The Shield: Quality Drama or Guilty Pleasure?
To be honest, at first blush, I hated The Shield.
Not because it was extremely violent, had explicit sexual content, crude language and a hopeless message about urban decay in large cities. That stuff, I could live with.
What kept bothering me, was the insistence of those involved that they were bringing “the real.”
I call it NYPD Blue Syndrome — after that long-gone show’s penchant for making a hero of Andy Sipowicz, a borderline racist, violence-prone cop who seemed to enjoy beating confessions out of suspected criminals.
But something happened on the way to The Shield’s making a hero of its murderous, out-of-control gang unit strike team leader, Vic Mackey. It turned into a compelling character study.
Consider this constellation of characters: A gay, black cop who forces himself to marry a woman because his religious views forbid homosexuality. A detective with lupus who refuses to reveal her problems for fear of being marginalized. A sergeant who becomes pregnant with a baby everyone assumes is Mackey’s, though she won’t reveal the father.
And there’s Mackey: a bald, bruising cop who is seeing everything — his career, his family, his marriage and his friends — slip through his fingers, thanks to the lawless manner in which he pursues justice.
Loosely inspired by the out-of-control cops in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart division scandal, The Shield returns tonight for its sixth season, with an episode featuring Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker. Snubbed by Emmy despite outstanding work on the show last season, Whitaker returns for two more episodes as an internal affairs cop so obsessed with nailing Mackey he sacrifices everything in one final gambit.
Meanwhile, Mackey and his team are reeling from the assassination of one of their own — a cop who was caught with drugs and pressured to turn over his entire team. Mackey doesn’t yet know that his best friend, team member Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins), did the deed to keep the guy from talking. As Mackey gets closer to the truth, a spicy question looms: will their friendship survive?
Check a preview here, or in embedded video:
It’s a delicious tightrope the characters walk in this, the second-to-last season of the show. Creator Shawn Ryan has already announced plans to shutter the series after the next raft of 13 episodes, drawing in directors such as Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) to help realize the show’s gritty, complex vision.
So count this critic among the crowd eventually drawn in by The Shield’s outlandish action, powerhouse acting and unexpected plot twists — including one police officer who beats a drug dealer to death for a crime, it is revealed later, he didn’t commit.
It may not always make sense, but it is always compelling. And these days, that may be about the most you can ask from any TV series.