TV Recap: Shades of Blue, Series Premiere

SHADES OF BLUE -- Pictured: "Shades of Blue" Key Art -- (Photo by: NBCUniversal)
SHADES OF BLUE — Pictured: “Shades of Blue” Key Art — (Photo by: NBCUniversal)


After a month of surveillance the FBI arrests NYPD detective Harlee Santos (Jennifer Lopez) on corruption charges. However, Harlee can get off scot free if she gives up Lt. Wozniak (Ray Liotta) and the other dirty officers on the force.

Jennifer Lopez isn’t really known for being a great actress. On the contrary, she’s been nominated for numerous Razzie Awards, winning (or perhaps losing) once. However, despite her shortcomings, Lopez is a popular and bankable star. It’s unlikely that Shades of Blue could survive on the fame of Ray Liotta alone, considering many Millenials might not know who he is. But does that mean NBC is sacrificing quality for higher ratings?

Jennifer Lopez Shades of Blue
Photo Credit: Jeff Riedel/NBC

Not really. While Lopez’s performance won’t be winning her any actual awards, it’s undoubtedly competent. This statement extends to the show in general. Because while Shades of Blue isn’t breaking any new ground, the familiar elements are ones that work (i.e. a character is wearing a wire; a lie becomes increasingly difficult to maintain). We’ve seen all the tricks before. They’re present in countless thrillers. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be reused. Alfred Hitchcock made many films all containing these techniques and he’s regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. He understood that the audience has a subconscious inclination to side with a character hiding something. It doesn’t matter if the character has committed a crime, like in Shades of Blue, because if done correctly, viewers will become mentally complicit in that crime.

This doesn’t mean, however, that Shades of Blue pulls off Hitchcock’s formula flawlessly, and there are few reasons why. While elements can be reused, they have to be reused in a way that is not completely obvious to the viewers. The ending of the premiere has this problem. Another issue is that the nature of television requires a certain amount of filler that film does not have. We know that Wozniak will not find out about Harlee’s mole status for some time because the show has to have a full-length season. Even though the promos might suggest otherwise, these kinds of plots almost always have red herrings. But people tend to be impatient, so it might have worked better as a 2.5-hour film. The rest of the show needs be more character focused. If not, the show is going to have a hard time justifying the length of the story. Even then, it’s hard to imagine how NBC is going to make Shades of Blue work as a multi-season series.

Ray Liotta in Shades of Blue
Photo Credit: Jeff Riedel/NBC

The show might be able to achieve the character focus it needs by using Harlee’s daughter, Cristiana (Sarah Jeffery), considering she’s Harlee’s main justification for taking bribes and other illicit cash. She makes this clear to her partner (Dayo Okeniyi), even though her assertion that her daughter is now his daughter too comes off as a little silly. It might be a good idea to put her daughter in physical danger to up the stakes. It would certainly be interesting, considering Wozniak thinks of Cristiana as family. That would be something I haven’t seen before.

Given all the ideas that I have, NBC has clearly turned out a serviceable pilot. While the episode is not the most original, the writers have a basic understanding of how to make a thriller. Hopefully the length won’t mean these thrills will be few and far between.



Aaron Sarnecky is’s television editor and covers Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, among other things. He is a graduate of Rowan University with a degree in Television and Film. He probably remembers that show you forgot existed. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronSarnecky

Aaron Sarnecky is The Pop Break’s Television Editor and covers Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., among other things. He is a TV/Film grad of Rowan University and the fraternal twin of staff writer Josh Sarnecky. He probably remembers that show you forgot existed.