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Before The Wire There Was The Shield

by Sifaeli Tesha
23 June 2013 25 Comments

One of the greatest modern crime dramas to come out of the USA: The Shield. You might have missed it but there's still chance to rediscover it. The central character is fantastic.

Vic Mackey; confused

What is it about US cop shows? The Americans just seem to do them better. Don’t get me wrong some cracking character driven police dramas have come out of the UK. But the best offerings coming out of the States will take all that’s good from the likes of Prime Suspect, Cracker and Luther then add more guns, car chases and cool as fuck street slang. However, even the grittiest US police procedurals tend to have a clear moral compass. Good guys (the police) going after bad guys (crooks). The good stay good the bad either stay bad or see the error of their ways, which in real life is obviously bollocks. So if you like your police dramas less black and white, FX’s The Shield is written in grey ink on a rainforest of grey paper.

The show revolves around the fictional Farmington district of LA and the police charged with keeping it safe. The main focus is the Strike Team, an experimental anti-gang unit given free reign to rid the streets of drugs and violence. Led by the morally ambiguous Vic Mackey, the team use this procedural freedom to bring their own version of justice to the streets by any means necessary.

Loosely based on the widespread corruption scandal in the Rampart Division of the LAPD in the late ‘90s – when over 70 officers in the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums anti-gang unit (CRASH) were accused of gross misconduct – The Shield has created bundles of storylines from the charges brought on the bent coppers. Charges like unprovoked shootings, unprovoked beatings, planting evidence, framing suspects, stealing and dealing narcotics, armed robbery, perjury, covering up evidence and collusion with part time rap moguls who double-up as full time gangsters.

The Shield’s exploration of aspects of the human condition, like friendship, loyalty (misplaced or otherwise) and straddling the fuzzy line between right and wrong, are spot on.

With real life events as its inspiration the show oozes realism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming to be Ice Cube’s cousin. I couldn’t tell you exactly how accurate its portrayal of gang violence in LA is, but from what I’ve heard from gangsta rappers it sounds about right. But I am a human being and can tell you The Shield’s exploration of aspects of the human condition, like friendship, loyalty (misplaced or otherwise) and straddling the fuzzy line between right and wrong, are spot on.

Despite it’s realism it’s a lot more accessible than the other king of the cop shows The Wire. Each episode is self-contained with a wider story arc running in the background that spans all seven series. If a third party joins you for the odd episode they can still enjoy it as something gets resolved every episode rather than just at the end of the season. And Star fuckers can keep busy spotting notable actors from other stuff who do a turn in The Shield. Some really big names pop up through the show. Keep an eye out for Oscar winner Forrest Whitaker, serial nominee Glen Close and, to a lesser extent, Sticky Fingers who used to be in Onyx and the bloke who was the cop in Due South.

It’s basically a very entertaining training video for wannabe corrupt cops with a lot of heart, comic touches and fantastic swearing. So let’s meet the team…

The Strike Team

Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis)

Cop, family man and drug dealing, psychopathic murder monkey are all hats that Vic’s happy to wear. The leader and ideologue of the Strike Team he’s a complicated man with a clear sense of right and wrong and lives by a strict code. Just not the same code as the LAPD.

Likes: His family, the team, power. Dislikes: Living by other people’s rules.

Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins)

Vic’s right hand man and best friend. Never the smartest Hillbilly in the trailer Shane thinks he’s a lot cleverer than he actually is making him a fully functioning trouble magnet.

Likes: Vic Mackey, money, cowboy boots. Dislikes: Any perceived lack of respect.

Curtis “Lem” Lemansky (Kenny Johnson)

The nice one. Lem is wonderfully naïve and hangs on Vic’s every word like a cult member convinced everything the Strike Team do is for the greater good.

Likes: Rehabilitating kids, kicking in doors, animals. Dislikes: Conflict

Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell)

The David May of the Strike Team. Like Manchester United’s occasional centre back of the late ‘90s you’re not entirely sure what he contributes but he’s always in the team photos. Unlike David May Ronnie makes some telling contributions in the later seasons.

