Thursday, July 2, 2009

TV review: The Shield Seasons 1 - 7

It's very true that some of the best entertainment these days is found on the small screen, not the big one.

One of the shows
I've been following on DVD is The Shield. This is powerhouse stuff. Right from the pilot, you are drawn into the action and it never really lets up. I'm into Season 5 and its still holding my attention.

One of the benefits of the small screen is that it gives time for the characters to develop. They are therefore a lot more rounded and multi-dimensional than movie characters.

The stories themselves are allowed to spool out, and there is time to explore other sub-plots. All these things are true of the Shield, which has a very effective formula to prevent boredom from setting in.

Firstly, it is filmed on location, and maximum use is made of the gritty streets and ghettos of Los Angeles. Secondly, it is filmed with handheld cameras, and has a very grainy texture, like it was shot on a handicam. This adds to the authentic feel, although it did make Glenn Close's skin look terrible in Season 4.

But the strength of The Shield, and the other series by its creator Shawn Ryan, The Unit, is the scripting. It is extremely well written, with maximum use of local vernacular and argot, which again adds to the overall reality of the piece.

Finally, the characters are extremely well sketched and acting is uniformly excellent. Particular kudos should go to the lead, Michael Chiklis, who inhabits the character entirely. Although Vic Mackey is a brutal, corrupt cop, Chiklis gives him a real humanity and appeal. He is a complex and fascinating character. Even though you know he's rotten, you can't help cheering him on.

The detective team of Dutch and Claudette played by Jay Karnes and CCH Pounder respectively also deserve special mention. Their cases provide a degree of relief from the adrenaline charged exploits of the Strike Team and the intelligence of the two characters is genuinely engaging.

The police drama has had several highlights on television since it became a full-blown cultural phenomenon with Hill Street Blues in the 80s. The likes of Homicide, Life on the Street and The Wire have taken it even further. The Shield rightly deserves a place among the pantheon of the greats.

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