"This Was Not A Show In Which Good Things Happened"
September 10, 2013 2:44 PM   Subscribe

In the summer of 2000, the top executives in charge of the basic-cable network FX—which was mostly known for showing reruns of The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer—were eager to make a change. They believed that in order to be relevant, they needed to present audiences with an original, prime time scripted drama that would be so provocative it would completely alter the way the network was perceived. Good Cop, Bad Cop: An Oral History of The Shield
posted by Ghostride The Whip (70 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm saving this for after work. I had to say that I love the series though. I originally watched the first season when it aired but I stopped after that. Last year, after I lost my mother, I bought the whole series and proceeded to marathon the whole thing. Chiklis and the rest of the strike team cast are amazing but Dutch was always my favorite closet psycho.

The show was a much needed distraction during a difficult time.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:47 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Where does 'The Shield' rank in that new-drama 'Mad Men,' 'Breaking Bad,' 'The Sopranos,' 'The Wire,' etc. etc. etc. pantheon?
posted by box at 2:51 PM on September 10, 2013


Chiklis had shaved his head and lost more than 40 pounds. In fact, if Reilly's original choice for the role, Eric Stoltz, had accepted FX's offer to play Mackey, Chiklis would have never even gotten the chance to audition.

Is there a single role in Hollywood for which Eric Stoltz was not once considered for?
posted by eyeballkid at 2:52 PM on September 10, 2013 [19 favorites]


I think The Shield is pretty much the most immediately-identifiable and directly-responsible precursor to the things we see today. Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue led to The Shield and The Shield has given us the rest (by which I mean "gritty urban drama"). It's pretty hokey when you go back and watch it now (I started a rewatch recently but stopped after season 1, I should get back into it) but yeah, it's good stuff.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:54 PM on September 10, 2013


For me, The Shield is one of my favorite series of all time so I'd rank it pretty high up there.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:55 PM on September 10, 2013


I'm with turbid dahlia -- The Shield is good if and only if you can relocate yourself to that time before it and all its nephews had slashed across our basic-cable screens. That is, don't think about The Sopranos or The Wire (HBO is a different animal) but imagine it before Mad Men and Justified and Breaking Bad, and it's pretty impressive.
posted by Etrigan at 2:57 PM on September 10, 2013


Unlike the way The Sopranos went out, The Shield left nearly no questions unanswered and delivered pure satisfaction to its diehard followers.

Well, that final scene is open to two interpretations: Either he violates his deal or he grinds out.

I've always admired that show.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:01 PM on September 10, 2013


I love The Shield and I think it holds up pretty well. It's basically NYPD Blue (interrogation room, office banter, action locations) but with hardcore department corruption. Sometimes it's about skimming off the top, sometimes it's about justice. Always about breaking the rules. Based on a true story, too. Ba-pa-da-ba-baa..
posted by phaedon at 3:01 PM on September 10, 2013


I'd consider it a precursor to Breaking Bad's "everything that can go wrong will go even worse than that" style of storytelling. It also managed to do a bang up job of tying up the series.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:04 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I watched it and liked it, but after a while I got really tired of it because everyone was so urgent and breathless all of the time.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:08 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I LOVE THE SHIELD!

it's awesome

possibly one of the best series wrap ups ever.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:17 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Where does 'The Shield' rank in that new-drama 'Mad Men,' 'Breaking Bad,' 'The Sopranos,' 'The Wire,' etc. etc. etc. pantheon?

This is obviously a personal taste, but I think that while The Shield lacked the artistic flourishes of The Sopranos or Mad Men, it is the king of story qua story in a way that only Breaking Bad can touch. It wasn't interested in metaphor, or much interested in character development that wasn't firmly anchored to story. No episodes of the Shield featured Vic Mackey repairing his house's water heater (but it's more than just a water heater, and that makes it interesting!) or anything like that. It was pulpy, trashy, fun story.

That's why to date it has the best series ending (meaning the last seven or so episodes) of any of the great cable shows. Breaking Bad is going to have to really stick the landing to top it. I spent the final half of the final season of The Shield in a full on panic attack that BB only elicited in me during this most recent episode.

Goddamn The Shield is a great show.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:29 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Huh. I've been meaning to give it a shot now that I've got netflix streaming, since the biggest problem I have with serial shows is keeping up week to week (TV tends to be the lowest priority in social stuff), so I like to binge. Should I hold off on reading this link until I get through the series?
posted by klangklangston at 3:34 PM on September 10, 2013


Yeah, you'll want to because this is a pretty deep-dive into some of the major plot elements (which is why I thought it was a great read for fans of the show).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:40 PM on September 10, 2013


Where does 'The Shield' rank in that new-drama 'Mad Men,' 'Breaking Bad,' 'The Sopranos,' 'The Wire,' etc. etc. etc. pantheon?

I rank them: The Wire, The Sopranos, The Shield, Breaking Bad, Mad Men

I found The Shield gripping in a way that only Breaking Bad could compare to; both The Shield and Breaking Bad made you love/hate the protagonist in a way that wasn't possible with either The Wire or The Sopranos, even though all four shows explored similar themes. Where I think The Shield had the edge was that I always felt Mackey, no matter how awful he acted, wanted to be a better person than he was; once Walter White crossed over into Bad Person territory, he embraced it. Since I find the struggle so appealing, I preferred The Shield.

I still preferred The Wire above all else. It played the long game in its storytelling like no other show before or since (in my opinion, obviously) and its incredible attention to detail and ability to give depth to so many characters over just, what, 60 episodes? is just astounding. I also liked the verisimilitude of The Wire and The Sopranos and how those shows allowed myself to believe that the characters actually sorta, kinda were real people; Vic and Walter and their colleagues to me were more larger than life and always felt more like "characters."

One thing The Shield seemed to manage better than others was the frenzied pace it took on in its final two seasons, relentlessly building towards a totally appropriate, disturbing, and satisfying climax. The Wire's "red ribbon killer" sequence toward the end was its weakest part for me, and The Sopranos just kind of...stopped. I don't know if Breaking Bad can pull a rabbit out of a hat or not.

It's of course fun to compare and contrast these shows, but there's not much separating the top four in my book. You should and must watch them all.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:44 PM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Artistically, I don't think The Shield can really compete with the Wire or the Sopranos. There's really no comparison, Shield is not on the same level. The Shield is like the ultimate trashy comic book of a TV show, while The Wire is like the ultimate Dickens novel. The Wire was much more ambitious, had far more literary depth, and delivered fully. The Sopranos was not quite up The Wire in certain ways but James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano was one of the greatest performances and most fully realized characters in television history.

The Shield was trashy and wildly cartoonish. A week in the Farmington district featured more elaborate multiple murders and grotesque rapes than a year in the entire state of California. The characters were well acted and had more sheen and depth than normal but were cop show stereotypes -- the slick political lieutenant, the badass renegade, the geeky detective. But boy was the show addictive. For sheer pleasure and compulsive watchability, it was up there in TV annals. I think the closest comparison is Breaking Bad, which is a little more cartoonish than people admit (no, Walter White could not actually do all this shit) but has more genuine originality than The Shield.
posted by zipadee at 3:55 PM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


MoonOrb: "The Wire's "red ribbon killer" sequence toward the end was its weakest part for me, and The Sopranos just kind of...stopped."

I disagree, and this is probably why I put The Wire above all other drama series. I think it perfectly encapsulated how fucked up the entire city was. Even though the hoax was poorly executed by a drunk moron, everyone still bought into the lie and spun it to their advantage. And it did it in a way that wasn't out of character for anyone. There were times when it got slow and almost uninteresting, but it always stayed true to the characters in a way even Breaking Bad hasn't.
posted by wierdo at 4:05 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Personally, I prefer The Shield's trashiness to The Wire's didacticism or the Sopranos pretentiousness. All three are great shows, and I would put the Wire above The Shield if it weren't for The Wire's fifth season, but to me "trashy" just isn't a bad word.

The Shield is the Misfits, The Wire is Springsteen and The Sopranos is Steely Dan. Or something like that.

(Speaking of bad final seasons, the third season of Deadwood really kicked it out of these conversations, didn't it?)
posted by Bookhouse at 4:05 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Shield was great but marred by some episodes and plots which had the fingerprints of network execs demanding marketable storylined all over them
posted by Bwithh at 4:06 PM on September 10, 2013


zipadee: "A week in the Farmington district featured more elaborate multiple murders and grotesque rapes than a year in the entire state of California."

Actually, I thought it reflected levels and types of crime in the area the show is set in pretty well. While "Farmington" as an entity obviously doesn't exist it is based on a real continuous stretch of LA geography I'm fairly familiar with and to be honest, while it's better today, there really was that much crime in the area at the time.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:20 PM on September 10, 2013


i remember when FX launched it billed itself as the first all-live content, 24hr network. that didn't last very long

one of the more interesting shows is they'd have someone on the road visiting people's homes and talking about their collectables. they must not have had a very strong vetting process, one lady they visited had empty m&m wrappers in an album as her "collection" of m&m "collectables".

(on visiting the fX wikipage, apparently classic tv shows were part of the original content, but the focus was on live content.)
posted by camdan at 4:30 PM on September 10, 2013


Ghostride The Whip, that was a fucking great read. Thanks for posting that. Feel almost a little choked up reading the sections about Lem and Shane.
posted by MoonOrb at 4:33 PM on September 10, 2013


Wow, look at all of the sockdologizing old man-traps who are neglecting to consider Deadwood.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:38 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't seem to find a screen cap of the "Farmington" map which could be seen at least in one of the episodes when they're having "sweep day". The "Farmington" district is basically a long stretch from Glassell Park south of Glendale down through Eagle Rock along what they refer to in The Shield as the "Alvarado Corridor" along Alvarado Blvd capped off by bits of K-town at the southern end. I think parts of the Rampart district where in the map as well but I'm not sure. Would be appropriate since the Rampart stuff served as inspiration for the character of Vic Mackie and The Shield in general.

I've actually had various crime/gang related experiences in that area myself.

There was one incident which had me and my friends ending up in the middle of police chasing down and rounding up armed gang members in K-town at the southern end of the Farmington map.

Then there was me and some of my martial arts buddies getting held up by Avenidos gang members at gun point at the northern end in the Highland Park area trying to talk them out of shooting us dead. We all had shaved heads so they thought we were from a rival set. Luckily we convinced them that we weren't and so they merely took all of our money.

And a bunch of other incidents in the middle bits.

Yeah, The Shield wasn't as much of an exaggeration in terms of crime and street life as it may seem.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:41 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I admit I only caught a few random episodes of The Shield. What pops into my mind whenever I saw it was good on Michael Chiklis for actually getting a big gig after the debacle that was Wired. For at least a little while Chiklis was a real recipient of you'll-never-work-in-this-town-again blacklisting.
posted by zardoz at 4:41 PM on September 10, 2013


once Walter White crossed over into Bad Person territory, he embraced it.

You just completely nailed the reason I lost interest in this show early in season 4 after devouring seasons 1-3. I think after "Fly" in season 3 I was thinking I was done with these characters, and after watching "Boxcutter" I had pretty much decided I don't like anyone on this show anymore. I wasn't going to continue watching a show where I am hoping the main characters would just get busted already.
posted by Hoopo at 4:45 PM on September 10, 2013


SPOILER*********


Oh Jesus. That scene where Shane drops the grenade in the truck with Lem and then he's still alive. Fuck. That is just too much to even think about.

Clearly one of the heavy hitters in the early "golden age of TV" we're all living in. Often neglected in lists and whatnot.
posted by lattiboy at 4:45 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


SPOILER******


Also, Forrest. Fucking. Whitaker. What a role. So good. Sooooo good.

The absolute bottom he hits when he realizes he won't be able to take down the Strike Team.
posted by lattiboy at 4:47 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was just involved in a debate recently as to whether The Shield or The Wire was better (with Homicide: Life on the Streets running a VERY close third). I content that The Wire had no bad seasons, and The Shield had one demonstrably awful season, so The Wire wins by a nose, but I know that reasonable minds can differ on both points.
posted by janey47 at 4:48 PM on September 10, 2013


The Shield had pretty much the best final season of all time. The ending was utterly perfect.
posted by Sangermaine at 4:54 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Breaking Bad always had a fundamental problem, which is that it was always the mission of the show's writers to turn Walter evil. This caused them to make Walter do several very improbable things if you think of him as a real person, but were in line with the show's original stated mission, and if you squint and look past that the rest was all very good.

Dexter had a similar problem, and I only watched one season because I was warned. Dexter has two traits found in serial killers; he is extremely organized, lacks emotions, and is able to easily feign emotion, e.g. he's a sociopath, but he also has an irresistable compulsion to kill. The problem is that while there are serial killers with both of these traits they aren't the same serial killers and combining them makes Dexter a very improbable person.

Meanwhile The Wire and The Sopranos were pitch-perfect on characterization. I haven't watched The Shield yet but after reading some of this it will be next after I'm done with Babylon 5.
posted by localroger at 4:55 PM on September 10, 2013


I'm just finishing up with watching The Shield. For me, Forrest Whitaker was a low point of the series -- I just found Kavanaugh wildly unbelievable.
posted by bfranklin at 5:01 PM on September 10, 2013


I've never watched The Shield but I always found it amusing that Michael Chiklis was also The Commish.
posted by chrominance at 5:29 PM on September 10, 2013


I'm still waiting for Season 8. It can't be over.
posted by Apoch at 5:42 PM on September 10, 2013


The Shield had pretty much the best final season of all time. The ending was utterly perfect.

