Tom Selleck's Butlers

When he was Magnum, Tom Selleck had Higgins, his major-domo, butler, right-hand-man, factotum. Technically, of course, Higgins didn't work for Magnum, yet he did fulfill all the roles that made it possible for Magnum to live, function, and succeed. Higgins is played by the magnificent John Hillerman who played a similar--but far less supportive--character on Ellery Queen (foil to Jim Hutton).

As the Police Commissioner on Blue Bloods, Tom Selleck has Garrett Moore, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information played by Gregory Jbara. Moore is later joined by Danny's boss, Lieutenant Sidney "Sid" Gormley, played by Robert Clohessy.

Jbara as Moore shows up at the end of Season 1, becoming a regular guest star in Season 2. And then the impact of his character becomes instantly apparent.

Like any strong lead and character actor, Tom Selleck shines when he has a decent actor to bounce dialog off. Some leads are productions unto themselves--and there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that. But actors who thrive within a cast tend to be more interesting in the long-run--at least on television. Selleck's ability to banter, for example, explains his great success on Friends as Monica's boyfriend.

As more Blue Bloods scripts focused on 1 PP, Selleck's ability to banter with the Commissioner's staff became a useful tool--and Moore is one of the best banterees on television. They deliver rapid-fire points at each other that yet feel utterly natural to their personalities and interests. Moore also offers a necessary outside perspective (outside to the police and to the Reagan family). Some of the funniest and also most insightful moments come from these points of contact.

Gormley's addition to the mix doesn't harm the relay of ideas. For one, Moore has to step up his game--Gormley's perspective, though always pro-police, can catch other parties by surprise; he isn't a political animal and doesn't have Commissioner Reagan's natural aura of sophistication. However, as Moore sagely points out to the Commissioner, Gormley is far more ambitious than he will admit even to himself.

Blue Bloods is my favorite type of police procedural largely due to the clean writing--I don't mean "clean" as "absent of expletives" but rather as fresh, non-pretentious, and smart. There's (mostly) no attempt to "fool" the audience (you thought he was a good guy--nope, he's totally evil!). The stories unwind organically; the characters behave as expected but not as stereotyped. As the sometimes fussy, highly opinionated, argumentative and rather urbane Moore--in other words, as a great butler--Jbara fits the Blue Bloods cast. He also gives Selleck more to do than behave paternally displeased with his brood (though those scenes can be fun as well).


FreeLiveFree said...

I like Tom Selleck, but I was never that big of a fan of Magnum P.I. Selleck, however, played a recurring character on The Rockford Files who was a rival P.I. The character was a parody of seemingly perfect television P.I.'s (as oppose to the realistic everyman Rockford.) Which always reminded me as a more self-aware Magnum.

Probably should try Blue Bloods sometime.

Joe said...

Your comment about a lead needing a foil should go one step further: he/she needs a foil who is comparable in acting ability. This is a far bigger problem than people realize, especially with guest stars and in independent films where they manage to "snag" an actual professional (even if not great, they're usually WAY better than the rest and it becomes painful to watch.)

In other words, you are far better off having an all mediocre cast than one star and a mediocre cast. (Though you can kind of get away with it if, by chance, you happen to hire a mediocre actor who happens to know how to do the one role asked of him/her.)

This is one of the interesting things about Buffy/Angel. Of the leads, few were experienced when they started (heck, even the top production staff was inexperienced.) Yet, it worked. BUT, as time went on, some of the actors got better, some much better and one didn't go anywhere. So, by season 3, but especially 5, this inbalance became noticeable.

Same thing happened in Magnum. By the end Selleck and Hillerman had, for lack of a better phrase, left the others behind.

(There is an interesting example of the guest star thing in Magnum. In one episode, José Ferrer and his son, Miguel Ferrer played older and younger versions of themselves. Miguel was inexperienced--it was his Movie/TV debut--and, frankly, never a great actor. His dad, on the other hand, was exceptionally good. Above all, though, José had learned how to be a guest star--a vastly underrated talent and one which, interestingly, Selleck was remarkably good at as well.)

FreeLiveFree said...

Speaking of a lead needing a foil to play off of. The reason Robin was created in the Batman comics (other than have a character kids could identify with) was to have a foil. That's why Robin's costume is bright compare to the dark brooding Batman. Of course, during the 50s and the Adam West series Batman was so brooding. Batman is the most variable character in fiction.

The reverse of Batman would probably Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Elvis the flashy, motor mouth P.I. plays off Joe Pike who makes Clint Eastwood look like a blabbermouth. (Or at least the characters he plays. Maybe in real life Eastwood talks a lot.)

Katherine Woodbury said...

Tom Selleck is an impressive guest star--he's a natural on so many fronts. I've always been terribly disappointed that I couldn't get back into watching Magnum P.I.--like the way I regret not especially liking Andre Norton's books: there's so much stuff there! And Tom Selleck is so incredibly talented in a non-demanding way. Although I've given up on NCIS's endless seasons (at one point, Michael Weatherly remarked sarcastically that the younger characters would be in advancing old age before the show ended), Mark Harmon has the same ability to allow his co-stars (okay, support staff) room and space. On Blue Bloods, this willingness to let the script and the cast run its course makes Selleck's appearances all that more valuable.