Television industry insiders have a term for poignant segments of sitcoms that offer a brief, feel good, serious life lesson: “moment of sh-t,” or MOS. These MOSes are usually relatively lighthearted. But sitcoms with a social agenda, like Norman Lear’s groundbreaking sitcoms of the 1970s, often had heavier messagessome admirable, others not so much. Archie Bunker learns at his friend’s funeral that his friend with whom he shared anti-Semitic jokes for years was actually himself Jewish. George Jefferson grudgingly accepts interracial marriage because his son’s father-in-law is white. More darkly, a middle-aged Maude is stunned that she’s pregnant and aborts the child with her husband’s support.
In recent years, the MOS seems to have gravitated from sitcoms to television dramas, with LGBTQ advocacy the most prevalent theme. A typical plot portrays a gay or transgendered person facing real or implied disapproval. The more admirable characters rally around said character while denouncing the ostensible bigotry of anything less than full throttle affirmation.
LGBTQ MOSes now proliferate even in police and law enforcement dramas, whose portrayals of good versus evil (with law enforcement generally on the side of the angels) have marked them as among the more conservative dramas.
Take the show, Blue Bloods, a New York-based police and legal drama centering on a fairly wholesome Irish-American Catholic family of police and a prosecutor, whose father and grandfather are the current and former chiefs of police. The family members are all church-going, have friendships with Catholic priests, and seem genuinely devout, although the Tom Selleck character, a sixtyish widower, has occasional hotel trysts with a lady friend, to the amusement of his adult children.
The LGBTQ MOSes on Blue Bloods are occasional but unmistakable. The most recent instance directly challenges the family’s adherence to Catholicism, and makes a villain out of the sexually conservative Archbishop of New York. The episode follows a closeted off-duty police detective who witnesses an anti-gay hate crime while leaving a gay bar. His colleagues unsuccessfully attempt to protect his identity, because the officer’s Hispanic and presumably Catholic family will disown him when they find out, as will some of his equally intolerant police colleagues. At a press conference, police Chief Reagan, i.e. Selleck, is challenged on his own views about LGBTQ, especially in light of his Catholic “anti-gay faith.” Selleck concedes that he thinks the Church “is a little behind the times” on the issue, creating a media firestorm. The imperious Archbishop then angrily summons Selleck and demands that he apologize publicly for disagreeing with the church, citing the “infallibility of the Vatican.” But Selleck holds his ground. “I do believe the Church is backwards on this,” he responds. “And of all the stands to hold onto. In the midst of the scandals of the past decade.” Selleck continues: “even the Pope has shifted positions.”
Selleck’s familysupposedly the paragon of pietyseems to agree that their Church is indeed wrong on this issue, possibly excepting Selleck’s curmudgeonly octogenarian father. Meanwhile, a saintly nun, Sister Mary, through her friendship with Selleck’s father, implores Selleck to intercede with the Archbishop to prevent the closure of her financially troubled but heroic parochial school, which the Archbishop unsurprisingly sees coldly as “strictly a real estate matter.” Selleck and the Archbishop initially cut a deal: The school will be saved in return for Selleck speaking at a church fundraiser.
But Selleck eventually decides he cannot apologize to the Church, likely undoing the deal, because, as he explains to Sister Mary, he can’t “condemn” his gay police officers “just because he’s Catholic.” The nun still thanks Selleck for trying to save her school and for his bold LGBTQ witness, revealing that upon joining the convent she “had kissed her girlfriend goodbye.” She explains: “There’s not a day I regret for answering our Lord’s call or a day I regret for who I was before. So thank you!” A succulent MOS.
Maybe a future episode of Blue Bloods will sympathetically feature another Catholic family who believes its Church’s teaching on marriage. Or maybe it will sympathetically portray a Catholic or Evangelical or Muslim or Orthodox Jewish business owner who won’t cater a same-sex rite and then must face litigation, or prosecution, or is victimized by a hate crime. And maybe pigs will fly. But there’s always hope that even a “moment of sh-t” need not be slavishly politically correct.
Image from CBS
Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy.