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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Shade And Betrayal Come In All Hues Postmortem Review: Shades Of Blue #ShadesofBlue #NBC #Postmortem

Shade And Betrayal Come In All Hues Postmortem Review: Shades Of Blue #ShadesofBlue #NBC #Postmortem

All pictures courtesy of NBC unless otherwise noted 


It's that time again. Excuse me if I get completely off track as I just finished the American Idol series finale and I am still reeling from the crazy goodness of that extravaganza of talent and ridiculousness. But for those of you who didn't know, Jennifer Lopez had more than just American Idol playing on Thursday nights. In fact, I would argue that her second show occasionally eclipsed the talent show in flat-out entertainment value, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

As mentioned in a previous post but bears mentioning again, I was unable to do my 3 week roundup reviews for the first three episodes of new shows for most of the mid-season replacements. That includes this show which I actually wasn't keen on seeing because it was yet another cop show and I thought it'd be another procedural and I am so tired of the case-of-the-week format that has sustained broadcast TV for so long that I want to smash my head against the wall just thinking about it, but I digress. For one, I need my brain to create stuff and live. For two, these walls I have around here have a very nice paint job and I don't wanna mess them up with a splattering of my brains. So, without further ado of this postmortem review, Shades of Blue, you're on deck.


In this Ryan Seacrest-produced NBC drama, Jennifer Lopez plays a tough New York detective that's not completely law-abiding. As a hint of her dealings, she calls her fellow detective/officers/unit her crew instead of the aforementioned police lingo. Fast and Furious has a crew. Ocean's Eleven has a crew. Police... should not be a crew, but as we learn, these cops are dirtier than Linus' blanket.

Heading this crew is her captain played by veteran mob-actor Ray Liotta who looks as if they dug him out of whatever grave he was in and pushed him to one of his finest performances really since Goodfellas. Old, graying, pissy with baggage no parent should ever have to carry, he snarls and emotes his way through the role of pseudo-villain as he orchestrates his crooked cops' lives like an involved Godfather. Everybody is supposed to get taken care of under his watch, even Lopez's teenage daughter who flaunts her innocence through much of the show until her mother's secrets catch up to them both.

Joined on the crew are a few other possibly recognizable faces, chief among them being Drea De Matteo who most people might remember from either The Sopranos or Sons of Anarchy. The middle-aged, mom with kids, a job that overworks and underpays her, and a husband that doesn't appreciate her, she struggles to reclaim some sanity and sexiness after discovering her husband cheated on her with some young piece of... well, I mean, you know. Like most of the crew, she has been in it for years and trusts Liotta's judgment.

The crew rounds out with Vincent Laresca who plays Carlos Espada, and fairly newcomers Hampton Fluker as Marcus Tufo (the 30-something black guy) and Santino Fontana of CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fame. Right off the bat I recognized Fontana who plays the best friend/possible love interest if only Rebecca would get her stuff together on Crazy Ex, and knew that something would have to give as that show had a full season order of 18 episodes way back in December. Of course I was right as his character dies early into the season. But before we jump to his death, we begin with the addition of one more crucial cast member who kicks off the show.

Michael Loman played by newcomer Dayo Okeniyi of Hunger Games fame is a detective rookie just assigned to Liotta's unit. The trusted one, and the only one currently without a partner to call her own, Lopez is assigned to show him the ropes, get him acclimated to his new duties as a detective and ease him out of his role previously as a beat cop. Things go sideways on their first call-in during the opening minutes of the series premiere when they burst in on some black drug dealers and the young cop caps one of the guys. Quick-triggered, as it turns out the thing the man had in his hand wasn't a gun but a video game controller. He just murdered the guy in cold blood. From the outset, the show doesn't shy away from the controversial subject of police misconduct and influence in minority communities. This is made all the worse because Loman is black. 


Instead of following his own instincts, he allows Lopez to take the reigns at covering up the crime in a very Training Day-esque scene-staging. "You heard a call for help, you went in, he shot at you, you shot back." This becomes a very important part of the series as it helps build Loman's character as the by-the-book, repentant cop. Not only does he, over the course of the series, go to the man's funeral and nearly confesses to his family, but he grows an immediate distrust of his fellow detectives in the precinct. He isn't part of the crew yet, and doesn't know of the underhanded criminality they routinely employee to grease their own palms. In any case, his erratic behavior not only leads to some of the other detectives disciplining him like an unwanted stepchild (they had to handcuff him and put him in the back of the car to keep him from confessing at the funeral) but it also earns unwanted attention for Liotta and Lopez's crew from Internal Affairs as well as the FBI.
"Who came in the door first, Loman?" 

For clarity's sake, Loman's actions did bring more heat from the FBI onto the crew, but the Feds already had their eye on Liotta for a while. And there lies the show's major conflict. Looking at the most involved and trusted, yet the one with the most to lose, the FBI pursue Lopez's character. Enter Special Agent Robert Stahl and his Asian partner who really isn't given much to do outside of give him side-eyes and tell him that he's getting too close to Lopez before she ultimately ends up sleeping with him in the season finale. The deal? Stahl and his partner tell Lopez that she must now serve as an informant for them to bring down her boss and her crew in exchange for some form of immunity and protection for her teenage daughter.

