With broadcast networks dying rapidly, NBC (like FOX, ABC, and CBS) doubles down on crime shows, the latest being SHADES OF BLUE, premiering this week. Set in a close-knit unit in Brooklyn, the series finds Harlee Santos (Jennifer Lopez, American Idol) entrapped by the FBI and forced to rat on the people she loves so that she can continue to be present as the sole parent for her daughter (Sarah Jeffery, Rogue).
The cast is quite a good ensemble. Lopez is joined by Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) as boss Matt “Woz” Wozniak, Drea de Matteo (The Sopranos) as fellow detective Tess Nazario, Warren Kole (The Following) as FBI handler Robert Stahl, and others.
They are not as well used as they should be, though. True, the characters end up being pretty believable, for the most part, and there are few glaring missteps that pull viewers out of the moment. But neither is there any chance for a single one of them to shine all that much. Lopez gets the meatiest stuff, but either she isn’t up to showing the necessary layers, or has purposely made the choice to not allow Harlee to express as much as one expects from this type of role. This is usually the type of Emmy bait a performer loves, but Lopez pulls back. Liotta does better when he gets the opportunity, but that doesn’t come until quite late, and I have doubts about how much he’ll be allowed similar moments in the future.
My doubts mainly stem from my opinion that the writing is mediocre. The pilot starts off with some very cheesy dialogue and ridiculous exchanges, which admittedly get better as the hour progresses, but never rises to any level that impresses. There is a compelling narrative within, the cop forced to become a double agent, which starts to come out as the installment goes on. But it’s not examined enough, nor are the implications really dwelt on. I know this is a single episode I’m judging the show on, but the pacing seems to want to rocket ahead instead of linger on the juicy bits.
SHADES OF BLUE is not a typical procedural. At least from the pilot, it doesn’t appear that it will be a case-of-the-week, paint-by-numbers series. Instead, it follows the path of the network’s Chicago Fire and its spin-offs by making it more about personal drama than a crime that needs solved. This switch has worked pretty well for USA, which used to specialize in the procedural format, but has since deepened to more complex dramas.
However, is that a path that will work for parent company NBC, or is this just hastening the decline of the company? I tend to think it’s the latter. Shows that have staying power tend to be those that offer something new to the landscape. SHADES OF BLUE, despite being a step up from the trite, repetitive junk that has been bogging down the non-cable networks of late, is staying too close to those same boundaries to make much of an impact on a broad audience.
SHADES OF BLUE is about par for the network, if not a little bit on the higher end, but at a far lower quality than the same premise would be treated to on FX, AMC, or HBO, the gold standards of networks today, or Netfix or Amazon, the streaming rulers. This means it’s probably a mistake for NBC. It may not be bad; it may even be some of the network’s best fare. But it is not the step in a new direction that the network needs to save itself.
SHADES OF BLUE premieres Thursday, January 7th on NBC.