There's nothing really special about this one. A show about corrupt police officers and undercover internal investigations. I'm not one to criticise a show for sticking to the well-known formats, quite the opposite, a well-made traditional procedural is something I always like watching. So while the show doesn't do anything out of the ordinary, I commend it for getting the suspense down pretty well.
Shades of Blue puts almost no focus on crimes of the public or actual frontline police work. It revolves almost entirely around Ray Liotta as head of a corrupt police unit, and Jennifer Lopez who, while part of that same unit, is forced into serving as an informant in the FBI investigation looking into it. And that's everything there is to the basic setup. It serves pretty much all the clichés, too. The informant-against-her-will realises that she and her unit have lost her way. Her choices are determined by, of course, a daughter she has to keep out of harm's way. And the top bad cop still has a good heart. So far so yawn.
I'll add that the way the characters' backstories are set up is mildly interesting, and that the show does a good job of bringing across the uneasiness of the constantly shifting network of trust and distrust. It all seems dramatic enough, although the suspense is seriously hurt by the fact that this is one of those shows that tries to drag along even the slowest and most distracted viewers. Everything is not only spelled out literally at various points, it's also usually repeated two or three times, just to be sure. Because a lot of the fun of this type of show comes from trying to figure out who knows or thinks what, and who suspects whom, this bluntness seriously diminishes the atmosphere.
What really makes the show fall pretty flat, though, is the performances of Jennifer Lopez. She stays true to her reputation of being one of the worst actresses to have graced big-budget productions in the last decades. What makes it worse is that she's acting alongside a pretty strong and convincing Ray Liotta. Some of the intense scenes between the two of them are just surreal to watch. There's the hammy acting on the level of a cheap soap opera on one side, and someone whose facial expressions and movements are riddled with all kinds of emotions and detail on the other. Yet, somehow, we're supposed to believe that the two are not just part of the same universe, but actually directly interacting with each other and taking each other seriously. I don't know if Liotta is such a bloody convincing actor in general, but against this contrast, he certainly seems to be.
The writing of the scripts doesn't fare much better. It's not just bad dialogue – there are some really bad ones throughout the show. It's more that it seems like characters, their actions and words were actually adapted to the skills of the actors who portray them. So while most characters seem to get some pretty good base material to build a strong performance on – not only Liotta, but some supporting cast as well, for example a very convincing scene by a certain Hampton Fluker in episode two – the script takes a nosedive whenever Lopez' character is in action. Her lines are bad, and her actions often inexplicable. Some of the worst bits are her teenager-like, sulking reluctance to work with her FBI handler. At numerous points throughout the first episodes, she thinks it's so clever and important to talk back to him, or flip him the bird – out in the open road in front of the man she's secretly investigating! – that it's worth risking her life for. For a woman who keeps claiming that she's doing all of this to protect her daughter, she sure seems to have a strong wish for being caught and taken out of her life.
So while the idea sounds fine on paper, and the actual, bare bone dramatic elements are pretty decent, and with great performances by some of the cast, it unfortunately gets more than weighed up by poor writing and a very unbelievable lead performance. It's very much one of the weakest procedurals I've seen in recent years, and I'm a bit upset that it actually got renewed for a second season while so many much stronger premières in this genre didn't make it past season one (such as Golden Boy, Detroit 1-8-7, or the Ironside and Prime Suspect remakes).