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All photos © FX
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t goes without saying that when “The Shield” came to its inevitable conclusion in the fall of 2008, many fans were disappointed to see it go. Personally, I think it ended at just the right time. Though some claim that the quality of the show dropped considerably over the course of its seven-season run, those people clearly weren’t paying attention. Sure, “The Shield” definitely evolved following its premiere in 2001, but for the most part, it was for the better. After all, while watching Vic Mackey and the rest of the Strike Team play crooked cops and robbers was fun for the first few years, it was only a matter of time before it caught up to them. And when it finally did, we knew it wasn’t going to end well. At least, not for the characters involved anyway, because the audience was rewarded with one of the best series finales in modern TV history.
When Shawn Ryan’s gritty cop drama first hit the airwaves, “The Shield” was lauded as groundbreaking television, but it wasn’t the first time a police series had shocked audiences. In 1993, both “NYPD Blue” and “Homicide: Life on the Street” earned a reputation for their risqué content, and “The Shield” even had its own counterpart in HBO’s “The Wire.” But the connections don’t end there. Clark Johnson not only played a major role in “Homicide,” starring as Det. Meldrick Lewis and even directing a few episodes, but he was also integral to the success of “The Shield,” helming the pilot among others. (His connection to David Simon’s “The Wire” brings things full circle.) Fans of “Homicide” were probably excited to see not one, but two alumni in the credits of the first episode of the "The Shield," but sadly, Reed Diamond was merely a decoy. Cast in the pivotal role of Det. Terry Crowley for the exact purpose of drawing in viewers, Ryan exploited the actor's notoriety by killing him in the very first episode, as if to say, “no one’s safe on my show.”
Killing off characters has since become standard practice on most television shows, but “The Shield” really took people by surprise when the incomparable Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) shot Crowley between the eyes on the suspicion that he was spying on the Strike Team. Granted, much of the shock factor wasn’t the actual death, but the fact that it was a cop-on-cop crime. None of that ever happened in the Los Angeles Rampart scandal that inspired the series, but the real-life case did serve as an interesting starting off point for Ryan to create his own world of corrupt cops. Casting Chiklis in the lead role probably seemed like a big risk at the time, but he brought to life one of the most engaging characters on TV – an antagonist you could actually root for. His multi-layered performance was rewarded with an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Best Actor, and although he was nominated again the next two seasons, Chiklis was never really recognized on the same level that he was during the show's debut year. It's a shame, because he managed to convince the audience that Mackey was a likeable guy all the way up to the finale. That alone should have netted him another award.
The same can be said of the series itself, which won a Golden Globe for Best Drama in its first season, but never made the ballot again. The real crime, however, is that with the exception of Glenn Close and CCH Pounder, no one else was ever nominated for their work on the show. The two biggest omissions were Walton Goggins and Jay Karnes. While the former didn’t deliver anything particularly special in his first few seasons, Det. Shane Vendrell eventually matured into the most complex character on “The Shield.” After getting into bed with numerous criminals (including guest stars Anthony Anderson and Franke Potente) and then killing his best friend (fan favorite Kenny Johnson) with a grenade in order to protect his family, Goggins brought a real sense of vulnerability to his performance that you don’t normally see on TV. Karnes, on the other hand, was a consistent performer from Day One, managing to outshine both Chiklis and Goggins on many occasions, not to mention Academy Award winner Forest Whittaker, who appeared in a multi-season arc as an IAD agent investigating Mackey.
From its great ensemble cast and the memorable group of characters they portrayed, to the writing team’s ability to consistently hammer out quality and controversial storylines, “The Shield” is by far one of the best cop dramas ever produced. Nay, one of the best dramas period. It may not have gotten the attention it deserved during its seven years on the air, but its release on DVD will ensure that the legacy lives on for many years to come. If nothing else, you can expect it to be heavily referenced when the next great cop drama arrives on television, because while “The Shield” may not have invented the wheel, it definitely burned the rubber off the tires enough times for people to take notice.
Special Features: The new complete series collection is a bit of a mixed bag. While the 34-page anthology book (filled with photos, quotes and a special letter from Shawn Ryan) is certainly pretty to look at, the discs are housed in such a manner that all but guarantees your DVDs will be scratched on arrival. On the bonus side of things, all of the previously released extras have been carried over, including countless audio commentaries with the cast and crew, deleted scenes, production featurettes and more. Unfortunately, there are only two new special features included, and neither one is going to entice owners of the individual season sets to trade up. “Rampart” is a 30-minute documentary that looks at the real-life police scandal that inspired the series, while “The Barn” is a short video tour of the set just before it was torn down. Those that don’t own the series will get more value out of this 29-disc set, but diehard fans should wait for something better. Hopefully, there’s an HD version available in the near future.