Blue Bloods

Old folks love Tom Selleck’s family of cops.

Tom Selleck in Blue Bloods

There are 578 miles of coastline in New York City, and Blue Bloods (CBS, Fridays at 10 p.m. ET) is on pace to contemplate each of them twice before its first season is out. Whenever plausible, the series appropriates the splendor of a bridge over troubled waters for decorative effect. Even when implausible, the central characters—members of an Irish-American law-enforcement dynasty—brood by the riverside, searching their souls from swerve of shore to bend of bay.

There have been some pensive stares at the East River, and there have been longing gazes at the Hudson, and it cannot be long before these cops and prosecutors meditate on the Gowanus Canal while the scuba unit fishes a body from it. These watery moments help to lend the series an uncommon texture. A meat-and-potatoes cop show—no techno-beat forensics scenes—whose particulars go down smoothly for being smothered in a good gravy of family drama.

The clan is led by Tom Selleck’s Frank Reagan, who is the city’s police commissioner and by all evidence a perennial contender for its Father of the Year award. The actor has definitively grown into his mustache—which, in retrospect, looked a touch campy back in the heyday of the Magnum P.I. lunchbox. Frank wears his bristle as an icon of his sagacity. The ‘stache hides an upper lip of a fellow who is man enough to know that it needn’t be stiff all the time. Frank is tough, but he is gentle, or so it appeared in the scene in which he and one of sons stood on a pier with their fishing rods and their shared feelings to the smoky score of Cat Power’s version of “New York, New York.”

To the citizens, Frank gives his best effort; to his adult kids, non-invasive advice regarding minor children and major crimes. Sitting at the head of the table at Sunday dinner, he carves the pot roast with great élan and presides soberly over the colloquies in which the Reagans’ hash over the theme of the week’s episode. These discussions find Frank’s daughter, Erin (Bridget Moynahan), who is an assistant D.A., guided nobly by abstract ideals when facing off against Frank’s father, Henry (Len Cariou), who is himself a former police chief (and also the kind of paterfamilias emeritus who plays devil’s advocate with the impishness of a great-grandpa playing pull-my-finger). It is among Frank’s many duties to frame the arguments as neatly as a 10th-grader typing a thesis sentence or stating the proposition in a formal debate: “The issue is the need of enhanced interrogation: Is it ever justified?” Resolved: Blue Bloods spells itself out with large-print clarity.

The interrogation technique at issue was an enhanced swirlie that Frank’s son Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) administered to a pervert who had pulled a prepubescent schoolgirl into his white van in the series’ opening felony. The victim, a diabetic, would have died without her insulin shot, and Danny thought it best to smash the suspect’s head around a toilet bowl first and ask questions about due process later. (Note for research: On French cop shows, do gendarmes ever dunk a bad guy’s head in the bidet?) He saved the girl, but for 20 minutes or so, it looked as if the criminal might avoid jail time on account of Danny’s manhandling, and thoughtful viewers had to pretend to care about the principle at stake, as if the chubby cheeks on the little girl in peril hadn’t already dismantled our interest in the Constitution. This is not to mention that Danny, stalking the streets with an affectless swagger, is the picture of righteousness in motion.

It is fruitful to contrast his veteran’s strut with the cautious toeing of his rookie-cop brother Jamie (Will Estes), who has recently declined an opportunity to hop up the social ladder. Though Jamie graduated from a top law school—”Say I hear you went to Harvard,” his partner derisively yaps—he decided that doing doc review 80 hours a week as a first-year associate is a fate worse than dodging bullets. He is correct; however, in Blue Blood’s second-dreariest emerging story line, it appears that his first-year-associate girlfriend may beg to differ with that judgment. (The two weather a moment of tension about his new career down by the Fulton Ferry Landing, I believe.) Meanwhile, in Blue Bloods’ very dreariest emerging story line, the Feds are trying to convince Jamie that a third Reagan brother, who supposedly died in the line of duty, was in fact murdered by members of the Blue Templar—a force within the force, of course, of course. To repeat, the strength of Blue Bloods is in its meat-and-potatoes nature. Listening to murmuring about this cabal, I sense the show heavily overdoing the parsley garnish.

Blue Bloods’ audience is the oldest of any network drama. I will skip the chuckle about Viagra ads that might naturally follow that statement of fact in favor of respecting my elders, whose experience as TV viewers is nothing to joke about. Perhaps Blue Bloods is a hit among them for obliquely summoning memories of Bonanza, also a genre fiction guided by family dynamics. Or maybe, despite having seen it all before, they want to see it all again, pulled into a perfectly decent tale of patrimony as if by a relentless tide.

Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.