The Way of Beauty 'Blue Bloods' and its writers

David Letterman never ceases to be amazed at Tom Selleck’s enduring popularity: ‘No matter where he goes, people love him! People love him even when he’s counting his money!”  The success of “Blue Bloods,” the CBS Friday night drama, is largely due to Mr. Selleck’s role as Frank Reagan, the current New York City police commissioner.  With his affable temperament and his strong leadership, he is the mortar holding the program together.

The External Context

“Blue Bloods” is set within the context of a closely-knit, Irish-Catholic family, committed to law enforcement.  It includes Frank’s son Danny, a zealous, perhaps overzealous, detective on the NYPD. Two other children are also part of the NYPD, Jamie, a police officer, and his sister Erin, assistant district attorney.  To round out the family cast of characters are Frank’s father, police commissioner emeritus, Danny’s wife, two young boys, and Erin’s teen-age daughter. Erin is divorced from her wayward husband Jack.

“Blue Bloods” is not a Catholic-sponsored program by CBS.  Still, at Sunday dinners, there is the ritual grace before meals including Sign of the Cross, discussions about moral and religious issues, Catholic and otherwise. Clearly, Mr. Selleck enjoys playing the Catholic patriarch, though, in real life, he is neither a Catholic nor a very religious person, he says.

The Writers

One of the program’s script writers is Siobhan Byrne O’Connor, a Catholic, and has married into a family of police officers.  The program credits her, Mitchell Burgess, and Robin Green as responsible for the script.  The program usually shows respect, even deference, toward religiously-affiliated people and religious issues.  A refreshing change from the biting sarcasm that faith-traditions typically receive on television programs, most of which are skeptical of religion! 

“You Can’t Tell a Book by Its Cover”

While the external context of “Blue Bloods” professes to be Catholic, a closer look can occasionally pose a conflicting view. Most of us would agree that a faith-tradition, Catholic or otherwise, is made credible and convincing by seeing its beliefs lived rather than in listening to its protestations, that is, praying grace before meals.  Actions speak louder . . . .

Jamie Reagan and Erin Reagan:  Actions Speak Louder . . . .

Late last season, one of the scenes showed Jamie, who is unmarried, in a sexual encounter with his former girlfriend.  What of Jamie’s Catholic belief?  Shouldn’t he have known better? Though the scene lasted only a few seconds, the impact was jarring. Who of the writers decided to include it?  Was it necessary to the plot?

Similarly, last season, Erin’s daughter Nicki asked her mother what advice Erin’s mother gave about pre-marital sex on the eve of her daughter’s wedding.  Smiling, Erin replied: “By that time it was too late.” Though she forbade Nicki from pre-marital sexual activity carried on under her own roof, Erin refused to give her daughter clear advice that comported with Church teaching.  

In a recent episode, a male lawyer in Erin’s office and potential supervisor expressed his attraction for her.  Fast forward. On a given morning, she was making breakfast for him as he exited from her bedroom.  He was worried about having compromised her official position as assistant district attorney.  Yet he had no qualms whatever about having compromised her personal morality. Neither did Erin. Both coyly smiled over his remark.

Hypocrisy and Bad Example

In these instances, we have writing in which the context is Catholic, but the content is contrary to Catholic teaching peddled as sophisticated and acceptable behavior. On a non-sectarian program, these scenes wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. Audiences are accustomed to viewing sexual encounters as the usual fare on television.  In this context, the deception is glaring.

Ms. O’Connor, who graduated from St. Agnes High School, College Point, NY, has publicly stated that she wants to show Catholicism in a positive light.  Given these examples, how would she portray the faith in a negative light?  Who made the decision to include these scenes in the programs? Were they essential to the integrity of the show? Was she coerced into spicing up the episodes against her better judgment?

October 10th: “Burning Bridges”

The October 10th episode both misrepresented and caricatured the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

More in The Way of Beauty

When Commissioner Reagan attempts to protect one of his gay officers from possible harm, a reporter asks him, “How do you line up your anti-gay faith with your role as an equal-opportunity employer?” 

To which Commissioner Reagan demurs without correcting the reporter’s error:  “What my men and women do in private is their own business.” 

“So you only condemn homosexuality on Sunday?” the reporter illogically queries.  Again, the Commissioner fails to set the record straight on Catholic teaching and feebly responds: “Well, I do believe the Church is a little behind the times on this. But then, I still miss the Latin Mass. Next question.” 

Even Cardinal Brennan, the prelate debuting in Season 5, can’t seem to articulate the Church’s teaching.  The scene closes without resolution.  Frank will not rescind his public statement, and the entire dialogue casts the Catholic Church in an unattractive light.  The content of the script is erroneous. 

Cardinal Brennan, presumably the prelate of New York, is depicted as a haughty clergyman who, in a private meeting with Frank, his former classmate, extends his hand so that Frank may kiss his ring. This portrayal of the Cardinal, though fictional, is historically inaccurate.  The Cardinals of New York do not fit this description.  For many years, they have enjoyed warm relations with New York City officials.  The depiction in this episode, intended to cast the Church in a negative light, is odious. The writers seem determined to paint Cardinal Brennan as an overbearing prelate—at least up to the present.

Sister Mary

Last but not least, we come to Sister Mary.  In “Burning Bridges,” Frank must tell her as the principal of St. Dominic’s, the school he attended as a boy that he could not help her cause.  He has failed in convincing the Cardinal to keep the school open.  He perceives this as retaliation for not rescinding his remarks on homosexuality. And Sister Mary’s response? She implies that she lived in a lesbian lifestyle before her entrance into religion—she kissed her girlfriend goodbye the day before entering the convent.  Why this non-sequitur from this glib, garrulous woman?  Is her brazenness aimed at shocking an official who is not easily shocked?  Cui bono!

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Sister Mary feels compelled to add: “There’s not a day I regret answering Our Lord’s call or a day when I’m ashamed of who I was before. So thank you.” 

We are relieved to have this assurance!

For the Writers of “Blue Bloods”

In all these instances, the writers of “Blue Bloods” have tried to be savvy and sophisticated in matters of Catholic faith.  They are neither.  Their goal has been to embarrass the Church, their means, puerile and pedestrian. 

The Catholic faith proposes a rich hierarchy of teaching rooted in the dignity of the human person and the family, and the sanctity of life.  Reason supports faith. The Church seeks to speak meaningfully to today’s men and women but in a way that never loses sight of their dignity and respect for each other and for their final destiny.  Would the scenes in question have taken away from the enjoyment of the programs presented?

The writers of “Blue Bloods” owe viewers of the program the truth when depicting all matters Catholic—simply Catholic.  They have an ethical obligation to avoid cute, slippery deception and instead present the unvarnished truth about Catholicism. If Mr. Selleck is the mortar holding the structure of “Blue Bloods” together, then the program also needs a Catholic theologian to hold together a Catholic script to prevent it from falling into the gutter.

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