Blue Bloods: A Crime Drama With Family Values?

by Joy McCann on December 14, 2012

This is the kind of thing that one almost doesn’t want to write about, because a paranoia sets in about whether favorable coverage in right-leaning media might just shine “the wrong kind” of spotlight on a production, and put the writers under pressure to “fix the problem.”

And Tom Selleck’s ensemble-cast crime show, Blue Bloods, is not really a conservative production, despite being centered on a family with the surname “Reagan.” (One imagines some of the pitches at CBS: “hey; it’s an Irish name; these are Irish cops. Whaaaaattt????”) We’re in the third season of Blue Bloods (which you can see tomorrow night on CBS at 10:00 p.m., IIRC) and the show is pulling down really solid ratings as a character-driven series—but one in which the characters are trying to do the right thing according to a moral code. And not just in their jobs, noir-boy, but in their personal lives as well. I’m not surprised in the least that the show is successful, but I’m astonished that it made it past the pitching stage, despite having some heavyweight names attached to it.

A lot has been made of the fact that the Reagan family always has Sunday dinner (generally at the home of the dual family patriarchs, New York Police Commissioner Frank Reagan and his father, former Commissioner Henry Reagan, played by Len Cariou) at least once per episode. The “dinner scene” doesn’t always happen toward the end of the show; sometimes it’s more pivotal to the plot, and it often involves the two commissioners comparing notes with their offspring and grandkids: a Harvard-grad rookie cop (Will Estes), an Assistant DA (Bridget Moynahan), and a seasoned detective (Donnie Wahlberg). There are always four generations around the table. And yet, the sheer stubbornness of a family willing to have dinner together every week no matter what—the normalness of it, and the sweetness—has led some to compare this family of law-enforcers to The Waltons. Which—yes. And no.

I’ve made the Waltons comparison myself, but this production is in some ways the mirror image of a mafia show. I realized I thought that even before I knew some of its developers had also been involved in the making of The Sopranos (including writer Robin Green), and before I figured out the significance of the show’s leitmotif, with the New York skyline reflected in the water in one of its rivers. This is a family that is close-knit and mutually supportive. It has to be; it’s part of a subculture of people who are often misunderstood by outsiders. And one can cheer them on with less ambivalence than most of us felt about Tony Soprano.

When talking about the show, the cast, crew and writers explain that people were tired of creating narratives about “anti-heroes,” and wanted instead to tells stories about real heroes. And they are heroes: Frank Reagan served as a Marine, fought in Vietnam, and buried his wife and one son—killed in the line of duty as a New York cop. His son Danny is also a former Marine, and served in Iraq. Danny has lost several police partners over the years to the mean streets. Erin has had to pick herself up after a failed relationship in order to raise a now-adolescent daughter—who is threatening to become a police officer rather than an attorney, as her mother would prefer.

This is not a Republican show; it’s a show about affirming basic middle-class morality, which even my liberal friends quietly condone (however reluctant they are to preach out loud what they practice). The violence is kept pretty muted, despite the 10:00 p.m. airtime—because this is about doing what most people want done: bringing a modicum of order into a chaotic world. The series sets out to remind us which way is up—or at least tell us that it’s worth figuring out and working toward.

And Blue Bloods is shot in New York, which makes it feel much realer (not that I don’t like seeing L.A. locations that are familiar to me used in “New York”-based productions, but it certainly takes one out of the moment).

And how did I happen to learn about this show? Well, I was complaining mightily that there was very little on network television that I was willing to watch: bad characters, bad dialogue, bad badness. I wanted a new crime show, I complained. And I said it in front of my mom, who told me Tom Selleck was in his second season in a crime drama that she sort of liked, about a crime-fighting family.

And I found it, with the help of my research assistant, Mr. Internet.

I’m trying to make it easier for you guys. Go. Now.

(This entry was originally written in the fall of 2011 for Conservative Commune; it has received minor edits for its appearance in Victory Girls.)

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: