After so many weeks of being glued to, or avoiding, the hectic newscasts from the devastating battlefields and mind-boggling diplomatic arenas, the soul seeks a sense of solace in some serial solidity. Not a ground-breaking innovation of the genre (like “True Detective”), or an intriguing remake of an iconic movie (like “Fargo”), but rather a run-of-the-mill crime series, a police procedural or an ongoing family affair.
The best, of course, is a combination of all three, and that is exactly what “Blue Bloods,” a CBS series, is. Now gearing up for its fifth season (reruns of the second season every evening on HOT Zone and the whole of the fourth on HOT VOD), it is scheduled to go on the air in the U.S. in September. This is a police procedural, following the daily lives of Danny, a detective (Donnie Wahlberg); Jamie, a police officer (Will Estes) and Erin, an assistant DA (Bridget Moynahan), who all fight crime in New York. Their motto and credo – “to serve and protect,” implying that it’s a crime and suspense series – intersects again and again with the various rules, procedures, loyalties, obligations and values they were all sworn to obey – or just feel instinctively that they must.
There is nothing new in a police procedural whose plot sidetracks into the private lives of the policemen and women involved. In fact, there is almost no police procedural without this. Viewers don’t want a law-enforcing machine, but human beings who have – like us – our loved ones’ lives and affairs on their minds while they do their sometimes dirty, but nevertheless essential, public job.
Here is where the family affair – the other major venue in which so many series traditionally unfold – enters the fray and takes center stage. Danny, Jamie and Erin are all siblings; they had another brother who was also one of New York’s finest who was killed while working undercover. It turns out in season one that he was a victim of some rotten apples in the NYPD barrel (which causes us to doubt, for some moments of the episode, the integrity of the lock and stock as well).
The family links don’t end with the siblings. Their father is Francis “Frank” Reagan, the NYPD Police Commissioner, played by Tom Selleck, with his height, mustache, deep voice and Magnum, P.I. reputation intact. But it does not end even there. Frank, a widower and a devout Catholic (another potential for a storyline) lives in Bay Ridge, and shares a house with his father, Henry, who was a NYPD Police Commissioner before him. Henry is played by Len Cariou, whom I had the pleasure of seeing in 1979 on the New York stage in one of those parts that can make or break a career. It definitely made his: He was the original Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, in Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking musical. As Cariou is only six years older than Selleck, he was made up to look somewhat older for his part in the series.
That family and its NYPD lineage – which introduces many crisscrossing plot lines in every episode, since Frank must be constantly aware of possible nepotism being read into any decision of his – is what most probably gave the series its name. The “blood” aspect of it is self-evident. But it must be said that blood, real and metaphoric, seems to be an essential ingredient in any drama. As The Player put it so brilliantly in Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”: “We’re more of the love, blood, and rhetoric school. Well, we can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and we can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and we can do you all three concurrent or consecutive. But we can’t give you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory. They’re all blood, you see.”
We all know that blood is bright red when oxygenated, and dark red when devoid of oxygen. And we know, of course, that “blue blood” is what supposedly courses in the veins of royalty and nobility. It is worth learning, while we’re at it, as I did, the origin of that myth about blue blood. (It isn’t true, of course. Check it by pricking a royal if you can. He or she will bleed like any other red-blooded mortal.) The only living creatures whose blood is indeed blue are molluscks. The OED traces the etymology of the notion to the “Spanish sangre azul (1778 or earlier), perhaps alluding to the blue appearance of the veins of people of fair complexion as compared with those of dark skin.” It is worth wondering whether the notion was not, originally, meant to be a derogatory one, originating with oppressed people with dark skins describing their white masters, but that is beside the point here. The Reagans are Irish-Americans, of fair complexion.
Any episode of “Blue Bloods” action on the mean streets of New York boils down, sooner or later, to a family dinner scene at the patriarchal mansion, with all present, including Erin’s tomboyish teenage daughter Nicky (Erin is divorced, and that is, of course, another continuing plot-line); Danny’s wife, Linda, and their two school-age sons. Life and work are discussed openly at the table, with tempers flying and fraying and values colliding, but with matters solved mostly amicably. And if not, there is always another episode to correct a course that went astray.
The family name is also a sort of a clue to the moral tenor of the series: The Reagans are as conservative as they come, all for family values in the old American way. Having said that, though, one has to admit that in each episode, norms are put to the test again and again. Fathers, children both grownup and growing, pass most of the tests admirably, managing to fit the circles of fickle fortune into their somewhat square – but very human and lovable – natures. Each episode in this old routine series is finely crafted, with motives subtly developed and echoing in the various sub-plots.
Most important of all: It is the kind of series that makes you believe, in spite of what you see in the newscasts, that there is some sort of order (if not always law) in this world of ours. And we all need our illusions.