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One Time They Were Just Like You: "Jesse Stone: Innocents Lost"

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | TV | May 25, 2011 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | TV | May 25, 2011 |

The down side to just consuming all of one’s entertainment off of the Internet is the fact that channel flipping when one can’t sleep becomes an exercise in futility. My television gets 22 stations. Half of those are in Spanish. Local access and actual networks make up the balance. So that’s how I end up watching “Jesse Stone: Innocents Lost.” Jesse Stone is apparently CBS’ solution to the fact that they can’t run NCIS or CSI all the time, and because Chuck Norris wasn’t available to be a gruff older cop who hates youth and their technowiggins.

Tom Selleck plays a small town police chief with a drinking problem. And by drinking problem, I mean that people are constantly counting his drinks for him. Bartenders, friends, colleagues, all grimly declare either “that’s one” or “that’s two” with mounting menace and horror. He never gets past two drinks, I assume because listening to those people just gets too annoying to bother.

And by police chief, I mean former police chief. Stone’s been driven out in disgrace, presumably in the last “Jesse Stone” made for TV movie that aired last year at this time. That doesn’t stop him from personally investigating the death of a young girl who he was good friends with. And from getting deputized into a different police department by an old friend on a different matter so that he has a badge to throw around while he digs into things that the powerful forces of his small town are trying to keep covered up.

And by small town, I mean the most ludicrous fictional small town since Jessica Fletcher was still framing tourists for her killing sprees. For a small town, Paradise sure has just about everything. And I don’t just mean they’ve got two Starbucks and an Outback. There’s a rehab facility that looks like a sprawling Victorian insane asylum. There’s local Russian mafia. Of course there’s the corrupt boxing promoter with a computer locked door to a private pair of boxing rings. Name a film cliché that only rarely exists in the real world and this little town has got it. The town’s on the coast in Massachusetts, and Stone has a house sitting right on the rocks without another house anywhere in view. He’s so far past the actual purchasing power of a small town police chief that the characters from “Friends” wouldn’t even be able to keep a straight face.

In the end, Jesse Stone gets his man, working outside the law, crafty as an old bass with more scars than scales. But what’s really interesting is that Selleck (who co-wrote and co-produced the film in addition to starring) plays the role straight up, no tongue in cheek, no taking the easy route of just mocking everyone under forty or going for the patented Walker Texas Ranger trajectory of pretending he’s still thirty and kicking ass for two hours as if he’s still Magnum.

It’s curious because Selleck manages to pull off a bit of a coup, transforming a straight up genre by-the-numbers story into something with a bit of subtext to it. There’s an exhaustion to the story, to getting up and going through the motions when the world has decided that your time is past. Sure there are the usual trappings of generation gap drama, the cell phones that make Stone cranky, referring to all the smart eager young cops as “college boys” and frustratingly pecking slowly at the keyboard to get the damned thing to do in ten minutes what the kids in the outer office do in ten seconds. But the show is just smart enough not to hang any drama on those tensions. There’s no triumphant exultation that good ol’ fashioned police work is what really gets the job done, or some whiz bang kid showing grandpa how the computers make magic happen that blows the old ways away. There’s no painful saccharine when the old and new each do their part to bring in the bad guy.

The world changes, but the people don’t. Selleck plays Stone with a compelling weariness, a resignation that there really aren’t any surprises. I think that there’s some truth there, that the real pain of age isn’t that the world’s changing too fast but that it’s not changing at all.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at You can email him here.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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