Public Service Announcement 9 of 2017: Shades of Blue, Iron Fist

Time for another quick look at what’s coming up/ just arrived on the small screen, just in case your viewing/recording devices weren’t already begging for mercy.

Jed will be along to talk about the return of The Catch and whatever else takes his fancy in due course, but superheroes are my department, so first up is Netflix’s latest Marvel offering Iron Fist, Mr Fist now having joined fellow New York based-superheroes Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage on the streaming service, with a view to all four of them teaming up for The Defenders (their version of The Avengers or The Justice League) in the summer. I’m not even pretending to be excited about this, to be honest; if people are into it, great, but there are so many superhero shows and movies around now that I’m bored with the mere idea of them, and I’m not tuning in unless there’s a particular hook or character I’m interested in. Advance reviews suggest Iron Fist has neither (and is terrible), so I’m not going to bother with it, but if you do, let me know how you get on.

Moving on from superheroes to superhairdos (also my department), then, I’m significantly more interested in the return of NBC’s Shades of Blue, or Detective J-Lo, as it’s known at Unpopcult HQ, which returns to Sky Living for season 2 on Monday (20th) at 10pm. Mid-season, I was ambivalent: as well as J-Lo’s magnificent hair, the show had some excellent performances and some brave, interesting ideas, but nearly all the characters were horrible and watching it could be something of a slog. Things picked up significantly after that, though, getting faster and far more exciting, and while the characters and the things they did didn’t get any nicer, the breakneck, uncompromising plotting made up for it to such an extent that by season’s end, I was right back on board and ready for another round, so I’m in for at least the start of season 2. (It’s worth noting at this point that NBC is already in for season 3.) Regular reviews are unlikely, but if the mood takes my fancy or I finally get round to writing “Stalker and Shades of Blue: A Study of Female Cops On TV and the Appalling Men They Have to Work With,” you’ll read it here first.

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Shades of Blue s1 eps 12 & 13

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Since we last reviewed Shades of Blue aka #DetectiveJLo, the show has gone from what felt like second gear to seventeeth, with everything – the action, the plotting, and the sheer nastiness of just about every character involved – cranking up so hard over the past few weeks, that these two eps were almost hazardous to my cardiac health.

As Harlee tearfully continued trying to play both sides, every plan seemed to go wrong and everybody (especially her) just got themselves even deeper into the mire, with a succession of genuinely shocking, heartstopping twists and double-crosses helping them on their way. The acting was excellent, but the pacing was terrific too: in order to clear the decks for season two, a lot of swift, brutal, summary justice was dished out and I won’t weep for REDACTED or for REDACTED, but that final, incredibly unpleasant scene in particular (the sexual assault was incredibly disturbing on its own, but then, my God, that cracking sound) actually made me shriek out loud.

On the character development front, meanwhile, the by-now-supremely-creepy Stahl fully embraced the path of psychopathy and turned out to be as bad as, if not even worse, than everyone else; Loman did eventually sell his soul for the crew; and suprisingly, the only person whose character seemed to improve upon acquaintance was Ray Liotta’s Woz, a deeply flawed man who gradually, but unmistakably, turned out to be a lot more complicated than he first seemed to be. Against all my instincts, I ended up feeling significantly more sympathetic towards him (although what he did to poor Sap was unforgiveable) than I did towards Harlee who, by the end, was doing my head in almost as much as she was her increasingly insufferable daughter’s. Yes, Christina, you’re right, your mum does lies and whine with every breath she takes, but that doesn’t make you any less of an idiot.

Of course, this was JLo’s show, and she proved more than capable of carrying it, putting in a strong, compelling performance as a complex, determined but overwhelmingly loyal woman who was neither heroine nor villain. The same could be said, in fact, of most of the main characters; with the exception of ADA Nava, who was truly good and Donnie Pomp, who was truly evil, everyone else seemed to fall somewhere in between, with none of them (except Nava) being people I particularly liked or, somewhat courageously for a new network cop show, really thought I was supposed to. (Unless I was supposed to like Loman, in which case, sorry, but no.)

Thanks to the change in gear, though, I did become a lot more interested in what happened to most of them – except Christina who should just stay in Jersey City forever, please God – which means that, after feeling pretty ambivalent about it a few weeks ago, I now find myself looking forward to season two.

Shades of Blue s1 ep 7

Yup, it’s finally time for us to review the long-awaited (by Jed and I, anyway), much-anticipated (ditto) but now-it’s-actually-on-we’re-kind-of-bored-with-it corrupt cop procedural, Shades of Blue.

Or #DetectiveJLo, as it’s formally known at Unpopcult HQ.

Showbiz icon Jennifer Lopez herself plays Det. Harlee Santos, right-hand woman to boss Ray Liotta’s Lt Wozniak; their tight-knit unit uses “extra-curriculars” to keep order on the streets – a protection racket for local businesses, safe zone arrangements with local drug dealers, that type of thing – which turns out to be a very effective, and lucrative form of team-building. Till Harlee’s caught by the Feds and forced to turn “rat” by the obsessive, difficult Agent Stahl (Det Trent from Stalker!!!) or risk going to jail and losing her blessed daughter Christina, that is.

