Why do Bones fans tune in every week? Why was The X-Files one of the most successful shows of the ‘90s? Can we credit the compelling mysteries, the dynamic arcs, the strong performances? Nope. It’s all about the UnResolved Sexual Tension.
I’m exaggerating, but there’s no denying the effect URST has on a series. The will-they-or-won’t-they status of Brennan and Booth keeps viewers invested in Bones. It was fun watching The X Files because, aside from the alien babies and men in black, the relationship between Mulder and Scully was fascinating. They grew, it evolved—then things got awkward and they started calling each other “Fox” and “Dana.” But I digress. URST can make a good series into a great series, and a mediocre series into, well, something watchable.
It’s too early to say which category TNT’s Rizzolli & Isles will fall into. I was entertained by the pilot, in which Detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and Medical Examiner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander) went after a murderer who they suspected was copying a serial killer from their past. It was standard fare, so I chose to focus on the elements that interested me—Law & Order’s Harmon returning to my TV screen, Billy Burke in something that isn’t Twilight, and the subtle-but-persistent URST between the title pair.
Don’t look so shocked. Yes, Rizzoli and Isles are both women, but this is 2010. Plus, it’s been done before. The title is a pretty overt reference to classic police procedural Cagney & Lacey, which starred Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless. There was no overt relationship between the women—one was married to a man—but the subtext was there. To this day, Cagney & Lacey has a notable queer following, and both of its stars have become gay icons. (It helps that Gless continues to take queer roles, and Daly has done a lot of Broadway.)
But I’m getting ahead of myself, because a) Rizzoli & Isles isn’t Cagney & Lacey (yet), and b) the subtext remains pretty subtextual. But there was enough going on in the pilot to pique my interest. The pilot gave us playful banter, mild flirtation, and the two leads in bed with one another. As friends, sure, but Rizzoli took it to that wonderful, URST-filled place when one of piped up with, “Are we having a sleepover, or is this your way of telling me you’re attracted to me?” That last scene was pretty telling, too—more about the relationship between the crime-solvers than about the crimes themselves. After returning to her ransacked apartment, Rizzoli suggested that she and Isles go out for a drink: “We always said that we needed to do something outside of a crime scene.” Ahem.
Of course, I could be reading into this too much. Besides, URST or no URST, I doubt Rizzoli and Isles will ever consummate their relationship. It’s always going to be a sly wink to the audience, just below the surface for as long as TNT can sustain the series. And that’s OK. I’m more interested in how the detective and medical examiner play off one other than in any unlikely makeout sessions. So we’ll see if Rizzoli & Isles ever progresses past standard procedural territory. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching for the signs.