It is difficult to come up with another example of a show that managed to so deftly skate on the edge for so long, to have the viewer both root for and against an utterly corrupt protagonist — even in the closing seconds of the last episode. Maybe the UK version of House of Cards, but there was nothing at all redeeming about Urquhart.

While The Shield's narrative wasn't complicated in terms of symbolism, the writers and actors made moral conflict the core of the show, to a degree that wasn't done before. I don't think Breaking Bad would have been possible without The Shield — studio executives would not have allowed the writers to make Walt as evil as written.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:48 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


cjorgensen : Well, that final scene is open to two interpretations: Either he violates his deal or he grinds out.

MAJOR SPOILER***

After recently rewatching the whole series through to the end, I threw out my initial theory that Vic simply ends up eating his gun after leaving the office. And I think with that one brief, wordless scene The Shield proved it could, when it wanted to, do metaphor and characterisation every bit as well as The Wire or Breaking Bad.

The points that made me second guess my assumption were his subtle reaction to the sirens passing outside (he's not resigned to irrelevance; he's plotting his way right back out of it, fundamentally unchanged by everything that's happened), and how clearly defined it is that Olivia only has control over him during office hours: Vic's nights are still entirely his own (as symbolised by the lights going out, and he retrieves his 'red lightsaber', the .357 Desert Eagle, the weapon with which he was willing to gun down Shane, Mara and Jackson just to protect himself). This is a man who we've seen get himself out of far worse situations with much less wiggle room.

IMO Vic's life from then on just repeats: he once more plots his way back to a position of autonomy, tricks people into trusting him, reclaims/recaptures his family, fucks it all up through greed and pride, gets a lot of people hurt, broken or killed, and earns himself a demotion that is only temporary. And on it goes.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 6:15 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, The Shield wasn't as much of an exaggeration in terms of crime and street life as it may seem.
What about the one where a kidnap victim is being kept tied up in a bath and body parts cut off them bit by bit? How realistic is that?
that was when I stopped watching because honestly, that's not exactly entertaining
posted by glasseyes at 6:17 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well do I have some bad news for you about Game of Thrones
posted by Apocryphon at 6:28 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


glasseyes: "What about the one where a kidnap victim is being kept tied up in a bath and body parts cut off them bit by bit? How realistic is that?"

To be exact: the girl is not actually being cut up bit by bit. The woman of the couple had the man cut off one hand (or was it the whole lower arm?) of the victim because she didn't like the way he had looked at her and with a limb cut off she wouldn't be as pretty.

Anyhow, check out this page for a number of serial killers with partners and couples who'd abduct, torture and kill their victims. It's rare for sure but not at all unheard of.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:40 PM on September 10, 2013


I watched The Shield in 2008, after it had finished, but while its influence still was still being felt.

The pilot was amazing. I came in to it with, oddly, because I remember Chiklis from The Commish, a show I watched with my parents when I was a kid. When Vic shoots his fellow officer I was stunned. And excited. I've been keeping tabs on the actors and writers from this show ever since.

It's easily in my top 3: The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Shield.
posted by flippant at 6:45 PM on September 10, 2013


Take Judith and Alvin Neelley for example. Eerily similar to the episode you mentioned in that Judith appears to have been the driving forces behind their two murders. The second murder in particular involved the abduction of Janice Chatman whom they took to their motel room where they tortured her and ultimately killed her.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:45 PM on September 10, 2013


Ah, crap missed the edit window on my 2nd last comment. Here's the link to the page for a number of serial killers with partners and serial killing couples I had meant to add.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:47 PM on September 10, 2013


To be exact: the girl is not actually being cut up bit by bit. The woman of the couple had the man cut off one hand (or was it the whole lower arm?) of the victim because she didn't like the way he had looked at her and with a limb cut off she wouldn't be as pretty.

That's not really much better you know. I still don't find it an entertaining story.

As to realism, I always think it's pertinent to ask if one has come across similar events or knows anybody who has? I know plenty of people whose lives as boring as mine and find it hard to parse these extravagantly violent stories as anything other than... perversely anomalous. Anyone's mileage may vary of course.
posted by glasseyes at 6:56 PM on September 10, 2013


The Wire I get but The Shield seemed to me to be as fantastic as for instance, Angel. But hey, what do I know? Not trying to be snarky here.
posted by glasseyes at 6:59 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only quibble I have with the Shield is that they had a gay black patrol rookie with strong plot potential but then the guy underwent gay therapy and took up with a woman and he was never heard from again.

