Flip through the endless TV shows with your remote, 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, TV dads from the year 1990s and on have gone too far in the opposite direction, often treated as unnecessary, utterly clueless, or a malignancy on the family.
However, one show on broadcast TV breaks the mold: Blue Bloods
Blue Bloods has finished its eighth season on CBS (but can still be watched on CBS All Access or on Hulu). If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it’s a police drama, but with family at the center. It follows the multiple generations of the Reagan family who have dedicated their lives to public service. Frank Reagan is the current Police Commissioner. His father, Henry was the former PC. Oldest son Danny is a detective, youngest son Jamie completed law school but decided to be a beat cop, middle son Joe was killed in the line of duty, daughter Erin is the assistant district attorney, bringing criminals to justice.
This series contains many familiar elements of police and legal procedural dramas with multiple, sometimes overlapping story arcs: there are storylines about office politics and actual politics; about the deep bond of trust that develops between partners; and 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, and 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 this series’ example.
The fathers aren’t perfect, but they loving, involved, honorable, and worthy of respect.
Blue Bloods breaks the pattern of showing fathers as clueless or unnecessary by showing three men and fathers who loving, deeply committed to their family, and involved in their children’s lives.
Henry, Frank and Danny aren’t perfect, they don’t always agree on the right thing to do in every circumstance, but they are all guided by principle, rather than expediency or greed; which makes them also deeply honorable. They make mistakes, but usually admit when they are wrong, which makes them men of integrity and worthy of respect – qualities that are all too rare on television today.
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 on the TV landscape.
Family is more important than work.
Most “work place” dramas do feature occasional glimpses of the character’s home life or family as a way for viewers to better understand the character. But at the end of the day, it’s always about the job. With Blue Bloods, the writers have created characters who do their jobs honorably and well; but who would walk away from the jobs in an instant if that was in the best interest of their family.
At the beginning of Season 8, the audience learns that Danny’s wife Linda has died. Now that he is a single parent living on a single income, Danny considers a career change, in part so that he can better provide for his family but 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.
Families Take Work to Stay Together
Sometimes members of the Reagan family are at odds, either personally or professionally. But whatever is 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, hash out their interpersonal conflicts, but 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.