Blue Bloods: Male Leadership Makes a Comeback?

I’m not much for television. But on vacation recently I caught a few episodes of CBS’ new cop show Blue Bloods and found it intriguing. So much so, in fact, that I’ve been keeping up with missed episodes online.

Tom Selleck plays NYC Police Commissioner Frank Reagan. Reagan’s whole family is involved in law enforcement: his father Henry (played by Len Carilou) is a retired former commissioner; his two sons Danny and Jamie (Donnie Wahlberg and Will Estes) are cops; and his daughter Erin (Bridget Moynihan) is an assistant DA.

In my opinion, the show’s writing could use some help; the plotlines are pedantic and predictable. But that weakness is almost offset by the strength of the show’s character development.

  • Frank Reagan is a wise, principled, contemplative leader, softened and strengthened by the untimely death of his wife and one of his sons. Selleck plays this role well. Aspiring leaders can learn much by watching how Reagan leads himself, his staff, and his family.
  • After decades of TV dads being portrayed as dolts or morons, the Reagan family is an almost surprising return to normal. They are patriarchal in an old, proper, biblical sense. Frank’s children respect and love him because of his strength of character. Frank’s relationship with his own father, Henry, is strong and tender, such that Frank consults Henry on almost every major decision. Danny and Jamie, though grown, display a humble respect and deference toward their father and grandfather. They aren’t frantically chasing the approval of an absent or passive dad; rather, they have been raised in a context where mature masculinity was lived out, and they seem assured and confident in their own leadership.
  • Blue Bloods gets femininity right as well. Erin is a divorced mom trying to raise a teenage daughter and succeed in a stressful job. Moynihan is pitch-perfect in this role: feminine but not feminist. She portrays Erin as strong and self-assured, but not above leaning on her father and brothers for help. Erin has breakfast with her dad every week and converses with him about life – sometimes seeking counsel, sometimes giving it. Her daughter is growing up without a dad, but Danny, Frank, and Henry are clearly filling in the gaps.
  • The hallmark rhythm in the Reagans’ week is Sunday dinner. Almost every episode includes a scene of the entire extended family – including young children – seated around Frank’s table, enjoying a restful, unhurried, sit-down meal with real food on real dishes. The dialogue in these scenes is earthy and believable, blending family concerns, work, politics, morality, and metaphysics. The children are welcomed into the conversation, but are also expected to know their place.
  • Despite plot weaknesses, the writing behind this show is intelligent – especially when it comes to the dialogue. In a recent episode, a staffer called Frank “obdurate.” Any police drama that uses Ivy-League vocabulary gets extra points in my book.

If you’re a student of culture, or if you’re just looking for a cop show that might engage you on a deeper level, I’d recommend checking out Blue Bloods.


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  1. Bridget Moynahan, not Moynihan, according to Since you’re a grammar policeman, I just wanted to help you out. Good post, btw, nice cultural engagement.

  2. This is the same reason why Friday Night Lights is such a great show. While the male characters are certainly flawed, there is a running theme of men sacrificing their own good to take care of women.

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