Shades of Blues: Routine cop drama elevated by Ray Liotta

Shades of Blue is a decent if unspectacular NBC drama that is elevated by Ray Liotta’s intense performance.

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Seeing Ray Liotta slumber through a graveyard drinking whiskey in a police officer’s uniform can be crossed off my need to see list. NBC’s Shades of Blues is your normal run of the mill cop show with a great assist from Liotta but occasionally it can produce a moment that makes you wonder if it belonged in another show. The past few weeks of this series have produced more of those moments.

The effect of Detective Saperstein’s demise is sitting like a heavy stone on the hearts of the entire crew as episode 109 opened up at his funeral. Detective Harlee Santos(Jennifer Lopez, getting better every week) knowing that Liotta’s Wozniak was the one who not only killed Sap once but finished the job after faking a bomb threat in the hospital.

The show produced one of those moments at the end of episode 8, where Drea de Matteo’s Tess Nazario read the departed detective’s letter, which talked about “things happening because things happen and not for any particular reason”. Seeing Santos look over his casket and promise Sap that she would “make this right” pointed the show in a whole other direction.

It’s clearly Santos against Wozniak with the FBI(led by pervy Warren Nole’s Agent Stahl) watching over every move. The juice of Shades of Blues has hung on the live wire act that Santos has to pull off every week. She has to obey the Feds so she stays out of prison and doesn’t abandon her daughter. She has to turn her back on a group that she thinks of as family the past decade of her life. Lopez also has the rock PERFECT MAKEUP every single second of the way. Nobody on network television ever looks bad. Even Matteo’s skin doesn’t look too bad. I can’t handle the perfection.

Don’t look around these parts for Emmy Award coatings. All network cop shows have some good and lots of bad. The days where David Mamet and Michael Mann patrolled these streets are long gone and showrunners like Adi Hasak(screenwriter of 3 Days to Kill and From Paris with Love) try to do their best imitation of true grit for a season or two before it starts to stink.

The best path to enjoying a show like Shades of Blue is to embrace the imperfections and soak up the tiny moments of greatness. It’s a fast food restaurant with an occasional great order. It has its moments.  One where true pathos mixes with a well written scene and a great acting talent like Liotta. He is the reason to watch this show.

From the very start, Liotta(a true authentic face of cinema) has been the plug. Without him, the show dies faster than a romantic subplot.  Liotta automatically commands your attention with his intensity, approach to a character, and complete buy in. When you look at J. Lo and wonder if she went from the set straight to her concert show in Las Vegas, just look back at Ray and smile with satisfaction. He’s a real old school actor. He elevates this show. Hasik knows this and puts him in nearly as many scenes as Lopez.

The actress isn’t bad. She’s always been a better actress than singer but a better performer than both. She is great at emoting, holding a weapon with authority(remember Out of Sight!), and doing a good enough job in a role to avoid embarrassment.

Shades of Blues has gotten better each week, keeping fans on their heels and ratcheting up the tension. Will Harlee bring down her boss and father figure in Wozniak, a guy who helped put her abuser in jail many years ago? Will she try to work both sides until her soul is completely empty? Her actions cost Saperstein his life and wrecked the crew while leaving trust sliding around the room like a drunk foam cup.

There’s four episodes left and a second season arrives this fall. NBC knows it can leverage a corruption story mixed between NYC cops and the FBI for at least one more season. With star power like Lopez and a talent like Liotta, this show can run for a while. Law and Order: SVU may run until I am in a nursing home, so Shades of Blue has a little pasture to gallop across and the writing doesn’t have to improve much. This is network people. They killed Jack Bauer twice, gave LL Cool J a starring role and gave Chicago a fire, police and hospital series. Anything can happen.

When it took over for The Player in January, I didn’t know what to think of this series. Why did NBC hold onto a Lopez show for a summer release and not run that out of the gauntlet ahead of a poorly conceived Wesley Snipes series? Whatever confusion and misfortune hung with the beginning, the end may be better.

Just don’t expect too much out of Shades of Blues. It’s a guilty pleasure “been there seen that” cop show with enough “moments” and Liotta four wheel drive to run for a little while. It doesn’t ask you to think, beg for your attention or deny you the occasional thrill. It’s satisfying in the same way that Five Guys double cheeseburger with extra onion was.

Author: D. Buffa

A regular guy who feels a journalistic hunger to tell the news. I blog because its wired into my brain to write what I think in print. I offer an opinion. A solo tour here. Take regular stories and offer my spin on them. Sports, film, television, music, fatherhood, culture, food, and so on. Commentary on everything. A St. Louis native and Little Rock resident who wants to write just to keep the hands fresh and ready.

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