He was a great character because he had the naivete of someone who believed in law and order but the scales began to fall from his eyes when Vic Mackey and he butted heads.
posted by Renoroc at 7:09 PM on September 10, 2013


So it sounds like I may have made a mistake bailing on The Shield right before the last season. But man, I hated Vic so much. I hate dirty cops so intensely, in a way that derives from a childhood loathing of anyone who has power and abuses it, that he was never an antihero for me, just a straight-up villain. I would love to see Walter White blow him the fuck up.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:11 PM on September 10, 2013


...but then the guy underwent gay therapy and took up with a woman and he was never heard from again.

Julien was a major character throughout, to the point of being on the strike team for (iirc) the last two seasons. His repressed sexuality is hinted at right up until the end, and figured multiple times as Vic and others used it against him.

He was an interesting character whose moral uprightness is also a terrible burden that cost him his true sexuality, and perhaps being so repressed and determinedly straight-laced is what keeps him blinkered to the rest of the strike team's dirty deeds: he only ever has vague suspicions even as he unwittingly aids many of Vic's criminal schemes, but he's too glued to the rails of duty to engage in the subterfuge necessary to properly bust his teammates.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 7:30 PM on September 10, 2013


glasseyes: "That's not really much better you know. I still don't find it an entertaining story."

Well and that's fine, I have no issue with that. I only wanted to clarify things because this story wasn't doing violence for violence's sake. There was an internal logic to why the girl was mutilated by her abductors and it made sense in terms of the story line. And I was objecting to the notion that the story line is unrealistic.

I actually think that The Shield writers made quite an effort to ground their plots even though they may quite often seem wild at the surface. A lot of what Vic and his crew manage to pull off involves a huge amount of crazy luck and leaves you feeling like you just had a near miss on a freeway. But for the most part the show manages to ground even those bits by ensuring that there is always fallout. Every time they get away with something it throws them off course to some varying degree and adds complications to their lives and that is what prevents the crazy stuff from being meaningless spectacle.

Renoroc: "The only quibble I have with the Shield is that they had a gay black patrol rookie with strong plot potential but then the guy underwent gay therapy and took up with a woman and he was never heard from again."

I actually liked that they allowed Julien's character to take route rather than to provide a fairy tale ending for him. It gave his character and his struggles more weight and felt more honest. I mean, really, nobody on that show gets an easy way out unless it's feet first.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 7:43 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Julien's story is still left twisting in the wind, while everyone else's ties up.

It's the tiniest edge on what is otherwise a really polished show, but it always catches me on re-watches.
posted by Imperfect at 7:43 PM on September 10, 2013


The only quibble I have with the Shield is that they had a gay black patrol rookie with strong plot potential but then the guy underwent gay therapy and took up with a woman and he was never heard from again.

Apparently that subplot was the victim of two different factors: first, Michael Jace apparently decided he wasn't comfortable playing a gay character, and second, Shawn Ryan decided he didn't have enough time in the series to realistically depict the experience of a closeted man married to a woman. But yes, it's somewhat jarring how quickly that plot thread is dropped in season three or whenever it was.
posted by Rangeboy at 7:46 PM on September 10, 2013


Also, the two most chilling words ever uttered on television? "Family meeting."
posted by Rangeboy at 7:52 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the summer of 2000, the top executives in charge of the basic-cable network FX...needed to present audiences with an original, prime time scripted drama that would be so provocative it would completely alter the way the network was perceived: Son of the Beach
posted by 445supermag at 7:59 PM on September 10, 2013


I came in to it with, oddly, because I remember Chiklis from The Commish, a show I watched with my parents when I was a kid.

So I got turned onto it by my friends and I was going "The Commish? C'mon, me and my mom used to watch that show" right up until the scene where Michael Chiklis goes crashing through a goddamn fence during a foot chase.

The Wire I get but The Shield seemed to me to be as fantastic as for instance, Angel. But hey, what do I know? Not trying to be snarky here.

The Shield is basically The Justice League of Crooked Cops so rather than having superheroic adventures and saving the world, they are undertaking super villainous schemes to clean up the streets and profit on the side and above all else, not get their comeuppance. Vic Mackey is basically anti-Robert Downey Junior as Iron Man. Smug, charismatic, determined to get what he wants, only a dirty cop rather than a playboy industrialist.

