From the get-go, it’s clear that NBC’s new series “Shades of Blue” isn’t another cookie-cutter crime drama. Jennifer Lopez (“The Boy Next Door”), and her new choppy bob, plays Harlee Santos, the no-nonsense cop operating in a morally ambiguous Brooklyn precinct. The thrilling series premiere introduces Santos and her team of tight-knit cops who play by their own rules. Lt. Matt Wozniak (Ray Liotta, “Goodfellas”) and his band of corrupt officers break the mold of the traditional crime drama narrative by walking the thin line of moral conduct to benefit themselves while maintaining a tight grip over their neighborhood’s inept criminals.
In this fresh, fast-paced crime thriller, Lopez adeptly plays both the emotionally vulnerable single mother and the tough cop. Santos struggles to judge whether the ends are justified by her and her task force’s unconventional means. Though Lopez stands out as the star of the series, it’s about her relationship with her colleagues and the impenetrability of their ties to one another just as much as it is about her grapple with morality and providing for her daughter. She isn’t just a resilient policewoman committed to her job. She’s a tenacious crime fighter whose loyalty to her team binds her and her daughter Cristina (Sarah Jeffery, “Descendants”) to them like a family. This weight is felt in every line she speaks and every action she takes. As she says to Michael (Dayo Okeniyi, “The Hunger Games”), the rookie under her supervision whose grave mistake is covered up by Wozniak, “All he (Wozniak) expects in return is loyalty.”
Rather than a handful of good cops who take down hardened criminals one by one in a traditional obstacle ridden, emotionally transparent plot structure, we are provided with a team whose loyalty to one another makes them impervious to the consequences of their abuse of power. Though their intentions are good, it is unclear whether their methods of maintaining order benefit them more then the citizens they are supposed to protect. Under their corrupt system, they methodically accept bribes from commonplace drug dealers in exchange for freedom to continue operating under the unit’s rules.
In a time when corruption is rampant and police conduct is under intense scrutiny, the show draws attention to the morally gray area in which authorities justify their actions in the name of protecting law and order (and themselves). Rather than another crime series centered on justice-upholding straight-shooters, “Shades of Blue” critically considers what motivates how police forces carry out their duties and how their relationships both in and out of the precinct influence their actions. This added element to the standard crime drama provides a host of possibilities for both plot and character development, but sorely lacks the satisfaction derived from seeing the chase that leads to bad guys getting put behind bars.
Despite the lack of actual crime solving, the first episode creates suspense as Santos is faced with a chain of difficult decisions both in her job and personal life. Between her relationship with her daughter Cristina, her mentorship of Michael and her bond with colleagues, Santos exhibits an emotional range that adds depth to her character and makes it clear Lopez was the perfect fit for her role. In this series, the “American Idol” judge and pop diva sheds her playful charm and takes on a more serious role, bringing forward uncompromising sincerity and a tough attitude.
Lopez’s compelling character and performance coupled with a topical look at how police forces should operate under complex circumstances, places “Shades of Blue” among the top shows premiering on NBC this season. An update to the crime drama has been long overdue, and while it is uncertain how the various elements of “Shades of Blue” will play out in its forthcoming episodes, there is plenty of incentive to continue watching.