We'll always have the peeing scene.
When I initially interviewed The Shield creator Shawn Ryan years ago, one of my first questions involved a moment where a rogue cop, um, relieved himself on a beaten-down suspect.
Back then, cable TV content was growing increasingly explicit, with Ryan's degrading tableau as Exhibit A. Now, some 88 episodes later, he's closing the book on cable's most cutting-edge cop series, a hyper-real, rollicking meditation on urban and moral decay that opened a door that Monk, The Closer, Rescue Me and Mad Men have walked through.
"I think a lot of shows feel pressure to get bigger and noisier as they grow," said Ryan, whose pre-Shield resume includes an unsatisfying stint writing CBS's mediocre cop show Nash Bridges.
"Our show was . . . noisiest and biggest in the first season. As it's gone on and on, it's become less noisy and more personal."
When The Shield first dropped in 2002, it played like a wry, crazed take on the Los Angeles police's notorious Rampart Division, a department with a rogue antigang unit accused of robbing banks, stealing drugs from police evidence lockers and shooting an unarmed drug dealer.
Star Michael Chiklis, tired of schlubby comedic roles, bulked up and shaved his head to play Mackey as a pathologically focused cop who cut deals with criminals to keep crime in check and pocket cash on the side.
Looking back, the pilot episode was a jittery melange of gallows humor and deliciously un-P.C. story lines centered on a missing child traded by two pedophiles. That episode ended with a shocker: Mackey, a risk-taking cop who gets things done, deliberately shoots another officer in the head.
The result was record ratings, along with the first Golden Globe and Emmy awards for basic cable. The success turned heads at a time when few cable channels accepted the idea that a signature — meaning, complex and expensive — scripted series could impact viewers.
As the final season opens, Detective Vic Mackey is facing expulsion from the force, caught between Armenian drug dealers he once ripped off, a Latino businessman connected to a Mexican crime cartel, and a member of his strike team who may now be trying to kill him.
Mackey is a man moving at top speed, struggling to keep the consequences of his outlaw life from destroying his career, his family and his friends.
Past seasons featured Oscar-caliber actors Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker, but this final stretch is all about the core cast — including ace character actor CCH Pounder as principled, lupus-stricken Capt. Claudette Wyms.
“The Shield is this string of happy accidents . . . asking a lot of incredibly socially pertinent questions," Chiklis said, "with the wars that have gone on, police work in America, and the fear that's happening in the world."
Ryan assured fans that there is no Sopranos-style ambiguity in store for The Shield's November conclusion.
"It's the longest movie ever made . . . (and) what thrills me about this finale is you will not see this coming," Chiklis said. "Then, when you look back, you'll go 'Holy cow . . . That's exactly right.' "