And the thing is Vic Mackey is so amazingly charismatic that you are frequently rooting for him even though he is a terrible person and you watch him do terrible things over and over again.

Forrest Whitaker was a low point of the series -- I just found Kavanaugh wildly unbelievable.

I really, really didn't like the Kavanaugh season. Hated it. Almost stopped watching the show. But I hung in, because the writers had surprised me so many times before that I had to see what they were going to do with it. And then it was as if Valjean was so good, he got Javert to steal a loaf of bread rather than commit suicide and I went holy shiiiiiiit.

And what's amazing is by any reasonable standard, you should be rooting for Kavanaugh, but you're not!
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:25 PM on September 10, 2013


Uh, spoilers, for theorizing what happens after the end of the final episode.

I can't see Mackey killing himself, but I also can't see him doing anything to jeopardize the narrow ledge of safety that, at the end, is all he has left. He's lost Corrine, he's got no contact with the kids (I'm not just imagining that, right?), and no one, absolutely no one at any level of law enforcement will go anywhere near him ever again. He'll never have any kind of authority, let alone freedom again, which is hell for him.

However, the one thing about Mackey is that he wasn't stupid. Impulsive, yes. However, he's got one choice: do the job now, or not. Not doing the job renders his immunity void, and he'll be in jail immediately, and Ronnie would be just the first person in a very, very long line of people who would make sure Vic suffered before he died. I'm pretty sure, too, that his imprisonment would have had a severe effect on tution for his children.

At the end, honestly, if Vic had heard the sirens, picked up the gun, then looked at it, put it away, and sat back down, that, maybe, would have been a harder hitting ending.

Also, Deadwood, for what happened to the show, managed to end better than most shows cancelled before their time. It's just a damn shame the show was there before everyone realized how good HBO and Showtime series were becoming. If it had started even a couple seasons later, it probably would have been allowed to finish. Then again, Deadwood itself is partly the reason why we have such high quality tv now.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:48 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


To even consider Mad Men in the same league as the rest is not fair. Mad Men is a good series...but mostly eye candy.

The Shield is a story-driven epic. LA Cops doing LA things and interacting with LA in a way only cops can.

You aren't supposed to love the characters as much as you are supposed to hate them. Thats what makes the series so great. Nobody wants to be any of those cops. But everybody wants to know what they are going to do next.

'Heat' was an excellent movie in the same genre. I think the Shield is the ugly sergeant to Heat's suave colonel.

Also, Mackey is a smart (but dirty) guy. I'm positive he wrote his 20 page reports every day, but when the clock hit 6, he went out and did what you expect him to do. Then back at 9am he would be in front of his computer. That is his grind.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:02 PM on September 10, 2013


Where does 'The Shield' rank in that new-drama 'Mad Men,' 'Breaking Bad,' 'The Sopranos,' 'The Wire,' etc. etc. etc. pantheon?

Here's my ranking:

1. The Wire
2. Breaking Bad
3. Justified
4. The Shield
5. Mad Men
6. The Sopranos

I place The Sopranos last mostly because I was disappointed with how far Chase went in demonizing Tony. In fact, much as the article mentions, I very frequently compare the endings of The Shield with The Sopranos. The Shield has one of the best series endings of all times, and Shawn Ryan really knew what to do with an anti-hero. The finale of The Sopranos was frankly inferior with how it resolved its protagonist's fate.

Oops, did Justified sneak in there? Well, what kind of list would this be without it? I'd say it's almost a tie between Justified and The Shield, although the former edges out the latter due to its second season, which was one of the best things of anything ever.

You could even say that it's pretty tight between Breaking Bad, Justified and The Shield. They are all super plot-driven shows with great acting and writing, with the protagonist being played by an outstanding actor in an iconic role.

I love Mad Men, but it can sometimes take a while for each season to build up its dramatic stake. The Sopranos was great, and it was flawed. As for The Wire, I'm one of those rabid fans who would be genuinely shocked if a better TV show is made in my lifetime.
posted by Edgewise at 10:38 PM on September 10, 2013


The Wire I get but The Shield seemed to me to be as fantastic as for instance, Angel. But hey, what do I know? Not trying to be snarky here.