Special Agent Stahl

See, they also have something over her head that Stahl abuses behind the Asian woman's back. They know that the girl's real father is actually a criminal who went down for a crime ten years ago. As it turns out, not only did he not do it, but he was framed for such a crime by Liotta and Lopez. Why? His imprisonment served as her ultimate escape from a physically and emotionally abusive man who beat her so bad for two years that she nearly lost the baby (her daughter) when he pushed her down a flight of stairs. While he isn't set to see parole in a few years still, Lopez has yet to even tell her daughter that this man is her father; in fact, she's lied to the girl for years and told her varying lies that her father either ran away and abandoned them, or that he's dead. She wants to keep her daughter innocent and safe from even knowing this evil man. They catch Lopez trying to deal some illegal stash to an undercover agent which they can bring her in for at any time. Cornered, she has to navigate the treacherous waters of betraying her "family" while not letting the FBI take out the people who trust her.

Lopez's daughter; Totally believe she's her daughter. Lopez is old enough to be her mother in real life

You interested yet? While this show is not anywhere near the sophistication of Scorsese's The Departed or the Asian film on which that was based Infernal Affairs, the atmosphere does call back to those two films--a mole in a trusted organization trying not to get caught while doing their own dirt. As said before, it also mixes elements of Training Day into the mix as Loman continues throughout the series to pursue real justice even if it comes against his fellow officers. Just remember, however, that while those are very potent films involving crooked cops and undercovers, this does play on NBC broadcast TV which does needfully water down the premise, while maintaining a great level of drama.

The story pushes forward at a good pace as we learn that practically before Lopez can even get out of FBI custody, Liotta knows that there is a rat in his crew. His suspicion arises from strange behavior from some of his underlings coupled with chatter he's hearing from the IA's and DA's office and a failed job. Turning to his right-hand woman, he goes to Lopez to voice his frustrations, turning the heat up on her as she is very close to being caught. Panic intensifies when she suggests that they give everybody a lie detector test (call Maury! Call Maury!), only to have him turn to her as the first participant. She takes the test, cheats and passes but doesn't remember that she has a tell he ID'd way back in the day when he helped frame her daughter's father for a murder she accidentally committed as a uniformed officer. She brushes her hair behind her ear. Even seeing it, he pushes it to the back of his mind in favor of easing his thoughts. He doesn't want it to be her as he knows he'd have to kill her if it was, and she's like a surrogate daughter for him. Talking with his wife, he reminisces about his daughter's suicide. He feels partially at fault for it because he told her she was a waste of space before she decided to take her life. Still, he might have to do what he's gotta do.

Her daughter's father.
Meanwhile, as Lopez "helps" Liotta try to uncover the rat, two major things happen: Liotta gets a call from another crooked cop in IA he's good friends with (there's a twist there that I'll let you have all to yourself) about a big "job" coming their way, and Lopez's ex's cellmate gets out of jail. Tackling the cellmate first, as soon as the man gets out he goes to see his new girl, and decides that he's over not seeing his child (from his old girl). He kidnaps the child and is ready to escape but is confronted by Liotta. All the time he's out he lets bits and pieces about the frame-job that Lopez did years ago. Honestly, I'm probably remembering a little of it wrong as it gets slightly confusing in the early episodes. Just realize that he's got info that can possibly get Lopez's daughter's father released as the man is innocent.

At the same time, Fontana is internet-dating a Brazilian woman and begins taking Portuguese lessons from a prostitute he and his partner Marcus busted a few weeks earlier. Secrecy is not his friend here as the meetings are quickly suspected of being handler meetings by Liotta. To help clear Lopez from further suspicion, the FBI helps concoct papers that says the guy is an informant, which leads Liotta to pursue him for questioning. But before he can get to Fontana, Stahl and his Asian partner pick the guy up and offer him protection from his boss. He doesn't take it, escapes and meets up with the rest of his crew at a construction site where the ex-prisoner/kidnapper has taken the child. While Liotta watches, he manages to free the child and wrestle the gun from the guy. The man goes over the side of the railing and falls to his death. Liotta confronts Fontana with the forged papers about him being an informant before pushing him from the building, too. Not a full splat, Liotta has to kill the boy a second time later in the hospital minutes before Lopez can get there and save him.

With the first casualty on their hands, Stahl and the FBI want to get Liotta fast before more people die. Lopez tries to cut a deal where they can capture him doing this big job Liotta has on good word will be huge. He nearly turns the job down when the man behind the curtain sends him, as his first mission, a kidnapped man in a trunk. The hook: the man is the significant other of an armored truck dispatcher. The trucks move evidence mostly for law enforcement. A huge movement of drug money ceased by the DEA in a recent raid will be coming soon and this unmet puppeteer wants Liotta and his crew to rob the truck. So, they hold the kidnapped guy ransom against the dispatcher who is supposed to make sure that no one sees the truck going off its route.

