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The Shield: Season One

Cherub-faced but with a soul of hellfire, Michael Chiklis rails, rants, obsesses over drugs, and dons different masks for different people. Is this the star of the hit Fox FX network copshow The Shield? No, it's the Michael Chiklis who played John Belushi in the nearly-career destroying and now forgotten film Wired, based on Bob Woodward's "reporting" about the Saturday Night Live comedian. Has there been as dynamic a career turnaround in recent film history as the one put into effect by Chiklis? From the depths of enacting Belushi's humorless snot-slurper, Chiklis rose to be The Commish for five years before the short-lived sit-com Daddio. But when Shawn Ryan (a writer on Nash Bridges and other shows) came up with the pilot for The Shield Chiklis went after it like a bear and performed a stunning transformation upon himself, going from the compassionate portly Commish to the tightly wound drum of Vic Mackey, corrupt Strike Force cop of Farmington, California. As Mackey, Chiklis has a buffed body and a Bruce Willis head, the face of Curley Joe (whom he played in a TV movie) on the body of The Thing. He even chews gum defiantly. A new kind of Kojak for the 21st century, Mackey is the best cop in the Farmington "Barn," the police station housed in a converted church. He's a tough talker like Fred Dryer in Hunter but not above a little manslaughter to protect his interests. He's Richard Gere from Internal Affairs, a swaggering raconteur and sexual superman. The first season of The Shield follows Mackey as he knocks heads with his politically ambitious station captain (Benito Martinez, who looks like Keanu Reeves about 20 years from now), the street cop (Catherine Dent) the married Mackey falls in and out of bed with, the goody two shoes detective (Jay Karnes, a Sam Waterston type) who loves her from a distance, the detective's partner (the superb CCH Pounder), the sneaky assistant police chief (John Diehl), and members of Mackey's own corrupt team (including Walt Goggins, who is all front teeth, like Jim Carrey).

*          *          *

The Shield starts with a bang and stays intense for the next 12 hours. Episodes three and four are a little weak, but the series quickly found its feet again and became one of the most complex, frank, and impossible-to-ignore shows on TV, culminating in a final two hours that were among the best 120 minutes of cinema to be put on film last year. It's not TV, it's HBO — except it is on the usually more conservative Fox FX network. The obvious comparison is with The Sopranos, but while, for most of its fans, the HBO series seemed to tread water in its fourth season, The Shield put its stamp on television for all time. As with the Soprano family, the viewer gets addicted to people in The Shield he probably wouldn't like in real life, in this case a corrupt cop and family man, an unfaithful husband whose fellow team members can pick which side of the law they want to stay on. Like soap operas and comic books, the series can't resist softening Mackey as the series goes along, and unlike The Sopranos, the show still feels at times like a TV show (all those scenes back at the Barn when they could be out on the streets). Still, in the competition between the two series, The Shield proved more resilient: Chiklis even took an Emmy away from James Gandolfini. But fans (who have of course mounted their own Web site) know all this. Unlike the supplement-impoverished discs for The Sopranos, Fox Home Entertainment does right by The Shield. These four discs are packed. Every single episode has an audio commentary track, always with Shawn Ryan, and often with Chiklis, Martinez and other cast members, the staff writers, directors, DPs, and others. Though it sounds crowded in the recording booth, the tracks are very clear and informative. One of them was recorded the night before Chiklis won his Emmy. Once we get through all of those, there is a disc full of further extras. It kicks off with "Behind the Shield: Crossing the Line" (21:25), a straightforward "making-of" featurette, followed by a promotional short (2:26) culling elements from the "making-of." There is also the complete script to the pilot (78 screens worth), casting audition tapes for the eight main characters (which shows why they got the parts), and 17 deleted scenes gathered from throughout the season, introduced by Shawn Ryan, and including the amazing full six-minute take of Mackey's breakdown at the end of episode 13. The Shield is another argument in the case that claims television, with its greater latitude and freedom to explore character, is better these days than movies, that pallid, empty art form compromised by censorship boards and corporate mediocrity. It's a difficult argument to refute.
—D. K. Holm

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