Fox // 2002 // 655 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // February 10th, 2003
The road to justice is twisted.
It seems redundant to pin more medals onto the hefty chest of The Shield. If you watch FX, you no doubt have seen the heavy promotional campaign hawking The Shield as a groundbreaking history-maker. Perhaps you watched star Michael Chiklis take home the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Or maybe you (like me) only had a vague idea of what this series was about, and thought maybe Sutherland got a raw deal.
The Shield is one of the rare cases where the hype is justified, the accolades earned. Sometimes it all comes together. If you like your TV edgy and involved, The Shield is unparalled.
The Shield is greater than the sum of its parts. Much of the series is focused on detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), the charismatic pit bull in charge of the Farmington Precinct Strike team. He uses brutal tactics to combat an even more brutal street. At turns ferocious and charming, he stops at nothing to get his way. His goal seems to be keeping a cleaner street, but wow, he handpicks the drug lords. His team, notably Shane (Walt Goggins) and Lem (Kenny Johnson), provide unbalanced tension.
Though Vic is the lynchpin, the ensemble cast is on par. Captain Aceveda (Benito Martinez) is an ambitious politician with one eye on a council seat, one eye on keeping his precinct safe, and one eye on Vic Mackey. Trouble is, he only has two eyes.
Dutch Wagenbach (Jay Karnes) and Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder) are a team of detectives whose dry repartee eases days of hunting serial killers, rapists, and slave traders. Dutch is somewhat awkward, thus gets dumped on (literally), but his keen insight wins him respect. Claudette is tough as roofing nails and is as close to a neutral party as can be found at The Farm.
Danielle "Danny" Sofer (Catherine Dent) is conflicted, trying to maintain her femininity while beating down street scum on a daily basis. Her partner is the rookie Julien Lowe (Michael Jace); a match made in purgatory.
The cast is rounded out by stellar characters, down to the lowliest extra. It seems a shame to focus on any one of them, because they are all part of the whole.
These cops strive against the street, the psychos, and each other. No one is completely good or evil. In a reality of pain and hypervigilance, cops decompress by leaning on one another and/or taunting the living hell out of each other. Just when you think The Shield has reached a plateau of dramatic tension, the heat cranks up a notch. People will die and lives will be ruined before life in Farmington reaches equilibrium.
The Shield has an interesting take on portraying Vic's morality. They don't keep us in the dark very long about the nature of his character. Instead of teasing us with the question of whether he is good or bad, they show us the stark extremes of his humanity right away. So the question is not what "what kind of person is Vic," but "what do his actions say about him?"
This is but one example of cliché avoidance that The Shield handles so deftly. There are standbys of the cop drama, such as the TV cops drawing their guns more often than real cops, but the familiar only serves to highlight the differences. This is a cop show unlike any before it. The IMDb has quotes from live police officers responding to its verisimilitude.
Quality is a word that gets thrown around a lot. One definition is "I know it when I see it." The Shield has ample evidence of quality in every respect. Let's start with the directors:
There are some big names in that list with quality stuff under their belts. Imagine what these directors do with the free reign granted by The Shield. No more network constraints, boys -- the gloves come off.
What would a director be without his cast? I defy anyone to point out moments of "acting" once they get swept away in the tide of this plot. These characters breathe. They have foibles and desires and worries and dislikes. Although Chick won an Emmy, he's not the only bright spot in this cast. Even "the perps," traditional chinks in the armor of series acting, are sterling.
What would an actor be without the cameraman? This show looks different. Different in a good way. The sun beats down, revealing crinkles of worry and beads of sweat. The colors are vibrantly washed out. The interiors are dusty and grimy, with the gleaming polish of chain link fence cages and tiled floors. The camera is frenetic when the action heats up, languid when the action fades to the realization of pain and sorrow.
What would a cameraman be without the sets? Los Angeles takes center stage. The action isn't controlled; real L.A. cars whiz by real L.A. people on real L.A. streets. And not in Hollywood either. I've experienced the heart of skid row in L.A., crack vials crunching under my feet while people threw bottles at me from four stories up. I felt that again watching The Shield.
