Cops have been taking it on the chin for quite a while in real life. Now they get slammed again in the new NBC police procedural “Shades of Blue,” premiering on Thursday.
The news that another cop show is about to premiere isn’t usually a big deal, but this one stars Jennifer Lopez as Harlee Santos, a cop with good intentions who gets swept up by corruption in the Brooklyn detective squad overseen by Lt. Matt Wozniak (Ray Liotta).
Woz has been almost a father figure in Harlee’s life and career. But as a cop, Woz believes you have to not only bend the rules but break them in order to be effective. “I have to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable,” he says at one point.
But over time, those boundaries have been pushed into outright corruption. Woz and his crew, including Harlee, have an under-the-table protection racket going on, collecting payoffs from legitimate businesses as well as from drug dealers and numbers runners. It’s part of the game.
As a single mom of a teenage daughter, Cristina (Sarah Jeffery), Harlee has to struggle to make ends meet. That may make her seem somewhat heroic, but she has no misgivings about what she does to make money. It’s the way of the world, and life hasn’t been easy for her, as we learn in bits and pieces as the series continues.
One day, she’s sent out to collect a payoff from a new drug dealer on the scene and winds up in the center of an FBI sting headed by Special Agent Robert Stahl (Warren Kole). He offers her the kind of deal we see in so many TV shows – “White Collar,” for one: Go undercover for the agency and stay out of jail.
Harlee doesn’t like Stahl and doesn’t like the idea of being a mole in her unit, but she doesn’t have much choice.
As overused as the plot device is, it’s entirely acceptable and credible, especially compared with the layers of overcooked plot elements that creator-writer Adi Hasak piles on.
Fortunately, Lopez is around to keep the thing from entirely toppling. She not only makes the declamatory dialogue credible, her presence is so convincing and magnetic that every other misstep can be overlooked and “Shades of Blue” comes off as better than it really is.
The other performances run the gamut from terrible to decent, with Liotta straddling both extremes. Woz starts out as an interesting, complicated character, but Liotta’s performance folds beneath the weight of overplotting. Kole is OK for a while as the FBI agent, but even he seems confused when the character turns out to have stalker instincts. Tess is constantly overwrought, and de Matteo does fine with that one-note samba. We still don’t care much about her, but she’s fine.
In addition to Lopez, the best performances are turned in by Dayo Okeniyi, Santino Fontana and Hampton Fluker as fellow detectives, Vincent Laresca as Harlee’s ex, and Jeffery as Harlee’s daughter.
There are few heroes in “Shades of Blue,” except perhaps for Okeniyi’s character, a rookie cop who hasn’t been on the job long enough to lose his moral compass. We are almost certain that will happen eventually, though, because that’s just how things work. Woz may be the most prominent bad guy, but we understand that the system itself is really the source of the corruption. There’s really very little difference between the cops and the people they either arrest or strong-arm for bribes.
There’s little doubt that “Shades of Blue” would not stand out from the other TV cop shows were it not for Lopez. She’s so good, you can’t help wishing someone would write her a better show.
“Shades of Blue” airs at 10 p.m. Thursday on NBC