Sony // 2002 // 4188 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 3rd, 2009
The road to justice is twisted.
Shawn Ryan's groundbreaking cop drama arrives in its entirety, seven seasons worth of betrayals, blackmail, cover-ups, drug busts, drive-bys, cat strangulations, shameless political maneuvers, improvised foot amputations and so, so much more.
The seven seasons of The Shield tell one long story, so I am reluctant to get into details -- with the number of neck-snapping plot twists that populate the series run even the smallest spoiler would be catastrophic.
Here's the general scenario: in the fictional L.A. district of Farmington, gang violence is a perpetual nightmare, with murders happening on a daily basis (or at least weekly). Charged with mediating between the factions and promoting a tenuous stability is Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis, The Fantastic Four) and his Strike Team, an effective cop unit that employs shifty methods. District captain David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) has made it his professional mission to nail Mackey and his crew -- but they have a knack for staying one step in front.
Next to The Wire, this series is the finest cop show ever created. Shawn Ryan's masterful examination of detectives -- dirty and otherwise -- plunged into a hellish world of constant crime, temptation and hubris is required viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in the cop genre.
The Shield is envelope-pushing in its storytelling, but it never feels like it's trying too hard. The plots are tightly mapped out and painstakingly interwoven so that the first episode -- one of the more jarring pilots in recent memory -- has its shockwaves felt all the way to the series finale. With some serialized shows (Lost and Battlestar Galactica) often feeling like the overall arc is generated as the seasons roll on, there's always a sense of larger, organic purpose with The Shield. By series' end everything is closed up and loose ends are tied, making for a complete, self-contained epic.
Wherever Ryan and the writers take the characters, there are themes that hold true through all seven seasons. The big one is this: can the sin of a corrupt unit be overlooked if their work is effective. Mackey's Strike Team is effective and are often needed to tackle the big crimes, usually by the very people who are first to indict their methods. And those are some tough methods, tactics that consistently beg the question: do the ends justify the means?
This question in itself makes for compelling television, but the show keeps pushing, drilling deeper into the complex personalities and relationships of the Strike Team. Mackey has always been about himself, but the narrative eventually reveals what is truly precious to him, Ronnie went from a one-dimensional supporting character to a major cog in the machine, Lem is the conscience of the group and Shane (played in legendary fashion by Walton Goggins, whose Emmy snub for this work in the last season is a complete disgrace) evolves into the one of the all-time most intriguing characters on television. Rounding out the primary cast are top-shelf performers like CCH Pounder as a straight-laced, politically naïve detective; Jay Karnes as Dutch, her hapless, but intelligent counterpart; Benito Martinez's power-hungry Aceveda; and a series of dynamo guest stars including Glenn Close, Anthony Anderson (who does some of the best stuff I have ever seen on the small screen -- not joking) and Forest Whitaker. All of these power-hitters are plugged in seamlessly to serpentine storylines that combine some seriously dope cop action with gut-punches of drama.
I know all this sounds like hyperbole, but believe me it isn't. The Shield is that good. While it may not have ever hit the ratings of CSI or Law and Order or any number of cops shows that have popped up on the main broadcast networks, The Shield, to the audience that has stuck with it from the beginning, stands tall as one the few gold standards of the genre.
So you know all this and you already own the individual season sets and you ask: "Gee whiz, times are tight but this complete series release seems pretty sweet -- should I pony up the cash to score it?" Good question. Let's start with the positives (and there aren't any negatives, just the age-old double-dip question). The packaging is absolutely beautiful, one of the slickest sets I've ever reviewed, trumping the previous champ, the complete Seinfeld series set. It's laid out in book-form, with the DVDs tucked inside the pages. Each page features colorful, creative graphics and the episode listing. Shawn Ryan also wrote an introduction to the anthology. The other exclusive to the release is the bonus disc, featuring two new documentaries "Rampart" and "The Barn." The first is the recounting of the Rampart scandal, the corrupt cop misadventure in 1999 that influenced Shawn Ryan's creation of The Shield. The second is an odd post-mortem, interviewing the show's set guys and featuring a tour of the "The Barn" set as it goes bye-bye, making room for Grey's Anatomy. These are both decent featurettes, but not quite enough to justify a double-dip if never-before-seen bonus materials are all you're after.
The packaging, bonus disc and space-saving all-in-one convenience are all that the complete series has that the other sets don't. You still get solid anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 surround A/V treatments, 60+ hours of legitimately awesome making-of featurettes, commentaries on selected episodes and deleted scenes. These were amazing sets to begin with, great-looking, great-sounding and loaded with thoughtful bonuses and they're still amazing-just tied together in a nice and neat package.
There is no more praise I can heap on The Shield, a masterwork of American televised drama. This complete set is a thing of beauty, but there's not enough content to demand further investment from fans who already own all the season releases. If you haven't gotten into the show, here's the perfect way to punch your ticket.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 4188 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes