While you read the following review it’s important to remember that despite the fact that I’m laying into the series, I did watch all 22 episodes. It’s not even that I just caught up on them over the summer when there was nothing better to watch, I actually pretty much stayed on top of the series rarely falling more than an episode behind. But now, I’m going to tell you how the series is rubbish.
First up… nothing happened! Of 22 plots and probably a similar number of sub-plots, I only remember a few moments scattered about; I don’t remember the cases, the victims, the suspects or the twists and turns. I often struggled to remember what was going on in the middle of the episodes, let alone weeks or months later. There was nothing outstanding about any of them, no prominent guest stars and no quirky gimmick cases. And if I can’t remember the cases, you can bet your life that I didn’t actually care about any of them.
That would be fine if the cases were just there as a vehicle to bigger stories or character development, but nothing happened on that front either. There were a couple of attempts at storylines to stretch characters (Jamie’s unlikely undercover adventures, Erin’s weird relationship with an international art thief) but at the end of the day everyone is unchanged; Jamie is still insecure, Danny is still angry all the time, Erin is still uptight. No one has developed, no one’s life is different, they could have gone straight from the pilot to the 44th episode and no one would notice any inconsistencies.
This comes back to something I said in my review of season 1, that the series needs to introduce new characters to generate motion. The relationships with the extended family are the most interesting ones (Danny and his partner Jackie, Jamie and his mentor Renzulli, Frank and his aides Baker and Garrett) but they are isolated from the rest of the group. Frank, Jamie or Erin needs to bring someone home to meet the family, something, anything needs to bring some life into the group because otherwise they’re just having the same arguments over and over again and it’s dull.
So if the series is so mediocre, why do I keep watching? The biggest thing it has in its favour is that it’s a very easy show to watch. I don’t have to pay much attention to keep track (frankly from the pre-title sequence I can map out the rest of the episode with moderate success), so it’s a perfect show to put on while ironing, baking, or even catching up on email. The fact that it isn’t very engaging actually works in its favour.
The second reason is that I keep hoping it will get better, because it has all the ingredients that it could do so. The concept is a solid one and New York is a beautiful and varied city to film in.. The cast is superb, they’re fighting against the awful writing with all their hearts and dragging some depth out of it against stupendous the odds. I like watching these people, I singled out Tom Selleck last season, and he and his moustache are still superb, but I came to appreciate the whole cast this year. Len Cariou is wonderful as the curmudgeonly elder statesman of the family with slightly outdated views, Jennifer Esposito and Amy Carlson are perfect foils for Danny as his partner and wife respectively, they bring a calmness and centre, but are also more than capable of shouting and fighting when necessary. The siblings (Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynahan and Will Estes) all manage to find points of humour and connections that make them genuinely believable as a family. But I always feel that these great performances are despite of, rather than because of the writing.
The series needs to do something, change something, have its characters grow. They chickened out of opportunities this year (Erin’s job in the mayor’s office, Frank’s relationship with the reporter, Jamie’s undercover which didn’t seem to go anywhere), but without doing something interesting, this show is doomed to be an ‘ironing show’, which is a waste of a great concept and a talented ensemble.