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Series / Public Morals

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It's our job to curb all kinds of vice. That includes prostitution, pornography, degeneracy, and the Blue Laws. You got that, my man?
- Lt. King

Public Morals is a police drama that premiered in 2015 on TNT and ran for one season; it was not renewed. It was created by Edward Burns, who also writes, directs, and stars in the series.

Set in 1965 New York City, the series focuses on the NYPD's Public Morals Division as it tries to police the city's appetite for vice. The cops of the division are fairly cynical about their work, believing that the best they can do is regulate such activity rather than try to stamp it out altogether. They have no problem with letting people have their fun as long as the players pay their "rent" and don't cause too much trouble. It's when people try to shake up the status quo that the cops start cracking down.

The show also examines the lives of working-class Irish Americans during the 1960's and the complicated familial relationships between cops and criminals.

Not to be confused with the 1996 sitcom and NYPD Blue Spin-Off of the same name.

This program provides examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew: Averted but feels like it's not; Muldoon's 1965 Chevy represents the cutting-edge of mainstream car design of the day, while the clothes lag in the starched-shirt-and-tie era (almost all male characters being either plainclothes cops, old-style mobsters or Catholic-school boys.)
  • Asshole Victim: After Mr. O is murdered, few people are really sad that he is dead. Even his family and close friends feel that he had it coming and there are hundreds of people who might have wanted him dead.
  • Big Applesauce: The show is an examination of 1960's New York, a seedy yet vibrant place and era.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Bull's mother speaks exclusively in German (with subtitles) while the family speaks to her in English. There doesn't seem to be any communication issues, however.
  • Cliffhanger: The first season finale leaves several plot threads dangling, including who killed Joe Patton, Dee's pregnancy, one of the plainclothes about to be fired, and Bowman ending his association with Stacy.
  • Cowboy Cop: The show's set in a time when police officers had much more leeway in how they could deal with the public. A crook getting knocked around a bit isn't seen as being a problem.
  • Corrupt Cop: The cops of the PMD see themselves as being in charge of victimless crimes and have no problem letting people have fun as long as the players involved pay "rent".
    Muldoon: We do what's been done for the last 100 years: we manage it. For the city. Think of us as the landlords. And if you want to be in business, you gotta pay your rent. Do you understand what I'm telling you?
    Shea: Yes, I do.
    • Pretty much every game in town needs permission from PMD to operate in New York City. If you have permission, they'll look out for you. If you don't, they'll take you down. God help you if you try to shake up the status quo.
    • Muldoon also maintains a barter system of favors and services that he receives gratis from certain establishments in exchange for his keeping gangsters and bookmakers from bothering their clientele.
  • Dead Star Walking: Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton winds up as a Plot-Triggering Death at the end of the pilot.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Muldoon has rather progressive views (or is at least nonjudgmental) towards issues like race and homosexuality but uses terminology that would be off-limits today (for example, he calls gay men "queers", which was a common derogatory term in the era).
    • Shea being a college-graduate isn't just unusual; the other cops of the Public Morals Division look at him with outright suspicion because of it.
    • It's an Open Secret that Mr. O beats his wife. While all the characters express disgust at this, most do nothing about it. Sean, his son, is even told off for going against his father in defense of his mother.
  • Domestic Abuse: It's readily apparent, from the bruises on her face, that Mrs. O is regularly and severely beaten by Mr. O. Despite it all, she stayed with him and implores Muldoon to personally find Mr. O's killer.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Pretty much everyone, including gangsters and Dirty Cops, are contemptuous of Mr. O for beating his wife.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Gangster: Joe Patton sees his criminal enterprise as a money-making venture and as a tool to help maintain order in the community (albeit on his terms). He maintains an agreement with the police where gambling and prostitution can operate freely as long as both sides get a share of the profits. He is, however, also a deconstruction. He's such a community institution that younger, more violent criminals perceive him as vulnerable.
    • Rusty Patton shows shades of this but is more concerned with gaining power out of a belief that doing so will make him a respected criminal figure.
  • Friend to All Children: Rusty treats the kids in the neighborhood well and hands out cash when he's asked. He even gives a kid extra when he finds out that the kid doesn't have a mother.
  • Friendly Enemy: Joe Patton and Michael Muldoon get along well enough to visit each other at home and share some rather intimate details to each other while being well aware that they can only do so because of a very tenuous peace between their two sides.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Stacy, a prostitute whom Charlie Bowman arrests in the pilot and eventually befriends throughout the first season.
  • In the Blood: Muldoon and Shea are the sons of cops. The O'Bannons are referred to as a family of cops, although Mr. O is a mid-level player in the Irish Mob.
  • The Irish Mob: Hell's Kitchen is run by the Irish mob with Joe Patton as its leader. Any criminal who wants to operate in the area has to get Patton's permission to do so.
  • Lethally Stupid:
    • Pat Duffy is considered to be this by the majority of the characters and they agree to work with him only as a favor to Sean. By the end of the premiere even Sean calls him out for his careless stupidity.
    • Joe Patton accuses his son Rusty of being this. He thinks that Rusty's reckless actions will destroy the criminal organization Joe has created and get a lot of people killed in the process.
  • New Meat: Shea. Everybody thinks there's something a little off about him.
  • Nepotism: Public Morals is seen as a choice assignment and a stint there can fast-track a cop's career. Jimmy Shea's father (an NYPD Inspector) made a deal with Capt. Johanson to get Jimmy assigned there.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Mr. O is only referred to by his nickname. His last name is O'Bannon but even his relatives or close friends do not call him by his first name.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Of course the very first time The Monk speaks, it would be this.
    Tom Patton: You sure you want to do this?
    The Monk: As sure as I have a thought and a soul.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: Rusty Patton. He has an almost uncontrollable need to prove himself to his father, which results in his death tally of five people by "A Token of Our Appreciation": Mr. O, two of Rusty's low-level guys, a prostitute who witnessed Mr. O's murder, and Smitty all got whacked on Rusty's orders or by Rusty himself.
  • Rules Lawyer: Captain Johanson promised Shea's father that he'd give the rookie a chance. He never said how long that chance would be.
  • Spanner in the Works: Rusty Patton's brash actions have caused a splintering within the Irish mob, with multiple parties now making moves to grab power for themselves, endangering the lucrative setup that had previously existed between the cops and the mob.
  • Status Quo Is God: This is lampshaded and invoked numerous times throughout the premiere episode. Business is good, everyone is getting paid and the cops do not want anyone to mess with their setup. Capt. Johanson makes it clear that if Jimmy Shea tries to rock the boat he will be transferred out. Muldoon warns his uncle to not let his ambition start a Mob War. This is all ultimately subverted at the end of the episode when Mr O is killed.
  • Verbal Tic: Terry tends to speak without contractions, especially when he's out to make a point.
  • Wham Episode: The double-episode finale "Starts With a Snowflake" and "A Thought and a Soul". Patton, trying to have it both ways, tells Rusty he's no longer under any protection, but refuses to admit to Muldoon that Rusty killed Mr. O. Terry Muldoon, fed up, severs the gentleman's agreement between the cops and the Irish mob. Then Patton gets blown up by Rusty, ironically after The Monk killed Patton's brother.
  • Wife-Basher Basher: Sean's introduced stalking up to his father, a mid-level goon surrounded by mooks, and brawling with him for beating his mother.