I should preface this review by admitting that I am one of the biggest Jennifer Lopez fans on the planet. If you want receipts, I’ve got ’em. In my second grade journal, I wrote that I wanted to one day be a famous singer just like my hero J.Lo. Over time, my musical aspirations dwindled, but my love for the pop icon from the block lasted. I still watch American Idol—I’m in this for the long haul. And about a year ago, I received news that seemed to be too good to be true: In the winter of 2016, Jennifer Lopez would star on a television show that does not involve Ryan Seacrest.
So imagine my surprise when, earlier this week, I sat down at a coffee shop and spent a lot of time contemplating whether Shades Of Blue is the worst project Jennifer Lopez has ever starred in or if Gigli still wears that crown (for the record, I’ve decided Gigli will always wear that crown). Look, I knew Shades Of Blue was going to be bad. The NBC promotional campaign has relied entirely on Lopez’s face, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a great face. But right away, it seemed like even NBC itself was unsure of what it had in Shades Of Blue.
Unsurprisingly, Lopez is the best part of the pilot. Her performance as Detective Harlee Santos has the strength and vulnerability of some of her best performances, most evocative of her starring role in Enough. Lopez is definitely the kind of star a show can lean on. She makes the best of some truly abysmal dialogue, along with Ray Liotta, who also makes his best effort as Lt. Bill Wozniak even when the script does him little favors.
There is, though, an expected lack of realism to Lopez’s presence in this world, her hair always falling perfectly, her lips shimmering, her tank tops pristine. Harlee, despite being a dirty cop, never carries the dirt of her character’s world. And unfortunately, Harlee’s glossy sheen is enough to take you out of the show. Normally, I would be all about Lopez managing to stay flawless while fucking shit up, but Shades Of Blue is trying so hard to be a very serious show that here, the disconnect is more distracting than fun.
I once said that I could probably watch an hour of Jennifer Lopez run around in a suit doing absolutely anything, but I was definitely wrong. Finishing the Shades Of Blue pilot ended up a tedious task. The dialogue is entirely expositional. The characters, other than Harlee, feel too rigid, too much like players in a preconceived story instead of real people who can bend and grow. Overall, it seems like someone just ran an algorithm for what people want to see in serialized crime dramas (morally ambiguous characters, some sort of double agent situation, New York City, gritty anything, bad parenting, secret meetings, drugs) and then just threw all of that shit together without really thinking about why or how it all connects. It’s a paint-by-the-numbers cop show, and it’s never really as smart as it thinks it is. The most memorable scene from its pilot has nothing to do with anything: It’s just Harlee in the boxing ring, sparring with her boxing instructor and then suddenly having sex with her boxing instructor in the middle of the ring. It’s ridiculous, but at least there’s some life to it.
But boring isn’t even the worst offense Shades Of Blue commits. Despite its title, there aren’t any shades of anything at play in the pilot, which draws very stark lines with the characters and the story. The pilot introduces the fairly simple setup: These cops are corrupt as hell. Harlee covers up the killing of an innocent civilian so swiftly and smoothly that it seems like just another regular Tuesday activity for her. She and the other cops take bribes, tamper with evidence, and often look the other way when it comes to drugs (their one rule: no drugs near schools). Harlee explains away their motives: The community is their top priority, and they have figured out a way to best take care of it, even if that means working outside of the laws they’re supposed to enforce. That in and of itself is a somewhat compelling idea for a cop series to delve into and it at least doesn’t make the assumption most cop shows make: that cops are unequivocally heroes.
But Shades Of Blue definitely wants us to root for these characters and root for Harlee in particular. The character checks off all the boxes of an anti-hero worthy of both our scrutiny and sympathy. But urging us to root for cops who don’t hesitate to cover up the murder of an unarmed civilian is an impossible request. It’s likely the makers of Shades Of Blue were under the impression that the show could intelligently comment on police brutality and police killings. But that’s nowhere to be found in the pilot, which has more accidentally funny moments than it does purposeful commentary. The show creator Adi Hasak seems to be trying to make isn’t the one that’s seen on screen. Like these dirty cops, Shades Of Blue has an identity crisis. It’s not enough to just be the Jennifer Lopez Cop Show. Which is really hard to say for me, but not even this particular J.Lo superfan is going to be coming back for more.