It's funny, because that put me off of watching The Shield for a long time. Basically, The Wire ruined me on police procedurals for a long time. The Shield was actually the first one I was able to watch after it ended. What I discovered (or rationalized) was that, although your criticism is true, it's also true of almost all scripted drama. In other words, it's not fair to hold police procedurals to the standard of The Wire because you don't hold other shows to that standard; it just so happens that there is no equivalent in other TV genres. Of course, as I stated in the last post, I really put The Wire on a pedestal, so this logic may not work for you.
posted by Edgewise at 10:48 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem the Sopranos suffered, which very few of the other great shows of the past 15 years suffered, was that Chase and Gandolfini got very evidently bored about half way through. The digressions, the oddball choices of peripheral characters to get big screen time, the long gaps between short seasons, etc. Of course a lot of this was bred into the bone of a very narrow premise being carried out by primary characters who (go back to the first season) were all, Tony aside, stereotypes or parodies. Other creators learned from this and have themselves more room to grow and stay interested.

The fifth season of the Wire was terrible. Anachronistic axe grinding newspaper stuff, McNulty faking crimes. Ugh.
posted by MattD at 10:55 PM on September 10, 2013


What a great read! I watched The Shield after The Wire was over. It was really really hard to watch Vic Mackey & co. terrorizing the folks of Farmington, even the drug dealers, because The Wire had shown me who those people were. The Shield seemed to ignore their humanity in the same way most other cop shows did. I hated the show at first, to be honest, and I thought anyone who liked it must be a meathead. But then I found that I was bingeing on it, and could not stop. I discovered it's depth, and was totally hooked. I still found many aspects troubling, but it was a great show, and a great precursor to many other great shows.
posted by sundaydriver at 1:15 AM on September 11, 2013


I could go on and on and on about The Shield, because I absolutely adored it, and I loved this article, how the actors got so involved in the characters and got so goddamn angry when they saw that was going to happen to other characters.

I mean, god, this bit:
But the cast and the crew at the time all took it personally. CCH Pounder was sitting next to me on set, and she turned to me and said, "You're Godless." I said, "It's not even my script." She then said, "All of you writers are Godless. There's no reason to do this." She was furious.
Fuck yes.

The Wire I get but The Shield seemed to me to be as fantastic as for instance, Angel. But hey, what do I know?

What makes that better is that Shawn Ryan co-wrote what I think is one of the best episodes of Angel - The Thin Dead Line. Which reads as "the Barn in a supernatural universe" to me.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:52 AM on September 11, 2013


I'd definitely put Justified in an upper tier. Fantastic writing, great acting. Some of it can get a touch over the top at times, but the characters always pull things back together.

The fifth season of The Wire is, well, it's not good. At least the news/fake news/fake serial killer thing. All of the other parts are fantastic, Bubbles, Michael, Dookie, Omar, Marlo, Slim Charles with one of the best decisions made by anyone in he whole series. But, in the end, anything coming after the fourth season of the Wire would have been a let down. Granted, the fourth season, and the weight it carried, was entirely reliant on the build up to that point, but damn, that's amazing television.*

Anyone who hasn't seen Homicide, though, should definitely check it out. It is a little dated, but if you can remember that the things that seem so standard to us in great television were, for the most part, done first in Homicide. The story arcs lasting whole seasons (or longer), the character growth and outright change over time, the camera work, at the time were groundbreaking.

personal ranking of seasons in the Wire, best to... Not as good: 4/2/3/1/5
posted by Ghidorah at 5:35 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Excellent article. I only caught random episodes of the Shield when it was airing due to schedule. However, when I did, I always enjoyed it. Going to have to find it somewhere since Netflix Canada doesn't have it listed.
posted by arcticseal at 7:48 AM on September 11, 2013


Anyone who hasn't seen Homicide, though, should definitely check it out. It is a little dated, but if you can remember that the things that seem so standard to us in great television were, for the most part, done first in Homicide. The story arcs lasting whole seasons (or longer), the character growth and outright change over time, the camera work, at the time were groundbreaking.

I've been doing a very slow rewatch with my wife, and it's amazing. When it aired, I thought it was awesome...now I see how much of it had an impact on TV generally. I remember being excited when some of the camera techniques I was used to from Homicide showed up in some episodes of Bablyon 5

Someday, I may start working on a genealogy of modern TV in this golden age...from Hill Street Blues down to what we have now, in a lot of different ways and genres.
posted by nubs at 8:06 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seemed to me The Wire's strength was the personal investment of David Simon due to his real-life experience with the world it depicted. I think this personal investment was also the weakness of the fifth season. Simon's disgust and sadness about the entire broken cycle of crime, urban poverty, and political corruption rang clear throughout the first four seasons. He was able to manage enough distance from the situations to be able to tell a nuanced, realistic, engrossing story.

