The Shield - Season 1
One of the long lasting staples of the television drama is the cop drama. Over fifties years ago there where shows like Naked City and Dragnet that displayed the noble police officer fighting crime and helping the public. In those days there was a clear delimitation between the good guys and bad guys. Like the white and black hats in the old westerns if a man had a badge he was a good guy. This began to change with TV shows like Kojack and more recently NYPD Blue. Cops began to show signs of human frailties. The ultimate culmination of this trend has arrived with ‘The Shield’. This police drama created by Shawn Ryan has provided a lot of water cooler discussion due to its brutal and cutting edge nature. This show is set in Los Angles. Violence has prompted the politicians and upper echelon police management to create an elite team called the Strike Force. Headed by veteran cop Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) the Strike Force has been very successful in decreasing the gang violence and drug dealing in the urban areas of the city. The problem is the method Vic and the Strike Force employ. They are not the squeaky clean TV cops of the past. They play loose and hard with the rules, in fact they play by rules entirely of their own device. They practically own one of the main drug dealers, permitting him to deal in return for information on his competition. As long as the desired results are achieved the top people turn a blind eye to the breaking of constitutional rights as well as the random bone or two. The captain of the police station where the Strike Force is located opposes Vic and his team. Captain Aceveda (Benito Martinez) is not so much against the violent methods, in fact on one occasion he turns Vic loose on a pedophile hiding a little girl, he wants the expose the corruption of the Strike Force to future his own political agenda. No one in this show is either completely good or bad. The show is set in the real world of gray morality. It also forces the audience to ponder the question of does the end justify the means. In today’s political and social climate much of the American public is willing to forego some rights in return for safety. The Shield is America in microcosm; entertaining the audience as this show provokes thought on very real issues that face all of us today.
Chiklis is perhaps best known for his previous cop show, The Commish. There he was the completely good commissioner of a small police force. He balanced family and pranks as he sought justice. The character of Vic is the Commish from an evil alternate universe. He is not above torture to get what he wants. Murder can be justified to keep his group together. Chiklis makes the character of Vic multidimensional. It is very difficult. As an actor Chiklis has to show the brutality of this man while creating a character the audience can become emotionally invested in, we have to care about Vic and his cronies. Vic not only has to worry about other cops and the criminals he deals with but problems at home with a five year old son who is growing violent. Mr. Chiklis not only reaches this goal, he surpasses it nicely. While the undisputed star of this show is Chiklis the strength of the production is the ensemble cast. Even the most peripheral roles are filled with talented actors able to breathe reality into their characters. Among the plethora of notable performances is CCH Pounder as Claudette Wyms. She is a seasoned detective that just wants to clear her cases and do her job. She is partnered with a younger detective Dutch Wagenbach (Jay Karnes), an intelligent man who constantly tries to push his cases to far greater scopes than anyone wants. The nemesis of Vic is Captain Aceveda, a man of Latin ancestry bent on turning in Vic on corruption charges in order to put his own name before the public and garner a political position.
As with most television shows there are a number of people that take the director’s chair. While this can often result in an uneven flow to the show here the different directors work so closely with the creator that the audience is never disappointed. The manner in which this show is presented is more like a film than a typical television show. I was reminded a lot of Traffic in the use of cinematic technique. The color pallet is pushed to the ends of the spectrum to enhance the mood created by the dialogue and excellent presentation of the actors. The grain is pushed in flashback to heighten the sense of reality. The camera moves in a jerky fashion, pulling the audience into the world created here. The camera angles are to say the least unusual, manifesting the different viewpoint that is manifested in the show. The audience is constantly kept off balance during each and every episode. This show shares the appeal of films like the Godfather and other cable shows like the Sopranos. While the people in it cross the line of regular society they hold fast to their own code of conduct. They have lines that they will not cross. This seems to invoke a real gut reaction in the audience. The writing here is among the best I have seen. There is a balance between the fast paced action and comic relief.
The four disc set is excellent. The entire first season is presented on four discs. The first three contain four episodes each while the forth has the season finale and the set’s extras. The cable origins of the show are obvious in the level of violence depicted as well as the harsh language and partial nudity. This is not a family show. The audio is Dolby Surround and is mixed somewhat lower than most DVDs. I had to push the volume a bit to get to an audible level. The full screen video is free of defect befitting the newness of the source material. One annoying aspect of the presentation is the black screen gaps where the commercials were in the FX showings. It would have been a little better if they were at the chapter stops but a scene abruptly ends, there are a couple of seconds of black and a scene starts again. Among the extras are cast screen tests, deleted scenes and a making of featurette. Unlike most entire season collections this set has a commentary track for every episode. Most such sets have commentary only on a select episode or two. The commentaries are also up there with the best on DVD. Each episode has a different set of cast and crew. Mostly there is not a scene by scene discussion, rather there are general discussions of how the show came to be. Fox has done an excellent job with this DVD collection, one that will entertain provide hours of enjoyment.