Jennifer Lopez aims for serious cred in edgy cop drama ‘Shades of Blue’

Shades of Blue

Two stars

Shades of Blue Thursdays, 10 p.m., NBC.

There was a time, nearly 20 years ago, when Jennifer Lopez seemed like a promising actress. Her breakout role in Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight showcased her ability to play both tough and vulnerable, and she held her own in messy auteur projects like Oliver Stone’s U Turn and Tarsem Singh’s The Cell. But the subsequent terrible romantic comedies and generic thrillers and a sporadic, largely undistinguished side career as a pop singer have erased most of the promise she once showed, and her efforts to reposition herself as a serious actress in the NBC cop drama Shades of Blue are a failure.

Lopez is an executive producer on Shades, and she gives herself the meaty role of corrupt but honorable NYPD Detective Harlee Santos. Harlee’s boss/friend/mentor/father figure Lieutenant Matt “Woz” Wozniak (Ray Liotta) claims that his system of bribes and favors helps keep his squad’s Brooklyn neighborhood safe, but it’s not long before murder, extortion and money laundering become part of the deal. When Harlee is pinched by a humorless FBI agent (Warren Kole), she finds herself playing both sides in an effort to stay out of prison and provide for her teenage daughter.

While Liotta could play a morally compromised cop in his sleep, Lopez isn’t up to the task, and the fashionably dressed and impeccably made-up Harlee does not exude the grit of a hardened NYPD detective. Her anguish over her double life is a poorly realized network-TV version of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, and the show’s self-consciously edgy tone invites unflattering comparisons to The Shield. These cops are not even particularly good at corruption, with Harlee and her colleagues frequently making up clumsy lies that instantly fall apart, in order to cover their tracks from previous, flimsy fabrications. The subplots about the other detectives in the unit (aside from Harlee and Woz) are especially thin, and anything about the characters’ personal lives is a tedious waste of time.

Liotta at least seems to be having fun with his increasingly villainous character, who gets some unexpected (if also somewhat unmotivated) extra dimensions as the show progresses. Lopez, however, is resolutely straight-faced, and the supporting cast (including Drea de Matteo, a long way from The Sopranos) barely makes an impression. Instead of bolstering Lopez’s credibility as a dramatic actress, Shades only highlights her shortcomings—along with its own.

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