What we can learn from a Catholic Fictional Character – Captain Frank Furillo

The media is all around us and bombards us with messages constantly.  These days I find myself with not much time to watch TV so what I do watch has to have a point, has to expand my horizon in some way.  Doubly so if I am going to watch something twice.  Hill Street Blues from the 1980’s is one of those programs I watched as a teenager that profoundly helped shape my thoughts for the positive in the Catholic Faith.  I did not realize this until recently.

I watched the show again now as an adult.  I am able to see why and where this affected me.   Today I am able to express the positive messages that molded me.  The show was violent, anarchistic, funny, had a lot of characters, moving parts, plots, and much inappropriate content.  As a father of teenage boys now, I would not want my boys watching this without me.

One character in particular touched me – Captain Frank Furillo.  He is the Captain and his steady hand guides this “ship”.  As a watched I picked out three traits that spoke to me as a young Catholic teenager and AGAIN as a father and middle aged man.  It’s not often that you encounter something that ties two distinct time periods together and once again molds you, reinforcing who you want to be.  Here are the traits:

  1. Process of Faith
  2. Loyal
  3. How to be empowered when you are helpless


Life is messy.  Life is not black and white.  I am sure I am not telling you, the reader, something new.  It can be chaotic, the choices we make can hurt, heal, hinder, and hurl us into uncharted territory.  It is our Faith that is our steady guide.  A way to stay sane when all around us looks to be caving.

Hill Street was all of the above and more.  Frank is a lapsed catholic, “former” alcoholic, leading a station of Police Officers who patrol a very rough part of town.  Stress comes with the environment.  What I love about him is how he brings that steady hand to the Hill.  While not overtly using his Catholic Faith he leans on it and practices its tenants.

In one particularly agonizing episode he deals with the murder of a nun and after an moral choice, the episode ends with him going to confession.

What did this teach me?  My faith is what guides me through a chaotic mess.  Lapsed or not, the tenants of what I have been taught are ingrained in me.  Faith is like muscle memory.  Even if we are not “practicing”, our actions are guided by what we have learned.  That is critical for us to remember as parents.

Finally, forgiveness awaits me but even more important, God is always there physically in the form of the Church.  Through the years in my tough times, I have prayed.  But I cannot count how many times, I have just walked into a Church, knelt, and prayed.  The comfort I felt was immediate even if the path was not always clear.  Hence, why I created Dotirome.com.


This was Frank’s number one positive character trait to all who worked for him.  Frank always had his employees back.  All knew it and wanted to work for him.  In addition, he was a loyal husband, father, ex-huband, and co-worker.

As a teenager I loved seeing this in a man.  This was the kind of man I wanted to be.  What I didn’t realize then which I can now process is that God has my back.  He sent His only son for us, for me.

This loyalty does not come blindly.  It is given freely but much is expected.  There were times on the show when someone did step over the line, were punished by Frank, and they were able to redeem themselves.

In one particular episode which I can actually remember watch over 30 years ago, Frank and his wife separate.  Frank is asked to dinner by an attractive coworker who tempts him.  Without hesitation, Frank says he is married and a man of his vow.

As a man who is not hesitant to say I failed many times, I can also say God has my back.  In turn, I have always followed this tenant of loyalty that I saw modeled on a TV show.  While I could not process it cognitively then, I know it helped reinforce my own faith and God’s will for us.

Empowered when you are helpless

Researching the show, I came across a great quote by Steven Bochco one of the creators of the show.  I am going to paraphrase it here.  “We conveyed the sense of being powerless.  Frank had tons of responsibility and very little authority and the cumulative impact thematically was a kind of despair but it never got the better of Captain Furillo.”

As a young teenager watching this show I saw this captured weekly.  While I can say at the time I did not know what despair was, I can say now that I have known despair and not feeling empowered.  How does one combat this and still stay true to one’s self?  How do you feel empowered when so much is out of your power?

For me, this is where my own Faith factors into the equation.  God is there for us, there is always a path.  He sent His only son who knew despair.  We have His Word.

But what else?  Yes, I want more.  How did God show me, a 16-year-old?

Life many times feels out of our control but what can we control?  The character of Frank Furillo showed this to me in a message that was implanted via the TV.

We can control ourselves.  It is how we react to that which is going on around us that brings out the real personality, our real Faith.  Going back to scene where Frank is tempted.  He did not want the separation from his wife.  He was angry, sad, and hurt.  He could have easily given into the temptation.  He did not.  He controlled himself.

This message was relayed to me through the “boob tube” as my father liked to call it.  Jesus Christ modeled this behavior for me in the Gospels many times.  Temptation by the devil in the dessert, feeding a hungry crowd, raising Lazarus, entrapment by the Pharisees.

I did not know it at the time but this media was reinforcing my faith.  An ugly, dark, many times depressing TV show inspired me and provided examples of how to be a good person.  Watching it again connects my personal Faith timeline.

The media is everywhere these days in our lives and our children’s lives and it comes in so many forms.  My ultimate message for you is to watch what your children are watching and help them create a positive personal filter which enforces their Faith.  You might find growth in your Faith as a result.

Copyright 2016, Peter Serzo

Peter Serzo

Peter Serzo

Peter Serzo, observer, listener, author, speaker, and blogger. Visit him at Dotirome.com where he shares practical stories on being Catholic and listen to his popular Priest Podcast. The Priest Podcast is an environment where we have an enlightening conversation with those that lead (Not a theology conversation but a conversation on being a Priest/Leader/Human). Peter travels visiting different Catholic Churches satiating his curiosity and desire to spread each parish's uniqueness though his blog and presentations.

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