In the great big world of TV, we absolutely do not need another cop show. It’s been one of the most crowded genres on television for as long as TV has been around. Go on, I bet you can name five examples without even thinking. Shades of Blue should have been shit. Another cop show, this time starring Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta? It should’ve been an instantly forgettable cliché-stuffed mess. It should’ve been the worst show of the year. It wasn’t.
Out now on DVD, Shades of Blue’s first season isn’t perfect. But it’s far from the disaster the world was expecting it to be. Jennifer Lopez plays Harlee Santos, a single-mother NYPD detective who is forced to work in the FBI’s anti-corruption task force while dealing with her own personal problems. “Why must she work in the anti-corruption task force”, I hear you cry. Well, she’s as corrupt as they come – part of Ray Liotta’s group of naughty coppers in Brooklyn. She must choose between doing the right thing for her daughter (Sarah Jeffery) and allow justice to prevail, or cover up for her corrupt friends who have always had her back. I know, I know, it sounds like something you’ve seen before. Largely, it is. It’s not exactly the most original premise you’ll find on TV this year – although when you consider there’s a TV remake of Lethal Weapon coming to our screens this year, by comparison Shades of Blue doesn’t look like the laziest television of 2016.
Over the first season’s 13 episodes, there are many twists and turns in the tale. Some elements of the narrative are tiresome – Harlee’s personal issues sometimes get in the way of the bigger picture, while her friend Tess’s marital problems feel unnecessary to the plot – but when we get into the back-stabbing world of police corruption and FBI surveillance, the show is engrossing. Now I’m not saying for one second Shades of Blue is anywhere near the same quality as any of TV’s big hitters. But it’s an easy, entertaining watch. There’s no in-depth arty farty metaphorical symbolism or dream sequences – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Shades of Blue is just a nice and easy linear police tale. And it’s surprisingly better quality than most other shows like it. Hell, the first two episodes are directed by Barry Levinson, who also exec-produces the series. If any of you out there are scratching your heads, ol’ Barry directed some great films in the 80s and 90s – including Rain Man and Good Morning Vietnam.
Shades of Blue’s quality is helped by some damn fine performances. Jennifer Lopez is surprisingly good as Harlee, but Ray Liotta steals the show with a brave and powerful performance as the intense Matt Wozniak. He does things you probably never expected to see him do, and it’s a brave choice for the Hollywood tough guy to do it, considering how small-minded some of the public can be. Liotta should be winning awards for his turn here, it’s absolutely the best thing he’s done in years. Drea de Matteo (The Sopranos) and Sarah Jeffery (Wayward Pines) are pretty good too, and Warren Kole is decent as the borderline perverted Special Agent Robert Stahl. The rest of Wozniak’s gang – played by Dayo Okeniyi, Hampton Fluker, Vincent Laresca and Santino Fontana – are brilliantly performed. There isn’t a weak link in the cast.
But for anyone expecting this to be anywhere near the quality of The Wire or Breaking Bad, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Yes, it’s far better than it should be – but it’s still not by any means perfect television. It still feels like what it is – a cheesy cop show without much budget behind it. It feels like TV. It isn’t remotely cinematic in its production values. While episodes of shows like Game of Thrones look like little films, this will not fool anyone. But who cares? There’s plenty of that quality around if you want it. If you want something easy, tune in to Shades of Blue. It’s been renewed for a second season, which is a pretty big thing on TV these days.
With the second season just around the corner, now seems like a great time to catch up with a surprisingly good little show. Just don’t expect perfection. 3/5
Shades of Blue: Season 1 at CeX
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