LOS ANGELES - CBS' "Blue Bloods," premiering Friday, purports to be about multigenerational Staten Island cop family the Reagans -- possibly echoing the era in which star Tom Selleck first made waves on primetime.
But the allegory here is the Bush dynasty and the ties that bind and estrange the generations in that Shakespearean knot of tension so familiar to higher pedigree crime drama. Perhaps it's no coincidence that producers Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green honed their craft on "The Sopranos."
Pivoting on New York City Police Commissioner Frank Reagan (Selleck, in a strong return to form) and an extended brood that includes two sons (Will Estes and Donnie Wahlberg) on the force, a daughter (Bridget Moynahan) in the district attorney's office and a father (Len Cariou) who was Frank's predecessor, "Blue Bloods" embodies two of this season's big themes -- comfort food, in this case watching a familiar like Selleck assume the role of a deceptively avuncular cop, and the conspiracy that results when a dynasty like the Reagan family amasses too much power.
Following a prologue in which youngest Reagan Jamie (Estes) is shown graduating from the police academy -- in a lavishly choreographed ceremony inside Madison Square Garden, suggesting that no expense was spared on the program's budget -- it's revealed that nepotism wasn't a factor in his decision to join the force: Jamie was a Harvard Law grad who against his father's wishes entered the academy after his older brother was slain in the line of duty, setting up one possible revenge motive among many to surface in this series' tangled, intricate web melding standard cop-show tropes with the complex layering essential to loftier family sagas.
Frank is an embattled commissioner who is popular with the public but endures a touchy relationship with the press and an outright volatile one with the mayor, who chides him for grandstanding in front of the media at a hastily assembled press conference designed to quell the public's nerves after a Hispanic girl is kidnapped in Washington Heights. Middle son Daniel (a grizzled Wahlberg) is assigned first investigator on the case, replete with Dad's offer of every available resource to locate the diabetic victim within 24 hours.
After tracking down a pervert with a jones for little girls in communion dresses, complications mount for Daniel -- revealed to be an Iraqi combat vet -- who pushes too far in his questioning of the suspect, resulting in a bout of excessive force that lands him in court. Enter assistant D.A. sis Erin Boyle (Moynahan), whose liberal bent puts her at odds with Daniel's inherently Reaganesque methods of fighting crime. The crux of "Blue Bloods" is this kind of intrafamilial tension, which amplifies during a Sunday roast in Frank's Staten Island home and looks to be one of the show's recurring motifs.
The youngest Reagan, meanwhile, toils as a street cop, steadily questioning his father's morals and ethics. In the pilot's final minutes, he's approached by Internal Affairs investigators, who try to hire him from within to keep tabs on Frank, launching the conspiracy subplot that quickly becomes the program's weakest link. A secret society exists within the NYPD, with evidence that slain Reagan sibling Joe was a so-called Blue Templar -- echoing the Bush family's alleged involvement in similar societies like Yale's Skull and Bones.
"They made him, and then they killed him," insists one special agent, hinting that Frank might have played a role in killing a member of his own family.
"Blue Bloods" excels through its high-tone production values -- Sinatra and Alicia Keys on the soundtrack; urban texture memorably captured across multiple boroughs -- and standout performances from Selleck and Wahlberg, whose moral ambiguity and thinly veiled powder-keg fury, passed down by lineage, promises to fuel the series through a gripping first season -- provided audiences tune in.
The pilot's closing scene on a Staten Island pier with Jamie and Frank fishing beneath an American flag suggests resonance beyond the series' already expansive and volatile web, into those familiar corridors of dynastic power where influence more often than not turns rancid.
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