Binge Watchin' TV Review: The Shield
Welcome to Binge Watchin,’ where we take a look at some of the best TV shows available on streaming or disc that have a great catalogue of seasons to jump into and get sucked into the beautiful bliss of binge watching! From crime, action, comedy, drama, animation, etc., we’ll be evaluating an assortment of shows that will hopefully serve as a gateway to your next binge experience.
Series: The Shield
Number of Seasons: 7
What’s the show about? : Tough cop Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) runs an experimental LAPD division called “The Strike Team” dedicated to fighting street-level crime in the brutal (but fictional) Farmington district. Along with his friends and partners Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins), Curtis Lemansky (Kenny Johnson) and Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell), the Strike Team’s arrest records have made them untouchable, but politically ambitious Captain David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) is convinced Mackey and his team are on the take. His suspicions are proven true when an informer in the Strike Team winds up dead just as he was about to testify, but Mackey’s too canny an officer to go down without a fight.
Why should I watch?: While The Sopranos and Oz pre-date The Shield, arguably this was even more influential in the development of cable drama, in that it was the first hour-long to follow the exploits of a true anti-hero, in the guise of Michael Chiklis’ Vic Mackey. Tony Soprano was too thuggish to ever have a good side, but Mackey – for all of his faults – did have a moral code and a compassionate streak. While he was undeniably dirty and murderous, he also – in his own way – was a devoted cop and was capable of extreme heroism in the line-of-duty, making him one of the most compelling and unorthodox heroes in TV history. Truly, he set the tone for anti-heroes to follow. Without Vic Mackey there would certainly be no Walter White or any of the fellas from Sons of Anarchy (the brainchild of The Shield exec producer Kurt Sutter).
I remember how radical this show seemed in 2002. Back then, Michael Chiklis was known as this lovable, rotund, salt-of-the-earth type guy. His previous cop drama, The Commish, presented him as this cuddly, lovable police-commissioner/family man, and when that show ended he went on to star in several sitcoms. It’s amazing what good writing, a shaved head and a few trips to the gym can do as it utterly reinvented his career – not to mention the TV drama – when Chiklis went on to win an Emmy for best actor in a drama for his work in the first season. Within a few years, channels like FX, AMC, Showtime and more would be loaded with shows featuring tough anti-heroes, but Vic Mackey would remain the grand-daddy of them all.
If somehow you missed The Shield during its initial run, or were maybe a little young to watch the Strike Force do their thing, you’re in for a treat. While I wouldn’t call The Shield the best cable drama out there, it’s certainly among the most consistent. During its seven season run, The Shield maintained a steady level of quality, thanks in part to some inspired casting choices, where top actors like Glenn Close and Forrest Whitaker signed on for season-long run that gave the show new infusions of talent and also paved the way for big-screen stars to take on small-screen work without seeming like they were slumming (Close went onto a great multi-season run on Damages).
But, through it all The Shield never lost focus on Mackey or the Strike Team, with their brushes with the law and flirtation with criminality becoming more intense as the show went on. None of the guys were easy to like, especially Walton Goggins’ racist Shane, but they all remained at least somewhat sympathetic, and the writing (spearheaded by series mastermind Shawn Ryan) was superb. Right up until the last episode, The Shield kept moving along like a freight train, being one of the most consistently surprising and exciting shows on TV. It’s a seven-season masterpiece and a cop story on-par with classics of the genre.
Best Season: This is a tough one. Among fans, season four, which featured Glenn Close as Captain Monica Rawling and Anthony Anderson as the villainous Antwon Mitchel, is usually cited as the best. This makes sense, as it really is a great season. Close’s Rawling is a singularly great creation, with her as the new Captain who not only approves of Mackey’s methods, but protects him and the Strike Team as she believes they’re out there doing work that needs to be done (even if she’s semi-ignorant to their corruption).
For me though, nothing beats the last season. Basically, things start to fall apart for Mackey and the Strike Team, and with their backs to the wall it becomes an all-out war to guarantee self-survival, with them turning on each other and trying desperately to stay out of jail or worse. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the series finale ranks as maybe the most satisfying ending in the history of cable dramas.
Final Thoughts: Binging on The Shield is obviously a no-brainer. It’s quite the journey. Chiklis is iconic as Mackey, but really the entire cast is superb and the storytelling never lags. Heck, even if you watched it when it was on, I’d wager this is worth diving into all over again. Every time I see it pop up on Netflix I’m eager to start it all over again and I know from the first few notes of Vivian Romero’s ‘Just Another Day’ I’d be hooked all over again.