‘Shades of Blue’ Pilot Recap: “You Don’t Want to Be This Kind of Cop”

NBC’s new cop drama ‘Shades of Blue’ has several strikes against it right off the bat. For starters, it stars a pop star/Reality show judge few people take seriously as an actress anymore. The pilot episode is also directed by a washed-up filmmaker who hasn’t made a movie anybody wanted to see in nearly twenty years.

To be fair to Barry Levinson, as a producer he has a lot of solid TV credentials, ranging from the legendary ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ and ‘Oz’ to (more recently) ‘Copper’ and ‘Borgia’. Still, this isn’t one of his finer efforts.

In full “Jenny from the Block” mode, Jennifer Lopez stars as the unfortunately-named Harlee Santos, a blue collar cop working the hardscrabble neighborhoods of Brooklyn. We’re introduced to her as she and her new rookie partner kick in an apartment door to arrest a drug dealer. The rookie panics when he mistakes a videogame controller the dealer is holding for a gun and shoots him dead. Harlee then proceeds to stage the scene to look like the drug dealer pulled a gun and fired at the cops first, thus justifying the lethal force. As a finishing touch, she uses the planted pistol to shoot her partner in the chest.

“Ah ha!” you think. “This show wants to be ‘The Shield’. I get it.” No, not really. Because this airs on a major mainstream network, the main character can’t be an amoral antihero. The show immediately walks back that plot twist by revealing that of course the rookie was wearing a bulletproof vest, and of course Harlee knew about it and counted on it to save him. She just really wants to sell the story for the benefit of the Internal Affairs investigation.

In fact, the episode takes great pains to make Harlee as sympathetic as possible, by making her a doting single mom to a cute teenage daughter (Sarah Jeffery from ‘Wayward Pines’) whose private school tuition she can’t afford.

We’re then introduced to Harlee’s boss, Lt. Matt “Woz” Wozniak (Ray Liotta) and a bunch of other cops from her division, one of which is Drea de Matteo from ‘The Sopranos’. They’re like a tight-knit family. However, in short order, we learn that every last one of them, including kindly paternal mentor Woz, is dirty. After work, they meet in a secret back room to run a protection and extortion racket. Their crimes are mostly small-time stuff which they justify in the name of maintaining order and control, and keeping the real dirtbags out of the neighborhood. The drug dealer Harlee went to bust was working their turf without permission. They already have another authorized drug dealer who pays his dues.

Unfortunately, Harlee is caught taking a bribe as part of an FBI sting. The agent who busts her (Warren Kole from ‘Common Law’) tries to flip her by offering immunity if she’ll work as a mole within her own department and help him take down the ringleader Woz, the man who’s been like a father to her. Harlee resists at first, but eventually relents. What will happen to her daughter if she goes to prison?

Harlee wears a wire to a backyard barbecue at Woz’s house. He pulls her aside and tells her that he’s been tipped off that he has a rat in his own crew. As Harlee nervously worries that he’s about to turn on her, Woz asks for her help. She’s the only person he trusts.

So, yes, loyalties will be tested and Harlee will struggle with guilt about betraying her family. You get the drill. Quite frankly, the show is Cliché City. There’s nothing here you can’t predict and nothing you haven’t seen before in other, better TV series.

Episode Verdict / Rating: C

For her part, Lopez is actually pretty decent. She works hard to take her acting seriously – something she hasn’t bothered to attempt in a long time. Sadly, that effort is undercut by the constant cheesecake shots of her push-up cleavage. Liotta, an actor who’s become something of a parody of himself over the years, also seems to be back in good form. It’s nice to be reminded of the Liotta from ‘Goodfellas’ rather than the Liotta from ‘Wild Hogs’. Nobody else in the cast much registers.

The pilot episode is competently executed but offers little compelling reason to watch again. The most memorable thing about it is the weirdly inappropriate soundtrack consisting of random pop songs (such as Sia’s “Chandelier” during one important moment) with no thematic connection to the scenes they’re playing over. I suspect that was less Barry Levinson’s decision than something the network’s marketing department foisted on him.

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