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Shades of Blue's Stars Embrace Complicated Questions About Police

See what they have to say

Malcolm Venable

Yes, Shades of Bluestars Jennifer Lopez, who is, as you might imagine, a force of nature on the show - both as detective Harlee Santos, who's found herself in a sticky situation alongside her dirty cop colleagues - but also as an executive producer.

"I'm involved in every decision," she said at the Television Critics Association gathering in Pasadena Wednesday. "What everyone is wearing to scripts to casting. I'm making sure it's working scene by scene. It's actually a lot of fun to create something from the ground up." So far, so good: Shades of Blue was NBC's most-watched Thursday debut since Southland in 2009.

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But Shades has much more compelling things going on besides Lopez - if you can conceive of such a thing. It's a morality play, following a ring of ethically flexible NYPD officers (led by the frequently scary Ray Liottaas Lt. Matt Wozniak) who stretch the limits of right and wrong in their quest to keep streets safe. Their scheming, lying, bribe-taking and willingness to use violence when necessary makes the show complex and uncomfortable - especially in today's climate where stories about cops behaving badly dominate the news. Though the show was conceived and began before the seeming torrent of unpleasant news, its writers, producers and actors are aware of the timing. Some use personal experiences to inform the work.

"I've lived in Brooklyn for two years - and not in the most affluent area," said Hampton Fluker, who plays Marcus Tufo, a seasoned African-American officer unsympathetic to the empathetic approach of rookie Michael Loman (Dayo Okeniyi). Fluker said there's a lot of frustration with police in his neighborhood, but his Shades role has changed his perspective. "Sometimes tensions can be one-sided," he said, adding that now, he appreciates that everyone has an opinion and, as he put it, "everyone deserves credit for what they do." Shades, he said, facilitates a necessary examination of good, bad and what's in between.

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His co-star Vincent Laresca, who plays Tony Espada, brings special insight and perspective; he volunteers some 300 hours a year with the Los Angeles county sheriff's department. Like his character and on-screen colleagues, he's aware that sometimes, split-second decisions must be made that aren't sanctioned by policy but for the greater good. "Things are not always black-and-white," he said. I was very cognizant of that, having been out there on traffic stops, searching people. Law enforcement is very shades of blue. Sometimes the end justifies the means."

Shades of Blue airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC.