Law & Order & Family Ties: A Review of Blue Bloods
- 2013 9 Jan
A recent survey in the Hollywood Reporter demonstrated that Republicans are necessary in the making of a mainstream network television hit series.
Most of the top shows in the Nielsen ratings also have strong concentrations of Republicans whereas critically acclaimed but ratings-challenged shows are often popular with Democrats. This may explain why Blue Bloods, a show about a family of New York law officers is one of the few success stories of the mostly disappointing new crop of fall series. It seems to have everything that would interest a center-right audience.
It all starts with the family's name: the Reagans. And after that, the biggest star on the show, Tom Selleck, noted Hollywood conservative and reader of the National Review, and, aside from a short stint on Las Vegas, in his first series since Magnum, P. I. Through the years since that Hawaii-based adventure series, Selleck has smartly avoided overexposure, being very selective in the roles he takes. He's learned the secret of always being welcome—nurture your relationship with your audience by leaving them wanting more.
As New York Police Commissioner Frank Reagan, he oversees law enforcement in the Big Apple while trying to keep order in his bustling brood, all in some way connected to the family business or lawyers. Even rookie little brother Jamie (Will Estes) studied law before swapping his business suit for a blue uniform.
The top billing goes to Donnie Wahlberg as Danny, Frank's hot-headed son, whose sometimes rough tactics as a homicide detective cause awkwardness in the Commissioner's office. Erin Reagan Boyle, Frank's daughter, played by Bridget Monahan is a divorced lawyer working in the D.A.'s office. Finally, there's Len Cariou as Frank's dad, Henry, retired from the force but full of vim and vinegar. Such a strong cast revolves around Selleck's Frank, a quiet rock of integrity.
Selleck wisely avoids any Magnumism's or the temptation to play younger than he is and with his charisma, he doesn't need to. Widowed, he is seeing someone outside the "tribe", not a criminal but a blond television journalist, which naturally makes for the occasional conflict of interest. It's interesting to observe how good an actor Selleck is when he's not playing an action hero—he's mastered underplaying his characters so that we really pay attention to the nuanced line readings and his nonverbal facial expressions and body language.
The concept of having a family of cops in a large city necessitates plot demands to have cases that involve as many members as possible, no matter how unrealistic that may be. NYC isn't Mayberry after all, and having all the Reagans involved in the same case at some point each week might undermine some stories' believability. In one episode, a "good Samaritan" subway shooting manages to involve Danny who gets a ride in Jamie's police car and later Frank advises him on how to proceed with the case, and Erin works to keep the good Samaritan out of jail for the shooting— a little too neat, eh?
In another episode, badly handled DNA evidence sets free a serial killer who cuts up women before killing them and before long, he sets his sights on, who else, but Erin. As the killer's about to start cutting her up, who appears but Frank himself to plug the creepy guy in the forehead with his service revolver (which is, of course, what the audience wants to see Selleck do.) Maybe after the audience has gotten to know the large cast well enough, they can send the characters through less overlapping plotlines. But what would they talk about in their weekly meal together at Frank's house?
A fixed element in the series, the gathering is the occasion for debates over whatever plot-driven issue the family is dealing with, such as the rights of criminals or vigilante justice.
One of the pleasures of the series is its great use of authentic New York locations. After many years of seeing the city through the familiar lens of so many Law & Order episodes, the series manages to show us a different, at times brighter, depiction, making the sprawling city a character all its own as the audience gets to do a ride along through the city.
CBS has done well in the ratings by offering procedural series like the CSI and NCIS franchises that feature a familiar team whose members function something like a family, working on the case of the week. Blue Bloods has a main case every week but its cast of characters really are family.
As such, there's a more recognizable warmth and tension beneath the weekly dinner table arguments—these are character who've known each other for many years and who have to tolerate their relations more than they would a co-worker. And unlike so many crime-based shows on cable, Blue Bloods avoids extremes of bad behavior, like The Shield's corrupt main characters. Danny may lose his temper and call perps names, but he's ultimately a good cop.
This makes the series a safe bet; because it plays it safe, there's rarely a sense in which the status quo feels threatened and this makes it very traditional and easily accessible television. There has been a running subplot featuring Jamie's involvement in a secret investigation into a society of rogue cops that might include Danny, called the Blue Templars, but that seems to get about one scene an episode.
As such, many viewers will feel comfortable with the Reagans, if rarely challenged by their stories. Given that the large, likeable cast and family dynamics set in a law enforcement narrative will make for a host of story ideas, it's likely that Blue Bloods will be around for a long time.
*This Review First Published 12/3/2010