Broadcast network dramas have it tough these days. It's not just that current cable and streaming shows can tell stories in bolder, more complicated, and more specific ways than all but a handful of network dramas are allowed to even shoot for, but that the best dramas ever made are now readily-available on one streaming service or another. Who's going to watch a watered-down network version of “The Shield,” for instance, if the genuine article is only a Hulu click away?
Yet NBC's trying exactly that with “Shades of Blue,” which was ordered what feels like a decade ago (technically, it was early 2014), but held until now due to the busy schedule of star and producer Jennifer Lopez.
J-Lo plays Harlee Santos, veteran Brooklyn cop who, along with her boss Matt Wozniak (Ray Liotta) and the rest of their crew (including “Sopranos” alum Drea de Matteo), supplements her NYPD salary with kickbacks, protection money, and other small-to-middling crimes. All's going well until an FBI agent (Warren Cole) arrests her for soliciting a bribe and pressures her into becoming a mole gathering evidence against Wozniak and the other detectives.
“Go after cops who are tearing communities apart, not the ones who are trying to hold them together,” Harlee indignantly tells her new master.
Created by Adi Hasak, with the first two episodes directed by Barry Levinson (whose previous NBC cop show, “Homicide,” helped inspire the likes of “The Wire” and “The Shield”), is competent but uninspired, and often more concerned with flattering its glamorous star than telling the best possible version of this story. Harlee's meant to be relatable and sympathetic – a single mom who got into this mess as a way to take better care of her now-teenage daughter – and at one point in Thursday night's series premiere, she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror as she's committing yet another crime to get herself out of this hole and sheds a single beautiful tear at the thought of it all.
Lopez has had a strange show business career, because she's a jack of many trades, but a master of only one: a great dancer who's nothing special as a singer, and an actress with a long resume featuring exactly one great performance. As “Out of Sight” heroine Karen Sisco, Lopez was cool, confident, and tougher than every man in that movie combined; since then, she's kept trying to prove that she can play vulnerable, rather than embracing her inherent J-Lo awesomeness. I don't know that she could go full Vic Mackey if the “Shades of Blue” creative team (and the NBC executives so eager to have a Lopez-fronted show to promote) would let her try, but this version where she's everyone else's victim – including the creepy suggestion that her FBI handler's interest in her goes beyond the professional – does little for her.
Though if it leads to Michael Chiklis returning the favor by starring in a gender-flipped version of “The Wedding Planner” – where he thanks Kate Hudson for saving his shoe – it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org