Flawed humanness is the mirror reflection greeting each viewer who watches Jesse Stone. Ambiguity in life best describes the films: they are film noir for the 21st century. The dark mysteries should be expected coming from a student of “pulp fiction.” The Jesse Stone novelist Robert B. Parker holds a doctorate in American Literature from Boston University where his dissertation examined the writings of Dashiell Hammett (the creator of Sherlock Holmes) and Raymond Chandler (author of the 1940’s classics Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep, not to mention Phillip Marlowe’s private eye character from the 1950’s). Taut, gritty, crime dramas with substance find their model through Parker’s character.
A visual page-turner is then created by Robert Harmon (movies The Hitcher  and Nowhere to Hide; TV biographies such as Gotti and Ike: Countdown to D-Day— interestingly Eisenhower’s role is played by Selleck). “Made for TV” usually means less than interesting direction. But Harmon’s oversight brings his big-screen experience to the small-screen cop production.
Tom Selleck plays the deeply troubled chief of police from the small burg Paradise, Massachusetts. Finding his life in Santa Monica, California dissolving because of a failed marriage and a drinking problem, Jesse Stone’s peacekeeper career is resurrected by an invitation from 3000 miles away. Joined by his ever-present dog, Stone’s solitary lifestyle is augmented with colorful townspeople in each episode. William Devane’s recurring presence as Stone’s psychiatrist suggests an ongoing personality development, unveiled through historical revelations.
Unlike the happy-go-lucky, spirited Magnum P.I. from the 1980’s, Selleck creates a dour character. Smiles are replaced by grim frowns, furrowed by years of hard-bitten detective cases brought about by depraved humanity. Hard won, serpent-like wisdom propels Selleck’s character toward solving new assignments. Laconic responses to friends, staff, and foes further create the tension reminiscent of none other than Humphrey Bogart.
Deeply hurt and world-weary, Jesse Stone brings justice to those who deserve it, reserving generous mercy for those who have felt the sting of life’s backhand. The audience roots for a flawed character because in them we see ourselves. And isn’t this why we read stories and watch movies? We can live vicariously through fictitious others who we find to be our better selves. Humans aspire to some semblance of order even though our own lives are messy. Call it “pulp fiction” or film noir, narratives that are honest to the fallenness of humanity resonate with us.
Unrated, these films were made-for-TV, meaning there is some language and violence with sexual situations. The following films have been produced so far: Stone Cold (2005), Night Passage (2006, Prequel to Stone Cold), Death in Paradise (2006), Sea Change (2007), Thin Ice (2008), No Remorse (2010)
Along with Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck is “a man’s man.” Dr. Mark Eckel, Dean, Undergraduate Studies, Professor of Old Testament, Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, IN