The FBI wants to catch Lopez's crew in the act of taking the money. However, because Agent Stahl has a very bizarre obsession (we're talkin' buying and dressing a prostitute as Lopez) with Lopez, she manages to sex him into a deal where she and her crew have immunity, and only Liotta goes down. Guilt ways on her, but this is the best she can do.

Not satisfied, or jealous of her partner's sexual exploits with Lopez, Stahl's Asian partner goes to the courts and submits some evidence the FBI has on Lopez's daughter's father which exonerates him of the crime. He's released immediately on the basis that he won't sue the city of NY. Dangling free, he goes to her to immediately contact this daughter that he's always known about but who knows little about him. Now Lopez has to deal with this just as she, Liotta and the crew prepare for the robbery. Her daughter talks to the man, comes to hate her mother for keeping them from each other (she found out about him before he got out of prison) and sees none of the violent tendencies of which her mother speaks.


Meanwhile, Lopez sabotages the FBI's gotcha when she learns that Stahl never really went to his superior with the immunity deal for the rest of the crew outside of Liotta. She tries stalling their vehicle so they can't come and removes her wire so the FBI can't listen or track her. All of this backfires. Not only does the crew arrive at the heist of the parked armored truck, but rookie Loman arrives, too, as he was doing some other police work that led him to the truck. Also, the Asian FBI agent is left to watch the building where the puppeteer's men were keeping the kidnapped man. No movement all day, they raid the storage locker after the heist only to realize that the man has been dead for quite some time.

Lopez quarterbacks everything but convincing her rookie that they have to do the heist to keep Internal Affairs off his back (the heist is a payoff to a crooked cop), proves difficult, especially after two people get shot in what was supposed to be an easy job.

Some Serious Stuff Just Went Down 
The money then goes missing only to appear again as a bargaining chip for Lopez, then Liotta, who both negotiate deals where they separately turn themselves in and return the money in exchange for immunity for the rest of the crew. We end with Stahl having accepted Liotta's deal before Lopez's, making for a helluva cliffhanger. But the final frame is electrifying as Lopez is confronted one last time by her daughter's father who has returned with a gun after she tried paying him to stay away from their daughter. While I would normally spoil it as I've done in my other postmortem reviews, I'll hold off on that this time. Why? Because this series, unlike many of the others I've done is not an anthology (from what I know) and it has already been green-lit for a second season. Which means you can catch the whole season OnDemand or at NBC.com and determine if you want to tune into a second season sometime next year.

What's my grade? I give this one a solid A-. Since when can Jennifer Lopez actually act? Like, when dat happen? It's crazy how this year is the comeback year of both Jennifer and Ben Affleck from that embarrassment that was Gigli over a decade ago (acting wise). She sizzles on the screen with bits of Enough, Selena and something completely new that she's finally dug deep down to put on screen. Her performance is helped by veteran Ray Liotta who, while sometimes turns in a subpar performance, is given a meaty enough role not to phone it in like he's been doing for the last dozen years. The writing can be a bit crisper, but then again who am I to talk? The plot twists and turns in plenty of great ways that may give you pleasant reactions of "wow" and "didn't see that coming." Best of all, unlike my initial thoughts, it isn't another case-of-the-week series. Don't misunderstand, that element is there; however, unlike many of the new series trying to break free from this format, employing a more involved overarching tertiary plot (think The Blacklist, Minority Report, Limitless, Second Chance, etc.), here the secondary plot is the focus while the weekly cases are edged toward the back. You won't care as much about the guy trying to take over the new drug territory so much as you will Lopez trying to keep from being caught by her boss. The only problem I can see from this format is the possible trouble a second season will have with keeping the drama alive with a new tension.

Should you be watching? Yes. For one, if you haven't overdosed on your supply of gorgeous women with Kerry Washington, Jaina Lee Ortiz (Rosewood), and Kaley Cuoco heating up the TV airwaves weekly, then adding Jennifer Lopez to that can't hurt. Also, as said, this is the best acting Lopez has ever done, and it's already coming back for a second season. Not the gritty True Detective that HBO has given us, it doesn't take nearly as many prisoners as one might expect broadcast television to take. In this day and age where every protagonist drifts toward a morally ambiguous center, Lopez's Harley makes a great female addition to the haul of uniquely flawed characters.


What do you think? Have you seen Shades of Blue? If not, do you think you'll tune in after this review? If you have, did you like it and what was your favorite part of the season? Are you excited for it to come back for a second season? Let me know in the comments below (hint: click the no comments button if you see no comments).

Check out my new 5-star comedy novel, Yep, I'm Totally Stalking My Ex-Boyfriend. #AhStalking
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Until next time, "Oh? That's a very interesting... outfit for a first date."
'You like it? It's kinda embarrassing but I actually had my dog pick it out for me.'
"Oh? Hm. You know dogs are colorblind, right?"
Silence.

P.S. Thank god dogs don't much care about TV... or do they? Even if they did watch the show and couldn't tell the colors, I'm sure they'd be just as ticked as me that a show called Shades of Blue rarely ever shows anyone wearing blue, let alone multiple shades of it. Zero fashion sense. I'll think of a better sign-off next time.

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