Hit or Sh**: NBC’s SHADES OF BLUE
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
I suppose I hadn’t really ever gotten a grasp on the dreary state of television today until I started regularly writing for the Hit or Sh** column. I’d heard horror tales, sure, but I was safe in my bubble of “Why would network TV ever be a thing I willingly pursue with all this HBO and Netflix?” Well, you’ve won this time, network TV, as I’ve become more and more acquainted with your wiles out of professional necessity. All this is to say that at this point I’m conditioned to come into each offering from a station like NBC with a “guilty until proven innocent” mindset. I can’t tell you if SHADES OF BLUE would have resonated with me if I had just come off of streamlining THE WIRE and THE SOPRANOS, but it sure as Hell rises above the pack when you’ve been watching TELENOVELA and COOPER BARRETT’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING LIFE.
This face will haunt me for the rest of my waking days
SHADES OF BLUE tells the story of Harlee Santos (Jennifer Lopez), a hardworking cop and single mother who is a member of a corrupt circle of cops helmed by Lt. Matt Wozniak (Ray Liotta). Having tracked this particular group of cops for months, Robert Stahl (Warren Kole) eventually catches Harlee in a sting operation, forcing her to help Internal Affairs turn the rest of the group in.
SHADES OF BLUE doesn’t manage to come up with situations to put its character in that are resolutely unique, but it does manage to make everything morally ambiguous and murky, contributing to a larger sense of tension and intrigue. Harlee has to participate in the corruption for the benefit of her daughter, and Matt started the entire concept of working with criminals because he found it a more effective way of lowering street crime. By being forced to work with Internal Affairs to keep providing for her daughter, Harlee is now participating in something that is both legally and morally right, but personally wrong.
Like me putting pants on in the morning
The ambiguity bleeds over to the characters as well, making them seem more fully fleshed-out. The subplot sees Harlee lie to IA to cover up the accidental killing of a criminal at the hands of her new partner, Michael Loman (Dayo Okeniyi), and Matt ruthlessly signs up a prisoner for execution by handing him over to the gang looking for him as a way of keeping the peace. Both characters are redeemed by functional but obvious “save the cat” scenes with Harlee’s daughter Cristina (Sarah Jeffery), as Matt and Harlee are extremely close while keeping up a purely professional relationship. It’s refreshing to see relatively complex characters introduced in the pilot, as they will no doubt be further developed as time wears on.
Time could stand to take a break form wearing on Ray Liotta
Let’s be real: anything airing on NBC isn’t going to be perfect, and SHADES OF BLUE suffers from its fair share of hiccups. The opening in particular is notably weak when compared to the rest of the pilot, as the video recording of a bruised and battered J.Lo is eye-roll-inducingly recycled and almost immediately transitions into a flashback, rendering the entire segment useless. Furthermore, Michael’s shooting of the criminal is rather impotent, as it occurs offscreen after we hear gunfire from a videogame.
Thankfully, other than some lukewarm scenes between Harlee and her daughter (it feels a little too textbook “overprotective mother deals with exasperated teenager”), SHADES OF BLUE is mostly carried by its strong lead actors. The scenes between J.Lo and Ray Liotta feel like they belong in a Hollywood picture, and the scenes with Liotta as the sole focus fit the bill even more so (the scene where he intimidates a gang leader is the arguable highlight of the pilot). However, J.Lo gets to flex her acting chops as well, and a scene where she has to destroy her daughter’s car in order to legitimize an alibi she gave to Matt while meeting with IA could even be considered powerful. In addition, the script structures itself in such a way that acts end with vicious punches.
As much as I want to, I can’t proclaim SHADES OF BLUE a “hit” just yet. The more I think about it, the more I realize it doesn’t necessarily do anything fresh or innovative, but merely tells a story in a functional manner. There is simply too much TV available to recommend more than the definitively entertaining, so I’ll have to wait and see whether or not the show can surprise me. However, “functional” is more than I can say for a large chunk of what’s currently airing on the telly, so for now I will happily watch another episode or so.
Verdict: Sh** Probation
SHADES OF BLUE airs on Thursdays on NBC