair with her boss, Sharon also respects Brenda and when Brenda is recommended for chief, Sharon does everything in her power to help her.
Even though the two women started out hating one another, in the seventh and final season they form an unexpected “almost” friendship, when Brenda’s previous choices return to haunt her and land her in deep legal trouble. Sharon is one of the few people to stand with her and offer support, while also bluntly revealing to Brenda the error of her ways.
Many viewers cannot stand Sharon but I like her both as a character and for what she brings to the show. Brenda is passionate and makes emotional decisions, while Sharon lives her entire life by the rules. Both of them have accomplished success but Brenda has a slew of former allegations and multiple instances of having taken the law into her own hands to deal out justice when the system refused to do it. Her leadership is effective but also sends a message to the rest of her team that it is okay to manipulate the system to accomplish a desirable outcome. As a result, Major Crimes has suffered multiple internal investigations, been indirectly (and directly) responsible for criminal behavior, and is now facing a lawsuit.
Though the show is not perfect, its characters are unforgettable and there are times when we are forced to choose between ethics and wanting them to escape the consequences of their poor decisions. Sharon may have originated as an antagonist but now has taken on the role of Brenda’s conscience. Both are stereotypes (as is everyone in the cast) and extremes, but each change and grow like real people. I don’t know what will happen to Brenda in the final episodes… but I am going to miss her.