A relatively simple choice for Harlee, you might think, except that a) she loves her buddies and doesn’t want to be a rat; b) Woz already suspects there’s one on the team and is ready to, er, exterminate them; and c) there’s a Terrible Secret (of the Guilt, rather than the Pain variety) in her past which means that, if he goes down, he’s very probably taking her and the house of cards she’s built for the precious Christina with him.

It’s all trying very hard to be dark and murky – as far as it can be within Network TV constraints, anyway – so there are some clever ideas, and plenty of sleazy, satisfyingly nasty shocks every week. A lot of care has been taken with characterisation as well, with considerable effort put into giving every single character a distinct personality, rather than just the leads. The difficulty, however, is almost all these personalities suck.

JLo and the most impressive hairdo on tv – this is not just big hair, it’s big hair with such purpose and intent that it’s practically a character in its own right – are terrific, but I find myself getting less sympathetic and more irritated with the conflicted Harlee as the weeks roll on and the lies trip off her tongue. Be a rat, or don’t be a rat, girlfriend, but decide one way or the other. And stop crying about it.

Ray Liotta, meanwhile, is terrifying as the unexpectedly complicated Woz, and Warren Kole as Agent Stahl switches from sympathetic (there’s the Secret Pain!) to psychotic a lot more successfully and believably than his one-time love rival Stalker Jack did. It’s a brave decision on the part of the writers to make his crush on Harlee incredibly creepy and unnerving – he gropes her, secretly films her and names prostitutes after her – rather than cute or noble, but it’s very confusing when I’m looking for someone, anyone, to like or ship or even feel remotely good about.

The rest of the characters aren’t exactly sun time fun time, either. The huge amount of screen time given to Loman, the rookie, in the first few eps is an exercise in endurance more than anything else, since he’s an idiot. Tess, the other woman in the team, forever whining about her failing marriage and thumping everyone except her cheating husband because of it, is both exceptionally dull and a useless police officer. Her partner Escada’s too busy being in love with her to do anything else, including his job. The Princess Christina exists solely so that Harlee and Woz can wring their hands and say everything they do, they do it for her. Self-styled love machine Tufo is ok, yes, if you ignore the sexist jerk side of his personality, but that’s a medium-sized if. Which means the only really likeable characters are the aptly-named Sap, who’s not only called that but is one (so he obviously isn’t making it to the end of the season), and the sweet, decent ADA James Nava who tries to hide his hotness under a beard, but can’t hide it from me. I see you, James Nava! I see you. Not as much as I’d like to, though. Could you not have some of Loman’s screen time instead?

Having said all that, though, while #DetJLo isn’t exactly an unqualified success, the combination of impressive performances, interesting ideas and magnificent hair has kept me watching this long. And fear of missing out – I mean, what if James Nava shaves?! – may well keep me watching, if not necessarily reviewing, till the end of this season at least. Will it bring me back for season 2, though? Hmm. We shall see.

Public Service Announcement 22 of 2016: Shades of Blue, Containment, Mr. Robot

A few of July’s coming attractions. First up is Shades of Blue, or #DetectiveJLo as we’re calling it, in which Jennifer Lopez plays an NYPD detective who, having been caught up in a FBI anti-corruption initiative, is obliged to become an informant. And she’s a single mother, which I’m guessing will require her to juggle family and career; also, I’m assuming there’ll be a love interest somewhere in the cast. The reviews in America were generally unenthusiastic, but it hooked enough viewers to merit renewal for a second season. And, frankly, at this time of year Unpopcult is in the mood for some inconsequential cop nonsense. We’ll review the first episode, at least, in due course (Wednesday 13 July, Sky Living, 9pm).

Another new show from America, Containment, starts on the same night. It’s a remake of Belgian drama Cordon, in which part of a city is sealed off due to a disease outbreak. The CW has moved the action to Atlanta, home of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which intrigues me just a little: I’ve become used to CDC operatives turning up in the occasional episode of other shows, and I’d sometimes wondered why it didn’t get a vehicle of its own. However, Containment is another one which the critics haven’t embraced, and this time the viewers aren’t turning up in sufficient numbers to save it. So it’s going to be a one-and-done (Wednesday 13 July, E4, 9pm).

And the second season of Mr. Robot is making its way to British viewers via Amazon Prime, starting 14 July. I reviewed most of the first season, but didn’t quite finish watching it. This may be because I was never quite convinced that it’s as good as people were telling me, or it may be because I’m still not a huge boxset fan. However, the good news is that season 1 is finally going to be on “actual” TV as well, starting on Universal at 9pm on Thursday 21 July. So I might give it another go, even if that will involve a certain amount of rewatching.

A few others: two Unpopcult favourites are going from one season straight into the next. Parks and Recreation’s seventh and final season starts on Sunday 24 July at 11pm on Dave, and although the fifth season of White Collar is available on Netflix and iTunes, it gets its first TV showing on Universal, starting at 8pm on Monday 11 July. Having just watched the fourth season I’d forgotten how much I like this show, although I don’t think CJ is in any danger of forgetting how much she likes Matt Bomer.

And a final roundup: season 2 of Zoo, a show which looks completely bonkers, starts 17 July at 9pm on Sky Living; BBC 1’s starry adaptation (Toby Jones, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Ian Hart, Stephen Graham) of Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent starts at the same time; and Netflix’s 80s-set Winona Ryder-starring Stranger Things, in which a boy vanishes into thin air, drops on 15 July.