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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
trike up another win on behalf of the makers of FX’s controversial cop drama, “The Shield,” for raising the stakes with a second season that’s even grittier, bloodier and more heart-pounding than the first. If you thought that Shawn Ryan and his cast of misfit lawmen would only have the steam to wreak havoc for one season, you thought wrong. Ryan’s promising show continues to rally in high ratings for the basic cable station while offering its loyal fan base clever storylines and plenty of rich character development.
TV doesn't get any better than "The Shield," whose writers have taken the freedom of cable television to the max with a grimy look at a group of corrupt cops that the audience can't decide is good or bad. The second season picks up a month later, with Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) tracking down his wife and children after they their home following a series of threats. Meanwhile, Vic is still knee-deep in shit alongside Strike Team members Shane (Walton Goggins), Lem (Kenneth Johnson) and Ronnie (David Rees Snell) as they continue to build upon their “retirement fund,” but the arrival of a Mexican drug lord jeopardizes their side business when he forces his way on to new territory by poisoning the competitor’s product and burning their dealers. The Strike Team discover a fast and easy way towards early retirement with a secret money train operated by the Armenian gang, but new recruit Tavon (Brian White) could tear the team apart before they get their chance to cash in.
David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) is under a little stress as well, campaigning to become the first Latino-American City Council member in his district when a city auditor is suddenly sent in to report on the progress of the new police station. Meanwhile, detectives Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder) and Dutch Wagenbach (Jay Karnes) struggle to keep their jobs after solving a series of twisted cases that include a demented serial killer and an attack on a woman’s safe house; Danny Sofer (Catherine Dent) is forced to deal with a Middle-Eastern widow; and partner Julien (Michael Jace) suddenly decides to treat his homosexuality as a disease.
The series never slows down one bit and it is better than ever. The introduction of drug lord Armadillo Quintero (Danny Pino) is a fantastic addition to the line-up of criminals and his numerous encounters with Mackey throughout the season are jaw-dropping to say the least. Among the best episodes include “Scar Tissue” and “Co-Pilot,” the much-talked about counterpart to the first season pilot that examines the first days at the Barn and the initial meeting between Mackey and Aceveda.
The DVD release for the show isn’t as extraordinary as the first season set, but it still has enough bonus content to keep the average fan asking for more. Presented in a four-disc box set, “The Shield: Season Two” includes all 13 originally broadcasted episodes and over six hours of special features. The video and audio transfers for the show haven’t improved from the last season, but that isn’t very surprising considering the specific style of the show. Although I would liked to have seen a widescreen aspect ratio for the second season, the video has again been transferred in its grainy, documentary-styled 4:3 presentation with the same 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track that accompanies most DVD releases these days.
The special features that appear on the set continue to make great use of DVD technology with unique featurettes that give the avid fan an inside look at the making of the show, but probably the most missed aspect of the first season DVD is the abundance of audio commentaries. It was a courageous effort to record a commentary for every episode the first time around and while applaud the cast for making the extra effort, it’s just not something that you can expect in the long-term. Instead, Shawn Ryan has blessed his viewers with four commentaries that appear on episodes one (Disc One), six (Disc Two), 12 (Disc Three) and 13 (Disc Four) featuring himself along with various cast and crew. The final three commentaries aren’t nearly rewarding as the first, with a lot of aesthetic-based discussion between the show’s writers and crew members, but the Shawn Ryan sit-down with Michael Chiklis and Benito Martinez on episode one is certainly worth checking out.
The rest of the special features appear on Disc Four (along with Episode 13, as usual) and include a large collection of deleted scenes, four production featurettes, and a discussion between a few of the show’s guest directors. The four production featurettes that appear include a 27-minute behind-the-scenes special on the wrap day of the second season, a brief look at the construction of the Barn (“Raising the Barn”) , and a 48-minute “Director’s Roundtable” that features a discussion with Shawn Ryan and three of the show’s directors: Scott Brazil, Paris Barclay and Peter Horton. “The Editing Room: Connie Gets Shot” examines the differences between the editor’s cut and the final broadcast version and can be viewed with optional commentary by Shawn Ryan, and “Sound Surgery” is an enjoyable extra that focuses on the various layers of sound that go into creating a single sequence.
The finale and highlight of the box set is a collection of 37 deleted scenes that include intros by creator Shawn Ryan about why certain scenes had to be cut, either for complaints about graphic nature by the studio heads or simply just for time. Whatever the reasons behind each edit, the decisions were made with the higher good of the show’s success in mind and they couldn’t have done a better job.
The second season of “The Shield” is probably the least flawed hour of television that I have ever seen. Although the show has the tendency to seem a bit dark at times - with storylines featuring vile criminals that affect the good-hearted nature of some of the officers - the documentary-flavored approach of the show would lose a certain level of realism if the writers didn’t revolt against the main characters and shock the audience. “The Shield” is without a doubt the most dramatic and neglected series on TV today, and if you haven’t yet taken the time to experience the best thing going for cable television since “The Sopranos,” it’s time to change that.