Thursday, August 23, 2007

Because He Gets Results You Stupid Chief!

The Shield Season 1

I know I'm really late to the party with this one. The Shield is almost about to (or perhaps already has, I've been keeping myself in the dark about it to protect myself from spoilers) finish its sixth season, whereas I've only just cottoned on to it by way of the breathless anticipation echoing around certain internets of what was supposed to be its grand finale (the sixth season was intended to be the last but it was granted another at the last minute).

In broad terms The Shield is a plain old cop show. It's set in a seedy suburb of inner L.A. and follows the police department responsible for keeping some kind of order in the middle of rampant drug use and gang warfare. The focus is on a small group of about half a dozen main characters, all of whom are conceived with originality and skilfully acted. Of these Vic Mackey, leader of the anti-gang strike force, is central to the show as a crafty and charismatic man who does a good job keeping the peace but whose methods range from the corrupt to the outright abominable. Countering him is the district captain Aceveda, who appears to be the straight and narrow foil to Vic and his dubious attitude to policework but who gradually reveals more shades of grey on his soul as the season wears on.

While the morality of the show ultimately seems to come down against Mackey and his techniques it does show his perspective well and poses a genuine moral question. The corrupt cops of the strike team do honestly want what's best for the community, and if thuggery, planting evidence and even murder are necessary to catch the crims then to hell with those bureaucrats and their red tape! If they get results, isn't that what matters? The actor behind Mackey, Michael Chiklis, does a great portrayal of a man who honestly believes he is in the right even as his means grow more and more morally untenable, not only in the way he justifies his actions but also in how his cheerful, easy going nature persuades his fellow police, some of whom have a few more moral qualms about pocketing confiscated cocaine in order to put their kids through college, to go along with his schemes.

Most of the time when recommending a good TV show it's customary to note that 'you have to watch until the thirty-eighth episode before things really hit their stride' but that is by no means the case here. The first episode is easily one of the finest hours of TV I've ever seen, introducing the characters just to the bare degree necessary and launching straight into a instantly engaging setup for the rest of the show, culminating in a tour de force scene where Mackey commits a heinous crime that will haunt him for the next thirteen episodes and beyond.

Later on in the season more and more drama is added, to the point where a lesser group of writers would sink into a morass of mediocrity under the weight of it, but these guys take the tired old soap opera clich├ęs, from repressed homosexuality to a kid with autism, and make them work. None of the later episodes recapture the intensity and sheer mainlined dramatic goodness of the first episode but the whole season is top notch.

Coming soon, season one of The Wire, which I'm told is even better.

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