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Television Review

A rough first day on the job

Tom Selleck (right) plays the father of a newly minted cop (Will Estes) in “Blue Bloods.’’ Tom Selleck (right) plays the father of a newly minted cop (Will Estes) in “Blue Bloods.’’ (Heather Wines/CBS)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / September 24, 2010

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"Blue Bloods’’ may have a case of pilot-itis. That’s when a new show wants to tell us what it is, what it will be, and exactly who all the characters are, all in a single hour of TV. The CBS cop drama starring Tom Selleck presents symptoms in tonight’s crowded premiere at 10 on Channel 4. Often, pilot-itis clears up after a week and leaves a smoother, less forced series in its wake.

I hope so. If not for the narrative clunkiness, “Blue Bloods’’ has the potential to be a juicy multigenerational family drama set in a moodily evoked New York, with Selleck’s furrier-than-ever mustache as a bonus. Selleck plays the city’s police commissioner Frank Reagan, a widowed father of four — one of whom was a cop who died on the job. Frank’s two surviving sons, Jamie (Will Estes) and Danny (Donnie Wahlberg), are both cops, and his daughter, Erin (Bridget Moynahan), is assistant DA. Oh, and there’s more: Grandpa, Frank’s father, Henry (Len Cariou), is the former chief of police.

That’s a lot of law-enforcement in one family, and the script rushes to make all of the Reagans’ plotlines overlap somehow. On the job, Danny deals with Erin, Frank deals with Danny and Jamie, Jamie deals with colleagues of late brother Joe, etc.

It makes sense when they all sit down for Sunday dinner together at a busy table in Frank’s home, along with their spouses and children. But the professional coincidences are hokey — as hokey as the use of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York’’ to telegraph the setting to the viewer.

Also hokey, the procedural element in the premiere, a dashed-off subplot in which a little girl has been kidnapped. To make the clock tick louder, the writers make the girl a diabetic in need of insulin. I’m hoping that if “Blue Bloods’’ traffics in crimes of the week as the series proceeds, the writers will aim for more complexity.

This is not a “Law & Order’’-type show, where the crime’s the thing; it’s a personality drama about a family. But still, that’s no excuse for half-baked story lines.

Selleck makes a good anchor, and his children are well-cast. I’m a big fan of Wahlberg; he’s naturally rough-edged and sympathetic, and he’s often better than the material he has been given.

In the pilot, the writers hint at a plot for him that could become cliched awfully quickly, if mishandled. Let’s take the show’s temperature next week and see how it’s doing.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

BLUE BLOODS

Starring: Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynahan, Will Estes

On: CBS, Channel 4

Time: Tonight, 10-11