Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

the shield

The truly IRRITATING thing about the new FX drama The Shield is that it's pretty much everything that FX has been saying it was in that relentless series of commercials. It is tough, it is "gritty", you would never ever EVER see this show on a broadcast network (what with the realistic cursing and the occasional nudity -- bare man's butt and a naked woman corpse in the first three minutes of the premiere) ... and it is interesting. Even though it's gripping, it's also hellaciously hard to watch sometimes.

Michael Chiklis plays Detective Vic Mackey, the man that viewers will utterly and completely loathe by the end of the season ... if not by the end of the pilot. People who remember the tough but generally nice and somewhat hefty guy that he played in The Commish will be thoroughly disoriented by Mackey. For one thing, Chiklis has lost a lot of weight since those days (60 pounds, reportedly), and maybe added some muscle as well. As for the character of Mackey ... He's crude, rude, obnoxious, sexist, a total and complete asshole. He's also a very dirty cop. He's also a very effective cop ... when he choses to be. He can be a good man, trying to get a prostitute off the street for the night to go home to see her kid, having fun at a cookout with his wife and children. He can be a bad cop and a bad man, beating down a suspect ... who, however, is a child kidnapper and molester. He can be evil personified, as with what he does at the end of the pilot. And when forced, his supervisors make use of all of these facets of his personality, knowing full well what they do. Nobody's unambiguously clean in this police department.

The supporting cast is also very good. CCH Pounder plays a detective who tries very hard to do a good job ... without knowing more than is good for her ability to get that job done. Her partner, Dutch Wagenbach (Jay Karnes), is separated from his wife, addicted to junk food, and peculiarly obsessed with the psychological foundations of homosexuality. Benito Martinez plays Capt. David Aceveda, trying to clean up the district but at the same time periodically forced to make use of Mackey and his special ... talents. From the size of the cast, the plan may be to try to shift it into a sort of ensemble mode, focusing on a different character in different episodes.

Ths show started out with its fair share of controversy, and then some. Originally called Rampart, it was supposed to be "inspired by" the notorious Rampart division scandal in the Los Angeles police department. (A scandal which seems to have no real end in sight.) The LAPD, understandably, were incensed at the very concept. Eventually, FX seemed to back down, stating that the title would be changed, that although it would be filmed in Los Angeles, it would never be said that it took place in Los Angeles. At some point, FX seems to have gone back on that declaration; at the beginning of the pilot, they make it clear that they're talking about the (nonexistant) Farmington district of the Los Angeles police department. I daresay the LAPD will not be amused.

The truly shocking thing is that The Shield is being televised on an advertiser supported cable net. In this day and age, I'm surprised that any advertiser would want to be associated with a series, no matter how good, that presents police as other than shining white knights. (Granted, there do seem to be fewer advertisements than usual. And a great many of them seem to be self-advertisements for other FX shows.)

It'll be interesting to see how the series evolves. If it actually comes back for a second season. A lead character with some moral ambiguity is one thing; a lead character that's pretty much out-and-out evil is another. Tony Soprano can get away with being what he is, and HBO can get people to watch The Sopranos, because he's a mobster; he's what we expect him to be. That there's any good in him is actually the surprise. People may be willing to accept that police are human, that they have quirks and foibles and flaws and their bad sides as well as their good ... but this man is supposed to be one of the good guys. It will be interesting to see what the public's tolerance is for a lead character so frequently unambiguously and purely evil.

FX has chosen to follow The Shield in the schedule with World's Wildest Police Videos. Apparently, FX's programmers aren't above a bit of low irony.

Posted by iain at 10:08 PM in category



I'm utterly amazed at the skill with which both the acting and writing of "The Shield" is inter- woven. A rich tapestry of royal hue, the show shines in getting us to relate to that within all of us--the thing we hate MOST about us, that "The Shield" is Mackey and that Mackey is US--a propensity to do good, and a propensity to do pragmatic evil--co-existing side by side. This show should be on for many seasons to come.

Posted by Les at May 2, 2002 03:55 PM

That is one of the most presumptuous, judgmental and (for lack of a better word) lame reviews of a TV show I've ever read. I really don't need to try to prove the reviewer wrong here, as Chiklis' Emmy win, and the fact that The Shield has become one of the most critically acclaimed series on television right now, has done so already.

There is nothing wrong with portraying life as it really is on TV. If you want to see what you consider a "realistic" cop drama, stick to Chips reruns on Nick at Nite. And please stick to reviewing PBS after-school specials only.

And do check out season 3 (yes, THREE) of The Shield in January 2004. :)

Posted by UQ at August 2, 2003 05:02 AM

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