Predictable, but still Enjoyable
Shades of Blue, the new cop drama from NBC, hits many familiar beats. But it does it with such enthusiasm and passion that the show makes up for its predictability. Lopez holds her own as the lead actress and Ray Liotta adds some gravitas to his paternal Lieutenant character. The pilot establishes a well-rounded cast of characters and lays the groundwork for what should be an interesting season.
Lopez stars as Harlee Santos, a New York detective within a corrupt division of the police department led by her surrogate father, Lieutenant Wozniak (Ray Liotta). The pilot opens with her making a desperate confession video. Even though all her lines are cliches that me me crince, like “I always wanted to be a good cop, but there are no straight lines,” she delivers them so well that it’s not a deal breaker. The show flashes back to two weeks earlier. She and a new rookie partner embark on a drug bust that (of course) goes south. One drug dealer escapes and the other ends up with two holes in his chest from the rookie’s gun. The only problem being the dealer was unarmed. As the rookie panics, Harlee calmly rearranges the crime scene to frame the dealer, even going so far as to shoot the rookie in the vest. Lopez does an excellent job of conveying that this is not Harlee’s first time doing this. While the rookie reacts like any other sane individual, Harlee never loses her composure; her faces looking no more disturbed than a mom cleaning up after a mess her child made.
The episode continues to unveil more of Harlee’s personal and work life. She has a high school daughter in music school who she cares deeply for, but there’s a small disconnect between them. No father is mentioned, but you can probably assume that won’t last. Wozniak emerges as a clear father figure. He’s incredibly supportive of Harlee and her daughter and Harlee is his clear favorite. He’s supported her through much of career and even goes so far as to pay the 10,000 tuition for Harlee’s daughter’s school.
Wozniak leads a multi-ethnic group of cops that have lowered the crime rate by eliminating the local drug problem. There are no drugs because Wozniak has partnered with local drug lord, Raul. Raul cannot deal within the “safe zones” and exchange gets a free pass in other parts of the city. The squad also extorts local criminals, demanding bribes in exchange for free passes.
Harlee’s life is turned upside down when she is arrested by FBI agent Stahl (Warren Kole). Stahl is the cardboard cutout of the FBI agent. HE has a square jaw, stocky figure, short cropped red hair, and uncaring eyes. He shrugs Harlee’s explanation of the squad’s success rate with a simple “corruption is corruption.” He comes off as manipulative and creepy in this episode. Stahl manipulates and cajoles her, unblinkingly using Harlee’s love for her daughter against her.
In the end, Harlee agrees to wear a wire and cooperate in order to avoid jail and be there for her daughter. There a few tense scenes when Stahl and Wozniak are in the same, the audience and Harlee aware of Stahl’s true purpose, but Wozniak blissfully unaware. The episode concludes on an obvious note. Wozniak is informed there is a rat, but entrusts Harlee to help him find out who it is because he can only trust her. You know, like every undercover cop movie ever.
While being incredibly predictable, Lopez and Liotta do a good enough job to make Shades of Blue an entertaining hour of television. The tension of looking for the rat, while still having cases each week should be an interesting balance. There are hints that Wozniak’s corruption may be even deeper than the street level. He and another captain discuss a “big score” in hushed, ominous tones. Stahl seems to have some sexual attraction towards Harlee and that will probably be played out in a creepy manner.
Shades of Blue: 7/10
New episodes every Thursday at 9/8 central.