Angie Harmon, left, and Sasha Alexander are the title characters in 'Rizzoli & Isles,' which starts its second season Monday on TNT.
This is undoubtedly the busiest week of summer for new and returning cable series premieres, including Curb Your Enthusiasm (10 p.m. Sunday, HBO), Eureka (8 p.m. Monday, Syfy), Warehouse 13 (9 p.m. Monday, Syfy), Alphas (10 p.m. Monday, Syfy), Rescue Me (10 p.m. Wednesday, FX), and Haven (10 p.m. next Friday, Syfy).
TNT has its own pair of premieres Monday, with the seventh season of The Closer (9 p.m.) leading into the second season of Rizzoli & Isles" (10 p.m.). While The Closer is on its way out -- a final season, airing next summer, will usher in a spin-off series, Major Crimes -- Rizzoli & Isles is just getting started. It debuted last summer and quickly became a hit with ratings that some weeks eclipsed those of The Closer.
Last year Rizzoli averaged 8.8 million viewers, making it not just a cable hit but an overall TV hit, particularly considering that some broadcast network series were recently renewed with fewer than an average 7 million weekly viewers.
Rizzoli & Isles" stars Angie Harmon (Law & Order) as Jane Rizzoli, a no-nonsense Boston police detective. Her best friend/co-worker, medical examiner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander, NCIS), is her polar opposite. Where Jane is a tomboy; Maura is fashionable. Jane is brusque; Maura is sweet. It's an amusing, often funny, partnership that makes Rizzoli & Isles lighter than many police shows.
The new season picks up where last year's ended: Jane is recovering from a shooting and chafing to get back to work. Her younger brother, Frankie, Jr. (Jordan Bridges), also is on the mend and the siblings will learn of new family turmoil in the season premiere.
For the actresses who bring Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles to life, their camaraderie and the show's lighter moments are a big draw.
"Life is funny and you can laugh at a funeral," Harmon said. "To me, it's more realistic when we have things that are funny in the show. That being said, this season some episodes are really funny, some episodes are flat-out silly, and some episodes are scary and dead serious, and I love that."
Alexander agreed, saying humor travels well.
"When you're watching stuff that's so heavy, when the crimes are so heavy, it can get tiring," she said. "Ultimately, you love characters and what's happening between them, and that's driving us through the different mysteries each week."
Sometimes the crime stories need to be leavened with humor, Alexander said. "It's a little like a zombie movie ... because you have this really funny scene that has to do with something totally menial and light and yet you're dealing with a gruesome crime."
Future episodes will include the introduction of Jane's youngest brother, Tommy (Colin Egglesfield, Melrose Place), who gets out of prison.
"He's just a derelict," Harmon said, laughing. "The two older Rizzolis are in law enforcement and the baby is in prison and I think that's fantastic and ... makes for a super-fun family dynamic."
Maura also will gain some family ties as her hitman father returns and wants to be a part of her life and her adoptive mother, played by Jacqueline Bisset, comes for a visit.
"She flies in from Paris and we get a glimpse into Maura's childhood through this woman who isn't the warmest person," Alexander said. "What I think is interesting is that Rizzoli is the tougher one on the surface, more ... outspoken and yet her family life, besides some definite problems, is a tight-knit group. Maura, who seems sunnier, has this really dark side that we're discovering as we go."
Work-wise, one of the show's challenges has been to come up with excuses to get the medical examiner out of the lab. There only are so many times one can be called on to perform an autopsy at, say, a marathon.
"I think they figured out a way to do it this season. Often Jane and Maura will be somewhere together and they get called to a crime scene," Alexander said. "Also, because we're dealing with more personal stuff, we spend more time at Maura's new house that we see this season. There are a lot of Rizzoli family dinners happening at Maura's house this season, and not all successfully, I might add, but Maura's house has become the Cheers of the show."
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette.