By KOURTNEY PARANTEAU
In the land of network television, a midseason replacement is not unlike the new kid in class. Introduced to an ongoing, familiar set of shows, the midseason replacement, finds itself both privy to the tastes and preferences of its audience but at the disadvantage of having to tell its story in a briefer period of time while also asking its potential followers to interrupt their media habits after establishing a viewing regimen.
Simply, the midseason replacement must find a way to stand out, become memorable, in a short amount of time. If you’re the new kid in class maybe you convince your mom to buy you a flashy binder, or maybe you read ahead in your assignments to catch teacher’s eye, but if you’re NBC, you get J.Lo on the phone.
Following the lives of New York City cops, Shades of Blue, is NBC’s solution to their lowly rated, The Player, yet another police-themed drama, starring Wesley Snipes. Both shows, from the outside, seem to boast the same appeal: the humbling of a ‘90’s megastar to the steady income and routine of the small screen. However, Shades of Blue appears almost superfluous for its star in a year that has already treated her very kindly. Currently enjoying another stint on American Idol (on Fox) and a Vegas casino residency, plus just off the heels of (handily) hosting The American Music Awards, the Lopez brand appears, like her toned stomach, as strong as ever and with no sign of softening.
All of this makes her return to a network television show—in which she plays someone other than Jennifer Lopez, superstar—more than surprising. Notably co-staring Ray Liotta, Shades of Blue, skillfully dwells on reminding its audience of Lopez’s best work in film. Her Harlee Santos brushes closely against her finest screen performance as Karen Sisco in Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh, 1998), her past as a battered housewife references Enough (Michael Apted, 2002), and a scene in which Harlee undresses to don wire mirrors a scene in 2013’s Parker (Taylor Hackford). Besides the fact that Lopez is an incredibly skilled flirt, aggressive, confident and unyielding, Shades of Blue all but forgets her romantic comedy milieu, which she was never suited for anyway.
Instead she’s expected to match Liotta’s sturdiness blow for blow, revealing the fact that his schdick, this whole time, has been less dimensional than hers. Sure his scathing verbal undressings and looming presence may run a foot or so deeper than Lopez’s portrayal of a firm, self-reliant cop, but the actress possesses significantly more elbow room than her co-star, and her ability to shift moods disarms an audience who might otherwise be put off by her character’s actions.Unlike other shows of its genre (Castle, C.S.I.), Shades of Blue, even in title, differentiates itself by portraying its police officers as fallible, confused and downright dirty in a way only cinema bothers routinely with. But unlike Training Day, End of Watch or Bad Lieutenant, the officers in Shades are neither completely deplorable nor free from guilt. Instead they each display, in varying degrees, decayed values and morals not necessarily optimal for an occupation dedicated to serve and protect.
Harlee accepts bribes until she’s cornered by the F.B.I and forced to act an informant against her own chief, Matt Wozniak (Liotta), to save herself and therefore the livelihood of her daughter. The mistakes of her colleagues, their deficiency in the field, their greediness and short sightedness anchor Shades of Blue in a current discussion of the overreaching access and power officers of the law possess. At the same time, allowing them some humor and humanity endears them to their audience. This separates Shades from the pack, and even if the show fails to live past the calendar year, it will still stand as a more discerning representation of the people who are paid to protect us than most shows, which either valorize of villainize the police force.
This season will continue to follow Wozniak’s suspicions of Harlee, and like Patty and Ellen of Damages, the senior figure will intimidate and the younger will elude. If the remainder of Shades continues as swiftly and topically as the first three episodes, then the show will likely succeed. It’s future beyond the first season’s rigid plotline, however, seems tenuous.
In any case, Jennifer Lopez, in all her endeavors, has found the balance to solidify herself as a pillar of pop culture. Where some celebrities, just as famous, also have endeavored (or endured) forays into varying mediums (Scarlett Johansson, Donald Glover, Zooey Deschanel, even Will Smith), Lopez, like Neil Patrick Harris, Cher, and Frank Sinatra, has discovered the balance between personality (American Idol), spectacle (Vegas) and talent (Shades) that makes her an icon.