The glue is the script. Every time anyone associated with The Shield mentions the script, they gush lavish praise. The writing is responsible for some of the densest, most convoluted subplots I've seen, TV or no.
So we have top shelf directors with an award-winning cast creating a heavy drama set in the real world. Something has to give. Surely they screwed up the extras?
Well, no. With the exception of a shameless promo spot for season two, the extras are superlative. The "making of" featurette is both self-congratulatory and humble, pointing out the flubs as well as the triumphs. It actually shows us the making of The Shield, an increasing rarity. The cast auditions reinforce the caliber of the talent behind this show. The deleted scenes are of better quality than the actual show, hitting harder and showing more.
To be honest, I didn't read the whole pilot script, but its inclusion is noteworthy. One of the greatest things about The Shield is that it starts in the middle. There is no progression of theme, characterization, or style as in the first season of Highlander. The Shield didn't have to find its way. It ran out of the starting gate and didn't stop to see if the viewers were keeping up. One of the greatest challenges in TV land is creating a good pilot. The Shield has a great pilot, with one of the most dramatic finishes I've seen.
Which leads me to the best extra of all, the 13 episode commentaries. There is no dead space in these commentaries. Though there were struggles in filming The Shield, everyone involved has a healthy attitude that shines through. I almost got fed up with the back patting, but I realized something just before Chick stated it out loud: maybe they are back patting because this is the real thing and they know it. This commentary marathon is a rich reward for fans of the show. The creator acknowledges such in the last episode, where he congratulates those who stuck with them. Even at the end, they had insight to share. After ten hours of commentary, that is quite a feat. Some of my favorite tidbits are spoilers...let's just say that you will be rewarded with hilarious infighting. Taken as a whole, these commentary tracks represent the best that DVD can achieve: entertaining insight into what you are watching.
There is a lot of profanity, sex, violence, nudity, and amorality captured unflinchingly. This may be a deterrent for some viewers, a beacon for others. For once, these standbys of the action genre are not employed cheaply. Each blow, curse, buttock, and slur drives the story forward. This is a series that doesn't mess around. It takes a lot of chances and does not shy away from the grime under its fingernails. That attitude drove sponsors away. But they came crawling back once the series became a hit.
The sound is a 2.0 mix. A fine stereo mix, but two channel nonetheless. I have no real problem with that since the show aired with said mix.
The video issue is thornier. The show aired in 1.33:1 full screen. The episodes on the DVDs are in full screen. So far so good. The deleted scenes, however, are in 1.85:1 widescreen. Wha...? Lemme get this straight, the show was shot in widescreen, but they decided to pan and scan the broadcast? I could have rested easier, never knowing that a widescreen print of the show exists. Now I'm conflicted. Don't get me wrong, the DVD is faithful to the original broadcast. But will we have a "director's cut" of the first season someday? Would that be a first for DVD?
Is an artistic work ever perfect? Perhaps not, but we'd be remiss to not applaud those efforts that transcend their cohorts. The Shield may be a lucky confluence of time and space ("Astronomy," as Chick points out), or it may be an example of professionals reaching within themselves to create a top notch body of work. The Sopranos, Band of Brothers, and 24 are all in the upper echelon of television programs. I put The Shield among their ranks with confidence. With a street price of $45 for a top notch package, it is easy to recommend purchase of this fine boxed set. Even those who don't like it will respond to it. You can always sell it on eBay...there are thousands of hungry bidders who would be happy to land this set.
The court will not single anyone out: the entire cast and crew has earned this precinct's highest commendation for bravery and professionalism. Let's be careful out there!
Review content copyright © 2003 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Top 100 Films: #79
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 655 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Cast/Crew Commentary on All 13 Episodes
* "Behind The Shield" Featurette
* F/X Featurette
* Original Pilot Script
* Eight Cast Auditions
* Deleted Scenes