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TV Review: CBS' 'Blue Bloods'
Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg lead a well-cast drama with some potential
This has been a bear of a week, TV-wise, right?
Between Monday and Thursday, the networks premiered 15 new shows. The only two that I didn't review were "Detroit 187," because nobody really needed my opinion on a generic cop drama that I'll never watch again, and "The Whole Truth," simply because I didn't have the time. My apologies to those two dramas if they happened to feel left out of this week's orgy of reviews.
After this week? Things calm down again. Unless I'm forgetting something (very possible), the only two new network shows to launch this fall are ABC's fun and appealing "No Ordinary Family" and ABC's surprisingly solid "Body of Proof," though the latter series doesn't even have a premiere date.
Because the networks aren't launching a single new show on Sunday nights this fall -- a fact I find odd, but only incidentally odd -- the final new series premiere of this chaotic, exhausting week is CBS' "Blue Bloods." Perhaps that distinction is why I'm going to bother doing a full review for "Blue Bloods," rather than just being satisfied with a four-word post along the likes of "'Blue Bloods' is OK."
On the surface, CBS' "Blue Bloods" has all of the pieces in place to be a very good or possibly great TV show. Based on the pilot, though, there's a sense that the folks involved may be content with merely "good." Certainly that should be enough to keep CBS viewers content at 10 p.m. on Fridays, since it's not like the audience coming out of "CSI: New York" at 9 p.m. will be demanding excellence.
Full review after the break...
Created by Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green, "Blue Bloods" could easily be dubbed "Law & Order: Family Edition." It's the story of the Reagan family, whose multi-generational component parts seem to fill every layer of New York City's law enforcement system.
Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) is New York Police Commissioner, following in the footsteps of his father (Len Cariou). Also following in the family footsteps is Danny (Donnie Wahlberg), a detective who isn't affair to cut a few procedural corners to make his cases. Danny's brother Jamie is new to the force, lured to the beat even after graduating from Harvard Law. And then finally there's Erin (Bridget Moynahan), the woman of the family, working as an A.D.A. whose only responsibilities appear to be working cases brought in or spoiled by members of her family.
It's a great group of actors and the casting is on-the-nose, but perfect. Cariou as a unfiltered patriarch with skeletons? Selleck as a stern-yet-caring leader with ambitions? Wahlberg as a hot-headed tough guy? Moynahan as the family's beautiful straight-arrow? Estes as young and idealistic? Like I said, the casting is almost too easy. All of the actors give exactly the performances you'd expect them to give, so there's nothing fresh or exciting to watch, but they also give exactly the performances that you'd want for the roles, so why would anybody complain? [The only questionable aspect of the casting (with writing and directing playing a role) is that Wahlberg and Moynahan have chemistry, but I wouldn't describe it as a brother-sister chemistry. If this were FX or Showtime, I might wonder if somebody intended to do something edgy and unfortunate, but CBS Friday isn't a place to go for incestuous insinuations.]
Directed by Michael Cuesta ("Dexter"), the "Blue Bloods" pilot looks terrific and capitalizes on the authenticity that comes from its New York City location shooting. Unlike CBS' "The Defenders," which shot in Vegas for the pilot and will cheat subsequently in Los Angeles, "Blue Bloods" is sticking in NYC and that's good, because the show's soundtrack -- lots of "New York, New York" and "Empire State of Mind" -- suggests a certain Big Apple pride.
Although they aren't paired, "Blue Bloods" feels like CBS' attempt to repeat the relative success of "The Good Wife." While perhaps not a smash hit like many of CBS' franchise procedurals, "The Good Wife" gave CBS something the network hadn't had for a few years -- a prestige drama able to mix it up with the cable kids for Emmy and Golden Globe consideration. The "Good Wife" formula wasn't exactly a complicated one. Take a basic legal procedural with a hint of urban politics, add one dash of ripped-from-the-headlines sensationalism, one dash of sincerely played family melodrama and one dash of occasionally meted-out season-long intrigue.
Although it earned rave reviews in other circles right from the beginning, I thought it took a while for "The Good Wife" to get the blend right. "Blue Bloods" is similarly unsteady in the beginning.
The weekly cops-and-lawyers procedural aspect of the show was never going to hook me, but I found the pilot's core case, featuring an abducted girl, to be particularly manipulative and uninvolving. I was also irked by the contrivances that would allow Moynahan's character to be handling a case in which her brother was accused of malfeasance. [It wasn't quite as bad as the way it appears Maura Tierney and Rob Morrow are going to face each other every week on "The Whole Truth," but close.]
I was much more interested in the multigenerational family stuff that played out, including an "Everybody gets drunk, shouts at each other and ends up embarrassed" dinner that was like "Brothers & Sisters" only with badges. There are more than a few families like this in most cities, where the kid walks the exact same beat his grandfather walked 40 years earlier. That's a dynamic I'd watch and it's the piece of "Blue Bloods" that I most enjoyed.
But I not going to watch "Blue Bloods" for the procedural story and I'm really not going to watch to see the Reagans sit around the table discussing the vagaries of the law and issues of moral and ethical relativism.
So that leaves the "occasionally meted-out season-long intrigue" aspect of things and that's where "Blue Bloods" is going to force viewers to tune in again next week. Although there are minor considerations of political back-dealing and the Selleck's character's position in the NYC power landscape, those arguments all feel very predictable. Then, though, at the end of the episode, we get the introduction of a potential undercover investigation into a Gotham cop secret society. This thread is intriguing, but it's tossed out so casually that it's impossible to know how invested the writers want us to be.
"Blue Bloods" has had some behind-the-scenes drama since going into production, a showrunner swap and the usual signs of a show with creative questions. Original creators Burgess and Green, "Sopranos" veterans, were working with original showrunner Ken Sanzel ("Numb3rs"), who left amidst reported issues with Tom Selleck. So what will the "Blue Bloods" narrative balance be next week? Will the concentration be on the aspects that I cared about and would gladly watch more of? Or will it become more of a traditional CBS Friday standalone.
I'll be done very quickly if it's the latter, but I feel like "Blue Bloods" is a safe bet to hit with CBS' core audience. I don't imagine it's going to pull in huge numbers in the 18-49 demo, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a good number of overall viewers tuning in, plus the crushing of NBC's "Outlaw."
"Blue Bloods" premieres at 10 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 24 on CBS.