April 1, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Shades of Blue”


Over the course of its season, NBC’s SHADES OF BLUE muddled its way from being a broadcast network-lite version of a gritty cable cop drama to a more conventional heist thriller.  It was flawed in both contexts, but more able to carry its weight as the latter.

The series, created by Adi Hasak, was given an unusual 13-episode straight to series order with no pilot necessary, and then renewed for a second season just a few episodes into its run (and not very high-rated episodes, either), and the major reason is that it’s been built around the presence of Jennifer Lopez, as both star and an executive producer.  Lopez’s acting work has been fine, and she’s been willing to deglam herself for the role of Brooklyn NYPD detective Harlee Santos–albeit not so deglammed that most of the straight male characters weren’t obsessed with her–and yet Shades has been a vanity project in other damaging ways.  While Harlee commits some awful acts, it’s always made abundantly clear that she’s doing them for noble purposes:  to protect her angelic, classical music prodigy daughter Cristina (Sarah Jeffery), or the other members of her squad.  Other characters are allowed to be venal or selfish, and frankly more interesting.  In particular, Ray Liotta, as Harlee’s boss Matt Wozniak, has been able to act Lopez off the screen, because he’s simply got more to play, a mix of good motives and bad, loyalty and paranoia.  (Wozniak’s closeted sexuality has been one of the few serious aspects of the story that Shades has dealt with well.)

Attempts to complicate some of the other characters, like Harlee’s fellow detectives Tess Nazario (Drea de Matteo) and Michael Loman (Dayo Okeniyi), and FBI agent Robert Stahl (Warren Kole), who turned Harlee into a snitch by threatening her with corruption charges but also lusted after her, were mostly dropped by the last leg of the season.  Tonight’s season finale, written by showrunner Jack Orman and directed by Paul McCrane (both veterans, incidentally, of ER) was mostly concerned with two plotlines.  In one, $12M stolen by the squad from an armored truck bounced around between Harlee and Wozniak, as each maneuvered to sacrifice him or herself for the good of the other cops.  The other was the payoff of a long-brewing storyline in which Miguel Zepeda (Antonio Jaramillo), Cristina’s biological father recently freed from prison who’d gradually gotten close to his daughter despite Harlee’s desperate objections, was revealed to be just as much of a monster as Harlee had always claimed, seemingly threatening not only Harlee but Cristina as well, which resulted in Harlee’s climactic breaking of his neck with her bare hands, followed by a meaningful stare directly into the camera.

The latter story is a good example of the way Shades of Blue has allowed for little genuinely provocative drama .  If Miguel’s evil hadn’t been quite so clear, Harlee’s actions would have been more ambiguous; since he was so obviously an awful threat to Harlee and her daughter, her actions were extreme but heroic.  Similarly, when it looked at the end of the penultimate episode as though Harlee had been playing everyone, and had stolen the $12M for herself, it turned out in the finale that yet again she was acting for the good of others, planning to barter the money for immunity for the rest of her crew.

Despite strong acting from Liotta and Lopez, and a tense scene here or there, Shades of Blue has remained mediocre, as have its ratings.  In the new world of network TV, though, a brand name is valuable (for international and streaming sales if not for initial ratings), and that seems to have given Shades an edge.  The show has left plenty of cliffhangers for Season 2, but none particularly worth resolving.  Its shades are all of bland.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."