'Blue Bloods' is a show with genuine depth

From the Jan. 13, 2011, Deseret News

CBS IS SHAKING UP its TV schedule again, and one show that has been getting pushed around is a favorite in my house, "Blue Bloods."

Off the air since early December during an extended Christmas/New Year's layover, "Blue Bloods" returns with new episodes beginning next week.

However, the network isn't making it easy for fans. The show is switching to Wednesdays (9 p.m., Ch. 2) — but only for four weeks. Then it's scheduled to return to its original Friday slot. Got that?

In many ways, "Blue Bloods" is a fairly typical TV cop show. The setting is New York. The main characters are the seasoned/world-weary police chief, a homicide detective who bends the rules where necessary, a naïve rookie beat cop and a beautiful female prosecuting attorney.

The criminal story lines are contrived to include all or most of these people each week. And the cases so far have covered turf that is familiar to viewers of any of the "Law & Orders" or "CSIs" or myriad other police-procedural television series.

But in this show, they are all members of the same family — a family that has included cops for several generations.

And I have been continually surprised — in a very pleasant way — by two running story threads that have really grown on me, and which give this show some genuine depth: subplots about family solidarity and others that demonstrate these are faithful, churchgoing Catholics.

Not that all of the show's politics are conservative, even if the family name is Reagan. Both sides of most issues are discussed, and family talk around the dinner table can become heated.

But at the head of that table is Tom Selleck, as Manhattan's police commissioner and the de facto (if not literal) head of this appealing, feisty family.

Selleck is the reason my wife and I began watching.

I know most people love him for "Magnum, P.I.," and I enjoyed that show too, though I was never a regular viewer. It's been Selleck's growth as an actor since then in cable-TV movies (especially the Westerns), a few feature films (especially the Australian Western "Quigley Down Under") and his recent string of TV movies as world-weary small-town police chief Jesse Stone that have made us appreciate Selleck as a national treasure.

So when we read that he was starring in a new cop show, for us it was a no-brainer; we're there.

As it turns out, Selleck isn't the "star" as such, but he is certainly the anchor of a terrific ensemble cast, and he's still a good reason to watch every week.

But he's not the only reason. The rest of the cast is good too.

Donnie Wahlberg plays oldest son Danny, a tough cop who seems in danger of crossing the line; Bridget Moynahan is his sister Erin, an assistant district attorney; and Will Estes is baby brother Jamie, who was on track to become a lawyer but at the last minute decided to join the family business.

Selleck is his sons' boss, a widower living in the family home with his father Henry (Len Cariou), a retired cop who brings "the old days" into conversation to help put modern police work into perspective.

Also on hand are Jennifer Esposito as Wahlberg's partner, Nicholas Turturro as Estes' partner, Amy Carlson as Danny's wife and others.

One of the show's conceits is that this large family gathers around the dinner table each Sunday, which allows the subject of that week's plot to be discussed and sometimes argued.

So far they've gotten into profiling, legalizing drugs and the use of force by officers on the street, among other topical subjects.

This dinnertime table talk sounds like something that could get old but it's been handled so well that it's often a highlight.

There is one aspect of the show that already feels unwieldy, however, a story arc that has Jamie being pursued by Internal Affairs to help bring down a subversive group of cops known as the Blue Templar. His arm is being twisted by the suggestion that his oldest brother, another cop who was killed in the line of duty, may have been set up by the Templars. The sooner that story line is concluded, the better.

And while I'm complaining, it also seems that every cop show sooner or later has to have one of the main characters — usually a woman — being targeted by a killer. That's already happened with Erin, who was actually chased around her own office building until Dad showed up to blow the guy away. Right.

But such convoluted contrivances are rare in a show that, for the most part, has been entertaining and thought provoking, and has characters that already feel rich.

As mentioned, however, one of the things I like most is the family dynamic. Erin is divorced and has a rebellious daughter, Danny and his wife have kids, and Jamie was engaged until his fiancee left, partly because she thought she was marrying a lawyer, not a cop. (Selleck's character had a secret fling with a much younger TV reporter in the first couple of episodes, but that, mercifully, went away and hopefully will not return.)

This is a big family and it's apparent they all love and respect each other; no one is estranged or ostracized. Danny is faithful to his wife (even when tempted, as he was in one episode), and his father and grandfather apparently had long, stable marriages. All of this is quite unusual for a cop show.

And even more unusual in modern TV series is the subplot that they are all faithful Catholics who pray, offer a blessing on the meal at the weekly dinner and attend church.

Even an episode that dealt with the possibility of impropriety in a Catholic school was handled in a respectful way and ended with a nice acknowledgment by Selleck's character that he remains a believer.

So the upshot is this: If you haven't yet tried out "Blue Bloods," take it for a test run. It's a show that deserves a following and you won't be disappointed.