The television season’s best surprise is easily Blue Bloods starring Tom Selleck as the New York City Police Commissioner, and the head of a multi-generational family of cops. What looked in trailers to be a clunky cop drama is both a surprisingly original take on the genre and a provocative look at some hot-button issues.
But looking at the lineage of Blue Bloods would have given us a clue. Producers Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green have a lot of Sopranos episodes under their belts, (another family drama in a crime context) and Tom Selleck—other than a brief stint on Vegas—has been pretty choosy about his projects of late.
In a mere 7 episodes, Blue Bloods has taken on enhanced interrogation, profiling, vigilantism, and restrictions on the kinds of force a cop can use to protect his life. And while both sides of the issue are presented fairly, this is a show from a cop point of view, starring one of Hollywood’s most prominent conservatives.
And it’s just cool that perhaps the number one 80s television icon makes his big return in a show as a character named Reagan.
Selleck nicely underplays Commissioner Frank Reagan as a dignified fatherly type, though we get hints that he was a singularly tough cop. Donnie Wahlberg (in yet another classy cop role) is his oldest son, Danny, a senior detective and Iraq War veteran, while daughter Erin (Bridget Monyhan) is an assistant D.A., and youngest son Jamie (Will Estes) is a rookie cop, though an Ivy League law school grad.
Veteran actor Len Cariou rounds out the cast as Frank’s father, a former police commissioner himself, whose fall from grace has so far only been hinted at.
The show does a nice job of bringing the family together and showing how the job effects every aspect of every family members life—both the rewards and the stresses—usually around Frank’s Sunday dinner table. The relationships there are convincing enough to turn what might have been a clunky cliché—the family of Irish Catholic cops—into a really effective (and affecting) part of the show.
Blue Bloods takes the opportunity of having the Reagans at every level of law enforcement to explore issues; and so far without seeming too forced—though it does seem like a Reagan is in the thick of every controversial case in New York City. If the show wants to run for years, that is something that will have to be opened up to guest stars.
But up to now, the device has worked beautifully. In the pilot episode, (which owed a lot to Dirty Harry) Danny waterboards a murderous pedophile in a toilet to force the location of the creep’s diabetic victim before time runs out. Then Danny, of course, lands in hot water.
A few weeks later, the Counter-Terrorism Task Force, which has been surveilling a Muslim radical message board raids the apartment after the bomber has already left. Both the necessity and the limits of profiling were examined in a gripping episode with a nice twist.
Blue Bloods can’t live forever on issue-oriented shows, (and I really hope it doesn’t become dominated by the conspiratorial back story it introduced in the pilot) but it has shown it can handle a standard crime plot, a good sign. And with its engaging cast and the smart people running things, I’d say this has the potential to be classic television.
And it’s just plain great to have Tom Selleck back in a worthy project on a weekly basis.