What the TV Show ‘Blue Bloods’ Gets Right About Fathers

The police procedural starring Tom Selleck is like nothing else on television, especially in its depiction of family

by Melissa Henson | Updated 14 Jun 2018 at 8:12 AM

Flip through today’s endless television shows, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find fathers portrayed in any kind of meaningful way.

If TV writers of the 1950s went too far in depicting fathers as all-knowing and all-wise, then TV dads from the 1990s and beyond have gone too far in the opposite direction. They’ve often been treated as unnecessary, utterly clueless, or even a malignancy on the family.

However, one show on broadcast TV breaks the mold: “Blue Bloods” on CBS.

This show has finished its eighth season on CBS and has been greenlighted for a ninth season — but can still be watched on CBS All Access or on Hulu.

The police drama keeps family at its center. It follows multiple generations of the Reagan family, who have dedicated their lives to public service. Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) is the current police commissioner. His father, Henry (Len Cariou) was the former commissioner. The oldest son Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) is a detective; youngest son Jamie (Will Estes) completed law school but decided to become a beat cop; and daughter Erin (Bridget Moynahan) is the assistant district attorney.

The program contains many familiar elements of police and legal procedural dramas, with multiple and sometimes overlapping story arcs. There are storylines about office politics and actual politics, about the deep bond of trust that develops between partners — and it even attempts to address real-world issues like police profiling and excessive use of force. But what makes "Blue Bloods" stand apart from other police dramas is its positive depiction of fathers and male role models, along with its focus on family.

As we approach Father's Day, it would be instructive to look at what "Blue Bloods" gets right — in the hope that other TV writers will follow the example of this series.

The fathers aren't perfect, but they're loving, involved, honorable, and worthy of respect. "Blue Bloods" breaks the pattern of showing fathers as clueless or unnecessary by displaying three men and fathers who are lovingly and deeply committed to their families and involved in their children's lives.

Henry, Frank and Danny aren't perfect; and they don't always agree on the right thing to do in every circumstance. Yet they're all guided by principle, rather than expediency or greed, which makes them deeply honorable. They make mistakes, but they usually admit when they're wrong, which makes them men of integrity and worthy of respect — qualities all too rare on television today.

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Faith isn't caricatured, but treated with respect and shown to be an important part of the characters' lives. At least once per episode, the entire Reagan family — four generations — sits down around the dinner table, with no phones or devices, says grace and breaks bread together. No one is allowed a single bite until everyone is seated and grace has been said. Just the mere fact that the family is shown praying together makes this series unique in the television landscape.

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Family is more important than work. Most "workplace" dramas feature occasional glimpses of the characters' home lives or families as a way for viewers to better understand the characters; but at the end of the day, it's always about the job. With "Blue Bloods," the writers have created people who do their jobs honorably and well, but who would walk away from their jobs in an instant if doing so would be in the best interests of their family.

At the beginning of season eight, the audience learns that Danny's wife, Linda, has died. Now that he's a single parent living on a single income, Danny considers a career change, in part so he can better provide for his family; but mostly he does so because of the dangerous nature of his work and his fear of what would happen to his children if he were to be killed in the line of duty.

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Families take work to stay together. Sometimes members of the Reagan family are at odds, either personally or professionally. However, whatever's going on between them, whatever conflicts might arise, they always come back together for Sunday dinner. They talk about their problems, they work out their disagreements, and they hash out their interpersonal conflicts — but they always they come back together as a family, strong and united.

For decades, TV writers have done families a massive disservice by treating dads as disposable. For the eight years "Blue Bloods" has been on the air, there was at least one positive depiction of family life, with positive male role models and loving, involved fathers.

Who knows when we'll see another like it.

Melissa Henson is the program director for the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. (www.ParentsTV.org)

(photo credit, homepage and article images: CBS)

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