Review: Shades of Blue 1×1 (US: NBC)

The Shield for the average viewer

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

If you want to know how to turn around a struggling TV network, you need to ask NBC. A little less than a decade ago, its primetime broadcasting slots filled with the likes of Knight Rider and My Own Worst Enemy, you couldn’t pay people to watch it and it was a much deserved fourth out of the four broadcast networks in the ratings. Fast forward to now and NBC has overtaken CBS to become the number one network. Just how did it do it?

By broadcasting generic, unexceptional, reasonably stupid drek. Not too stupid and not too bad, since people will still turn off. But try to cater to the average viewer – bearing in mind that in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation, age et al, the average viewer is changing from year to year, but in terms of intelligence they’re pretty much the same as always – with something that won’t offend, that can be used as background viewing in place of the radio, that you can follow while playing with your iPhone, and that is pretty much like everything else that’s been on TV forever and you’ll do well.

Could The Shield work on NBC? Not a chance. But Shades of Blue, which is basically The Shield for the average viewer? That’ll thrive.

Jennifer Lopez stars… Yes, let’s stop there. JLo. She’s the producer and the star. She is NBC’s Michael Chiklis.

Considered that enough? Right, let’s try again.

Jennifer Lopez is a corrupt New York detective working for the even more corrupt police lieutenant Ray Liotta (GoodFellas, Smith). They keep the peace between local gangsters in return for extortion money and they’re happy to plant evidence, hand over suspects for the gangs to murder et al in order to do this. Then JLo gets caught by an FBI anti-corruption squad and is forced to turn against Liotta and the rest of their unit – otherwise, she’s going to jail and won’t be able to keep paying the tuition fees for her daughter’s artsy-fartsy college.

Will she send family friend and trusted pal Liotta down to save herself and her family, or will she get killed by Liotta in the process if he finds out? Only time will tell.

Harlee Santos (Jennifer Lopez) is a charismatic single mother and resourceful detective at the heart of a tight-knit crew of Brooklyn detectives, led by enigmatic Lieutenant Matt Wozniak (Emmy Award winner Ray Liotta, “Goodfellas,” “Field of Dreams”), who often leads the team to step outside the limitations of the law in order to effectively protect their precinct and their own.

As a big illegal job looms on the horizon, the FBI catches Harlee in the act and pits her against her own unit. As a newly turned informant, she struggles to safeguard her on-the-job family and avoid arrest in order to stay with her daughter. Harlee engages in a perilous dance with her FBI handler, Special Agent Stahl (Warren Kole), who develops an unhealthy obsession with her. Meanwhile, Wozniak, acting as the unit’s patriarch, begins an all-consuming hunt for the informant. Pressure mounts as the crew struggles to perform their brand of street justice under FBI watch.

The cast includes Drea de Matteo (“Sopranos,” “Sons of Anarchy”), Dayo Okeniyi (“Terminator: Genisys,” “Hunger Games”), Vincent Laresca (“The Aviator,” “Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift”), Hampton Fluker (“Aquarius,” “The Blind Side”) and Sarah Jeffery (“Rogue,” “Wayward Pines”). Santino Fontana (“Frozen,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) is a recurring guest star.

Creator and writer Adi Hasak (“Generation Kill,” “3 Days to Kill”) serves as executive producer along with Jack Orman (“Men of a Certain Age,” “ER,” “Pan Am”), Jennifer Lopez (“The Boy Next Door,” “The Fosters”), Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas (“Extant,” “The Fosters”), Benny Medina (“The Boy Next Door,” “The Fosters”), Ryan Seacrest (“Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” “Shahs of Sunset”) and Nina Wass (“Mixology,” “Golden Girls”). Barry Levinson (“Rain Man,” “And Justice for All”) directs episodes 101 and 102.

“Shades of Blue” is a production of Universal Television, Nuyorican Productions, EGTV, Ryan Seacrest Productions and Jack Orman Productions.

Is it any good?
Shades of Blue tries its best to be as average as is humanly possible, even if the writers would rather like to think they’re better than that.

Largely, it’s not great, covering ground you’ll either have seen in a dozen other movies or that tries to make the blindingly obvious look like the kind of twist worthy of M Night Shyamalan. JLo’s opening dialogue with her new rookie partner is about how certain flowers are bisexual and impregnate themselves. She even uses long words her partner doesn’t understand – but then he doesn’t appear to understand much of anything. And the show billows will that kind of faux intelligence, right down to trying to prove that JLo is Latina by getting her to speak Spanish. Except the show doesn’t want to frighten off the average viewer so ensures that she only ever opens and closes conversations in Spanish, and only uses the kind of Spanish that you don’t even need to have taken high school Spanish to understand.

But the show does also try hard to be gritty and, at times, there are scenes reminiscent of Hill Street Blues and, indeed, The Shield. There’s the occasionally genuinely smart moment or surprising action. The fact JLo is anything but 100% purer than purer is as much a credit to her as to the show. Liotta’s terrific. And the show does try to make the case that there are shades of grey (do you see what they did with the title?) and that while the cops may be dirty, they’re only dirty because they need to be, not just for their families but to preserve the peace and save lives.

All the same, if you have a modicum of intelligence, you’ll know how Netflix works and watch The Shield instead.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.