Likes: Running errands, computers, loyalty. Dislikes: Talking.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming to be Ice Cube’s cousin. I couldn’t tell you exactly how accurate its portrayal of gang violence in LA is, but from what I’ve heard from gangsta rappers it sounds about right.

Administration and Police

David Aceveda (Benito Martinez)

Police captain and one of the minority who’ll voice suspicions about the Strike Team’s methods. Mistrusted by Vic who sees him as a pen-pushing politician who is ignorant to the realities of life on the street. In the show ‘Aceveda’ is pronounced ‘arse invader’ which may or may not be on purpose but is always funny.

Likes: The spotlight, political manoeuvring, the sound of his own voice. Dislikes: Bad press.

Danielle “Danny” Sofer (Catherine Dent)

A lady cop in a male dominated world. Danny doesn’t take any shit but does give good advice. Like much of the precinct she’s in awe of the Strike Team and the results they produce while being unaware how they produce them.

Likes: Ambition, shagging workmates, telling off her juniors. Dislikes: Attractive younger women.

Holland “Dutch” Wagenbach (Jay Karnes)

One of the ‘suit and tie’ detectives who deal with crimes that are not gang related. A pompous know-all who believes everyone except his partner is intellectually inferior to him.

Likes: Psychological profiling, chasing serial killers, the music of Duran Duran. Dislikes:  Any suggestion that brawn is more effective than the brain.

Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder)

Dutch’s partner and a strong woman with inscrutable ethics who refuses to be intimidated. The self appointed moral voice of Farmington Police Department.

Likes: Speaking her mind, the moral high ground, justice. Dislikes: Corruption in all it’s forms.

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

Brian Sizemore 12:35 am, 21-Dec-2010

I consider The Shield the best overall television show in US history. And, I don't like cop shows per se.

Richard Oliver 10:57 am, 21-Dec-2010

My favourite show of all time. The final season is just amazing - tense, heart-breaking and jaw-dropping. The closing scene is so powerful. Vic is a truly memorable TV character.

Johnny Two R's 11:41 am, 21-Dec-2010

Brilliant series. The last episode is amazing. Lemanski (Kenny Johnson) is also very good in Sons of Anarchy.

Shane 1:01 pm, 21-Dec-2010

I still haven't seen the final season. I left it to gather dust while getting stuck into The Wire. Perfect Christmas present to blow off the cobwebs and watch some ass get kicked. Shane is an absolute moron though. Whenever I see him in other things I get angry and shout 'twat' at my tv.

terry 2:01 pm, 21-Dec-2010

whitaker is amazing in this

sean 5:22 pm, 21-Dec-2010

you say we can still discover it... will it be on tv anywhere soon or will i have to buy the big bad box set?

Dan 5:51 pm, 21-Dec-2010


DannyOH 7:09 am, 22-Dec-2010

Big fan of cleetus van damme

ashley 1:32 pm, 22-Dec-2010

Series 1-7 was available from @£39.99 for one day only. Amazing! It's still only about 50 quid now

ustuntman 1:43 pm, 22-Dec-2010

"I saw your wife." "Yeah?" "Yeah. Her pussy tasted like sweet butter."

Colin 12:36 am, 2-Jan-2011

The Shield is a great show and i enjoyed it immensely but it doesn't reach the heights of The Wire. Totally different types of show I know, but still, it has to be said. The Shield is popcorn TV at its best.

Tim Russell 7:52 am, 2-Jul-2011

Just finished series 1-7. Absolutely stunning. Not quite as intellectually satisfying as The Wire but gripping from start to jaw-dropping finish.

Harry Paterson 11:00 am, 24-Mar-2013

It's quite possibly my my fave TV series, of any genre, from any country, ever. It's Greek tragedy with guns and drugs. One small factual inaccuracy, though, in your mention great swearing when there actually isn't any at all. Incredibly enough, there isn't one single, solitary 'shit' 'piss' fuck' or 'cunt' in any part of the entire seven series. The usual bullshit morals clauses imposed on the makers by the networks ensured all swearing is non-existent. It's just another pointer to how utterly superb the show was that the script-writers negotiated this with such deftness. Viewers, like you, either think there was plenty of swearing or, like me, never even noticed its absence until someone else pointed it out. Now that's skill.

