Before The Wire There Was The Shield

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.
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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

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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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