NBC’s newest police procedural offers quality, morally nuanaced drama for adults…but it’s definitely not for kids.
NBC has been a fiefdom of Dick Wolf, the creator of the staple Law & Order series and Chicago PD, for some time; and in this cop-procedural milieu, it’s difficult to imagine another cop show standing out from the pack. It would have to be one that either altered the genre altogether, or that handled it well and made it feel real. Shades of Blue is the latter, with solid ratings at its premiere and a story that so far has grown more complex in a natural, organic way. Its handling of police corruption through the eyes of its lead character, Harlee, feels more real and intense than anything similarly handled by its network peers, which makes the show great for adults interested in grittier fare, but definitely not for children.
The show follows Harlee’s exploits as a part of her mentor, Matt’s, crew. The first sign that this squad doesn’t play by the handbook is made apparent when Harlee helps her novice squad member, Michael, to cover up a shooting he just committed against an unarmed man. Harlee herself is clearly a veteran of operating this way and getting by any way she can, and we soon learn why: her high school daughter is a spectacular student with the potential for a bright future, but only if Harlee can keep her in her very expensive private school and away from the darker elements of their city. To this end, Harlee has turned a blind eye, and profited from, Matt’s sordid methods; but when the Feds catch her attempting to pick up dirty money for him, they present her with a choice: turn informant on Matt, or lose her daughter.
Concept-wise, the show is not something radically new, but its strength is in its execution. The acting by Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta, along with the rest of squad, is all on point and the writing, while sometimes devolving into cliché cop banter, is mostly engaging.
In terms of content, for a show that deals with such moral haziness, it has so far not been gratuitous. That’s not to say that this is a show acceptable for children, as it’s been placed in its 10:00 p.m. time slot for a reason, but it is to say that when compared to similar fare on cable (FX’s The Shield comes to mind), the show handles this focus on corruption with much more discretion. For example, the aforementioned shooting, in which Michael murders a suspect by accident, is one of the only instances of outright violence on the show, and it leads to Michael himself being consumed by guilt for the act…so much guilt that he goes to the man’s funeral and attempts to give money to his widow. While the show deals with corruption, it’s careful to show the negative outcomes as well, which is not always the case with other shows.
Sexual innuendo is a constant as well, though mostly plays out in the banter between the squad. One character, Tess, is experiencing the death throes of her marriage and is often bemoaning this situation to her partner, while also attempting to hunt down girls she suspects her husband is cheating with. Outright sex is rare on the show, with only one notable sex scene between Harlee and her love interest, and that is heard rather than seen. This, again, is notable only in that thematically, the show treads ground often ceded by the networks to cable, but does so without engaging in the kind of gratuitous approach cable networks often employ.
In short, for those looking for a cop show that carries some real world intensity, Shades of Blue is, so far, a strong choice amongst network fare. That being said, the show is definitely not aimed at children, would probably not be understood by children, and is not recommended for them.