Jimmy James Jameson 3:34 pm, 24-Mar-2013

All 7 seasons available at love film instant, of which I devoured every last episode during the 1 month free trial, which if you don't watch anything else and cancel immediately after, is infinitely worth it. Agree with the consensus that the Wire can't be topped for the breathtaking scope of its narrative and sheer quality of the production. But having said that - episode for episode - I probably found The Shield more entertaining. Love film instant free trial - watch it.

Peter Morgan 6:36 pm, 24-Mar-2013

Great piece. As well as the mentioned The Wire, anyone looking for a LA cop fix should check out Southland which falls somewhere in between both previously mentioned series. Even Hollywood cannot help but be influenced by Southland as shows with End Of Watch.

Legal Wrangle 6:48 pm, 24-Mar-2013

Enjoyed the piece a lot - after all, it's about an amazing show. Tip of the cap to Peter Morgan for mentioning Southland. Another very good show, not in the same bracket as The Wire or The Shield, but then very few things are. End of Watch, too, wouldn't have been something I would have watched if it wasn't for The Shield.

Nick 12:25 am, 25-Mar-2013

A truly awesome show. I doubt it's unrelenting quality will ever be beaten. For me, only the Sopranos comes close, followed by the wire and deadwood.

Mark Rose 7:59 pm, 27-Mar-2013

Am watching it all again now. It hits the ground running and never, ever fucking stops, until the end of course. Phenomenal.

Captain Anchovies 10:22 pm, 29-Mar-2013

There was nothing before The Wire...just a never-ending black cloak of televisual abyss

mike 11:53 am, 5-Apr-2013

mark rose, you are spot on about the shield, the wire was good but i thought the last season was a bit of a let down, and deadwood wow, what they put in three seasons was pure genius, and most of the characters were based on real people. i am going to re-watch the shield then deadwood.

Chim55 5:46 pm, 22-May-2013

There is actually some swearing in this, like most FX dramas. You don't here any "fucks" or "c*nts" but you get the occasional shit, asshole, bastard etc.

witchykitty 1:27 am, 21-Jun-2013

The acting in this show was absolutely brilliant, particularly from Walton Goggins (Shane Vendrell) and Anthony Anderson (criminal Antwon Mitchell). Both were robbed of Emmys for their roles.

Rob J 12:16 pm, 14-Jul-2013

A magnificent show. Much has been said about "The Wire",but there were a few seasons that didn't go anywhere. "The Shield" went all the way towards a very dark cul de sac. Only "The Sopranos" matched it for sheer intensity,and at the end of the journey, it was clear there were no winners.....

Andrew 5:16 am, 15-Nov-2013

As someone else said - it's a modern day Greek tragedy. It's a masterpiece in every sense of the word. What is there to fault? Where else can you find acting so good across the wide range of characters? The writing was extraordinary - was there ever a bad episode? The Wire was amazing but I believe that it, or anything else, didn't come close to the shield.

Nick 7:55 am, 28-Dec-2013

Having just watched The Wire and The Shield back to back, I have to say that The Shield is more consistent and more entertaining. Seasons 1, 3 and especially 4 of The Wire are among the best of any show anywhere. Season 2 of The Wire was too slow and largely uninteresting ("Slow" is fine with me, but the first half was so terribly boring I lost interest in the middle and stopped watching. Had to force myself to get back into it a month later). Season 5 was mostly terrible and bordered on jumping the shark. The Wire was at its most compelling focusing on life in the inner city and the many sides of the War on Drugs. When it wandered towards other directions and lost focus it was not a great show. The Shield meanwhile did not have one bad season. The first season was the weakest with its shaky cam, fratboy music and black and white flashbacks, but even these directorial missteps could not take away from the rollercoaster ride and were quickly corrected. Like The Wire, the acting was top notch across the board, but unlike The Wire it ended at its peak, not that there was ever a dip in quality anyway. Also, The Shield is a show with perpetual replay value, whereas The Wire can be a slog at times and I don't think it can be expressed enough how the last season really hurt the overall value of the series. I love The Wire and it feels like more of an achievement because it's such a non-traditional show in its structure. But I'd still take the more traditional The Shield as my favorite.

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