I think he couldn't manage this distance in the fifth season because the focus was news and the media, and that's where his connection was most personal. In all the other stories he told, in his real life he was an observer but not a long-term direct participant. But he actually worked as a reporter and therefore everything in the fifth season contains his obvious personal frustration. The main reporter character was a bit of a Mary Sue and it seemed like many of the newspaper higher-ups were more caricatures of bosses Simon hated than actual people. They lacked the nuance of the "evil" higher-ups you saw in the other political or police spheres that the show covered. The end result was the season was more like a rant than a Greek tragedy. It felt like his anger spilled over and he lost control trying to point out how stupid everyone was, and you ended up with a season that was far more implausible--and thus less affecting--than prior ones.
posted by schroedinger at 8:15 AM on September 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've watched Breaking Bad into the third season, but I'm a little underwhelmed. I could buy Walter if he returned home after his adventures to kiss his wife and pat Jr's head, but earning money while hurting their perception of them seems self-defeating. His relationship with his family feels a bit flimsy on his side, so I can't get convinced about his motives.

The plot also takes some outlandish turns like the incident where he takes out an outpost with explosive powder or deciding that the safest way to handle dealing is to set up a distribution network without muscle. Actually one thing I like is how often they are proven to be inept.

I don't care much about the voyeuristic moments of the show either (Walter's surgery, shooting needles, exploding cops etc.), but for me the main thing is I'm not interested in Walter anymore. Jesse or the Pollos guy, yes, but Walter... kinda indifferent now.

I kind of think Breaking Bad is buoyed by its recency just like LOST was. It is very pretty and the acting is good though; I just wish I could like it more.
posted by ersatz at 10:14 AM on September 11, 2013


I think that if Breaking Bad can stick the landing, it will cement its place in the pantheon; LOST is going to be lost to time I think, given its inconsistent mythos and finale. I'm not sure LOST will have a lasting impact - lots of attempts to duplicate it, but the audience is now far more cautious about investing in a show with a strange premise, lots of mystery, and no clear indication that the writers know how to end it.

As far as Breaking Bad goes, Walt is fascinating to me; it's amazing to watch all of his frustrated ambition and genius come out the way it does. His ambivalent relationship with his family is part of that; there are layers of history in his relationship with Skyler that the show only hints at.

What I'm getting the most interested in though is Hank's arc through the show; he initially came across as smart, but an overbearing, condescending ass...now he's something else - smart, persistent, thoughtful, intense. His arc has been the opposite of Walt's in many ways, which is something I think his worth examining further, but he seems like the character no one pays any attention to. (I've only seen up to the end of part 1 of Season 5 (Hank, with the book, on the toilet) so I'm hoping no one gives anything away).
posted by nubs at 1:53 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I downloaded The Shield and have started watching it. Turbid dahlia called it "hokey", and it sure is. It's also not in HD, which is kind of jarring. I've only watched a few episodes, so I'll keep at it.
posted by ryanrs at 8:44 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I too found the first seasons pretty unsophisticated. It really starts to come together as first rate drama some time after S3, but since it's all dependent on the events of the prior seasons, so you need to watch from the start.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 12:24 PM on September 12, 2013


Early seasons of The Shield and the first season of Justified both suffer from a common flaw that they both eventually outgrew (moreso for Justified, but that's because The Shield blazed the trail): they started out being very episodic, with longer arcs being mixed in with the more traditional one-episode dramas. I think this is common in series that have ambitious showrunners who are forced to prove themselves to the network before they get permission to tell longer stories. It could also be partly due to the fact that it takes time to build up those serial narratives, so you need quick and dirty filler in the meantime.
posted by Edgewise at 4:23 PM on September 12, 2013


What I'm getting the most interested in though is Hank's arc through the show; he initially came across as smart, but an overbearing, condescending ass...now he's something else - smart, persistent, thoughtful, intense. His arc has been the opposite of Walt's in many ways, which is something I think his worth examining further, but he seems like the character no one pays any attention to.

I dunno, I've loved Hank as a character from the beginning, even when he was a bit of an ass. His evolution from bumbling to extremely competent actually mirrors Walt's. One of my favorite episodes of any show is "One Minute," and not just for the crazy finale. The entire episode was a Hank tour de force. By the end of the last scene, I was standing and hollering like my team won the Superbowl. For a long time, he's pretty much represented the polar opposite of Walt, in my eyes. So much so that I was really disappointed by something he said in a recent episode, which I shan't ruin for you. Those of you who saw it know what I'm talking about (probably).
posted by Edgewise at 4:31 PM on September 12, 2013


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