Cop dramas are nothing new in television, and there have been dozens of shows regarding corrupt police. What “Shades of Blue” attempts to do differentlyis tell the story of a flawed police detective who’s forced to rat out her crew, and this premise is the foundation for a show that has flashes of greatness, but ultimately fails to rise above mediocre.
Jennifer Lopez stars as Harlee Santos, a single mother and New York Police Department detective. The show starts in media res with Santos lamenting how she’s ruined everything in her pursuit of being a good cop, then flashes back two weeks earlier to Santos helping her partner cover up the wrongful shooting of a suspect.
The first few minutes of “Shades” makes the cop lifestyle look pretty sweet. Lopez is dating a boxer, she’s the most popular person in her entire unit and her daughter is a star cellist at Julliard. We’ve seen this arc before, but it is still entertaining as we see the cracks in Lopez’s seemingly perfect life develop over the course of the episode.
The writing in the show is passable, though there are several times where talented actors like Lopez are forced to recite downright bizarre lines. After her partner suffers a breakdown and threatens to rat her out, Lopez tells him, “I have a daughter, and that means you have a daughter…That badge in your pocket means we are family. "Til death do us part." It feels as though the writers are attempting to make Lopez out to be some wise woman of the streets, when it really just makes her sound like a weirdo making up an analogy as she goes along.
Anyway, the fact that Lopez is a single mother with one job that doesn’t pay all that much inevitably shoots up red flags and she’s given the choice of turning on her crew of dirty cops or going to jail for a decade. To me, this turn of events is too sudden and comes before the audience sympathizes with the crew, so Santos’ internal struggle about whether to turn on her crew loses most of its emotional impact.
Just when the story is moving along, the writing takes another nosedive when Santos has to damage her daughter’s car in order to preserve a lie. We’ll ignore how exactly Santos affords this car for her daughter, but rather than taking a baseball bat to the headlights Carrie Underwood-style, she opts to repeatedly drive the car at a high speed into the concrete supports of a bridge.
Once again, a scene that is meant to be dramatic and emotional instead comes off as bizarre and comedic to the audience, although the symbolism of Santos hurting herself by preserving the lies she has told is a nice touch.
Looking back, the acting is what really saves this show from total mediocrity. Ray Liotta plays the ringleader of the group of corrupt police officers and does a great job, going from a loving uncle-type to a violent maniac without it seeming schizophrenic or out of place.
Lopez does a great job playing Santos, and her acting is basically the only reason the audience has to sympathize with her character. These two actors alone basically carry the entire episode, and if two lesser actors portrayed these characters, this show might not have been picked up.
“Shades of Blue” wants to tell a unique story, but the writing repeatedly impedes the ability of the audience to get invested in the plot. Lopez and Liotta are the only reasons that this show still has potential, and if the writing picks up, “Shades” could be a great new drama. Until then, it’s a testament to the fact that even great actors can’t make a bad script look good, and “Shades” will remain a mediocre drama until that point.
Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.