THE SHIELD Monday 28 May, 2012

You’ve watched The Wire, The Sopranos, The West Wing and Breaking Bad. So where do you go next? Vic Mackie could be just the man for you.

The Shield is a cop show. It’s a much more traditional kind of cop show than The Wire but don’t let that put you off. The Shield follows the exploits of Vic Mackie and his “Strike Team” as they police the murky depths of Farmington, LA. Vic and his team are in charge of investigating gang and drug activity. The twist is that Vic and his team are of questionable ethics. In fact they are corrupt. We are given a shocking example of the moral vacuum in which they live as early as the first episode. To be honest I probably wouldn’t have continued watching were it not for that shock.

The first two series of The Shield are pretty mediocre. They are watchable but not brilliant. If anything I found these two series a bit of a chore but a friend had assured me that it was worth persevering. The first two seasons are full of macho bullshit and sensationalist shite and not much else. At times it feels like you’re watching Grant Mitchell’s American cousin let loose with a gun. The promise of a sharp improvement after that means you can just about bare it. I am not a fan of TV series that like to tie a bow around a story strand with in each episode and the early episodes are guilty of that. Luckily as the show moves on the narrative arcs begin to span episodes and grow in complexity.

Series three onward is where the show begins to find it’s feet. The characters are allowed a little more texture and this allows the show to paint the story with more subtle brush strokes. That’s not to say that you could ever really accuse this show of subtlety. Each successive series cranks up the tension and the quality and quality additions to the cast list make a big difference. The final series is as addictive as the crack that is so readily available on the Farmington streets.

In much the same way as Tony Soprano, Vic Mackie, is another American anti-hero. He’s a selfish, ruthless bastard that justifies his terrible behaviour by carrying out occasional acts of compassion. This allows the audience to see that he’s really a good guy at heart. I just don’t buy that though. This made it quite difficult viewing for me because The Shield does not allow you to like Vic’s detractors and doesn’t allow enough virtue for Vic to be likeable. Almost everybody that objects to Vic’s methods and objectives are painted as weak and snide. One of the characters who seems like a person of decent character is repeatedly punished by the writers. He is intelligent and a good detective but he is consistently depicted as inept with women and has a bullseye on his back for any practical jokers in the vicinity. This choice made me question what the writers thought was of value in a person. It seems that Vic is constantly rewarded for being a complete arsehole whereas other ‘better’ characters are punished.

This gripe aside, The Shield is incredibly compelling TV. The first two series are pretty offensive stuff but essential to understanding what happens thereafter. At times the acting can be a bit shonky but, again, this improves as the series matures. If you’re looking for a new series to dive into then you could do a lot worse than The Shield.



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