Tom Selleck has never worked with better material than in the Jesse Stone movies, a downbeat cycle adapted from detective novels by Robert B. Parker (best known for his Spenser mysteries), which CBS began airing in February of last year. Selleck’s shared writing credit (a career first) on the bleak third installment, Death in Paradise, is the latest example of how the series draws on strengths he’s rarely displayed in almost 40 years as an actor.
The Stone movies are a cross between Sin City and The Andy Griffith Show: The hero is a washed-up L.A. cop who becomes chief of police in Paradise, Massachusetts, a rural village that qualifies as a bona fide all-American community thanks to its tolerance of corruption and domestic violence. In the latest entry, Stone investigates the death of a teenage girl known as “the town pump,” and the solution to the mystery is less cathartic than it is unsettling.
Addiction is rarely portrayed in nuanced terms on network TV, and the depiction of Stone as an unrepentant, functioning alcoholic is a key part of the series’s stark worldview. If and when he gives up the bottle, expect his recovery to be equally realistic: Death in Paradise has Stone visiting a therapist (William Devane, another small-screen mainstay displaying seldom-seen range), who torpedoes the cop’s excuses for drinking, using grim counterexamples from his own life to argue that alcoholism is a chronic disease. Parker has written a total of five Stone novels (the most recent was published in February), and the thought that there may be only two more of these rough gems really makes one wish he’d pick up the pace.—Andrew Johnston