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Review: Shades of Blue

With Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta starring, and Ryan Seacrest as producing, this new cop drama is more than just a bad pun. But then again, it’s not much of a cop drama – at least not in the way we usually think of that genre.  The formulaic structure of shows like CSIWithout a Trace, or even the beloved NCIS have little to do with this story.  In fact it’s not even about cops catching bad guys – unless you count other cops, that is.

Lopez is Harlee Santos, a cop who also happens to be a struggling single mother trying to put her daughter through private school.  Consequentially, she’s taken to some, shall we say, extra-curriculars with other members of her team.  She started just to help pay the bills, but over time something else started to come of it.  Closer bonds formed between members of the team until they became something of a family.  So these dirty cops don’t just deal drugs together or strike deals with gangs together.  They also go to barbecues together, and attend Santos’ daughter’s recital together.  In fact, it’s just that connection that makes it so hard for Santos to play the part of the mole when she gets caught by the corruption task force.

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As a drama, the show has a lot going for it.  Lopez and Liotta are both phenomenal actors, and the show’s script is action-packed, yet it doesn’t really on that action like a crutch.  You can tell that this show is about the characters, not just the usual generic and cliche cop stuff that tends to litter these kinds of shows like trash on a city curb.  And it’s hard not to care about these characters.  Wozniak (Ray Liotta) shows genuine fatherly concern for the other members of his team.  Santos is a truly caring mother.  Aside from their shady business dealings, they really do seem like good people who strayed into gray moral territory too many times.

The danger in that is the danger that always comes in humanizing evil, or in making villains remarkably less villainous.  We may come to the conclusion that maybe the bad guys aren’t so bad or, worse, maybe they’re not really the bad guys at all.  The cop from the corruption task force that catches Santos is hardly likable, and in the pilot episode even takes a piece of jewelry from her collection to use as a wire (without her permission).  This muddying of the waters, morally speaking, brings to mind how scripture says “woe to those who call evil good and call good evil.”

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But it should be noted here that not all decisions by the dirty cops are treated as positive events, or treated even-handedly, for that matter.  Sometimes Wozniak comes across as cruel, even utilizing some trademark scenes of mob bosses that you might see in gangster movies.  Santos says herself in the beginning of the first episode that she thought the ends would justify the means, and she says it with a deep feeling of regret, right before she covers up for her partner, who made a rookie mistake that resulted in the death of an unarmed suspect.

These dramas that like to explore moral gray areas are always tricky things.  They’re tricky because it’s hard to know at the start exactly what message the story will end up selling to us, and the show flirts with both sides of the coin.  On the one hand, FBI handler Stahl makes it clear that Santos is no less corrupt because of her reasons for being so.  But it’s Stahl that fills the more antagonizing role in Santos’ life.  Even if Wozniak’s actions tread into villainous waters, and even if we all know he’s really the bad guy, the show wants us to eventually think otherwise.

Consensus6/10. Despite good acting and skillful writing, the story will likely push moral ambiguity to places we shouldn’t want to follow.

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