A rhetoric of police brutality and corruption outweigh powerful performances by Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta in NBC’s Hit Drama “Shades of Blue”.
For the past several weeks, NBC has aired their new police drama “Shades of Blue”, a series starring Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta. The show just concluded its first season last winter and has received mixed reviews. On the one hand, you have very powerful acting performances by Lopez, Liotta, and other supporting cast members who momentarily steal the spotlight. However, those sparkling performances lost their luster as the series progressed and viewers realized the real spotlight of the show was stolen by a storyline that focused on police brutality and corruption.
The series starts fast out of the blocks, throwing viewers into the middle of a busy detective division of the New York Police Department. Lopez and her rookie detective partner, played by Dayo Okeniyi, are involved in a controversial shooting in the opening scene of the very first episode. Lopez and Okeniyi force entry into an apartment and Okeniyi (a black detective) shoots an unarmed black suspect. Things go downhill very quickly from there. Lopez covers up the actual facts regarding the shooting by intentionally lying to supervisors investigating the incident, omitting information, fabricating details, and tampering with evidence. Viewers come to learn that Lopez does that because she is part of detective squad, led by Liotta, that is neck-deep in corruption.
Neither Lopez, nor Liotta, are new to playing the role of police officer; and both actors are well-suited to hold the spotlight for a leading role that can be so demanding. Lopez and Liotta brilliantly depict the emotional roller-coaster police officers face in balancing their professional lives, requiring them to have a strong command presence, with their personal lives. Liotta has played several roles as a police officer captivating viewers with strong performances. He did the same in Shades of Blue by playing a strong, no-nonsense, straight-to-business type of lieutenant supervising a detective squad. Likewise, Lopez has also played previous roles as a police officer. She does a phenomenal job showing viewers what it might be like in the day of the life of a female cop, having to be strong and detached one minute, but then emotionally vulnerable the next. Both actors shine in several episodes of Shades of Blue with monologues of raw emotion, reminding us all that police officers too are only human. A fantastic theatrical juxtaposition.
However, the gut-wrenching performances by Lopez and Liotta throughout the series takes a backseat to a crazy storyline that puts viewers in the middle of an NYPD detective squad operating outside legal limits of the law, where the “end justifies the means”… they put bad guys in jail; who cares how they do it. They plant evidence, destroy evidence, coerce witnesses, cover-up unfavorable incidents, and falsify reports. Oh and let’s not forget, they force local merchants in their jurisdiction to pay for “protection” and they have an informal partnership with local mafia to don’t ask/don’t tell/look the other way regarding drug sales. Throw in a questionable personal history Lopez’s character brings to the squad and you have the perfect recipe for a corrupt police squad running rampant with little ethical accountability. Shades of Blue quickly turned into a “Game of Thrones”-style, who is going to betray who, to back stab who, to gain leverage against who, to be used later against who, in a tail-spinning spiral of police corruption and brutality.
A fictional story of police corruption and brutality is the last thing American audiences need to see in mainstream media. Recent events in the last months have created strong divides between law enforcement and certain ethnic/racial communities because of use of force by police. Television shows like Shades of Blue just further perpetuate the false belief that all cops are corrupt. This series reaffirms the negative inaccuracies of police work done by the men and women who wear a badge, making many viewers question the ethics, character, and integrity of officers working at their own local police department. This was a great opportunity to use this show to create a positive story-line, highlighting the good work done by police officers all across America that so often goes unnoticed. Instead, Shades of Blue talks only about corruption, drowning out powerful performances by a talented cast, because that is what gets ratings; and ratings is what got Shades of Blue renewed for a Season 2, set to air on NBC later this year.