The Shield: Season 1 (Ryan, 2002)

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It’s strangely ironic that The Wire and The Shield, two vastly different but equally influential cop shows, both premiered in 2002. If David Simon’s Baltimore-based urban mosaic is a sprawling, intelligent, and insightful window into the contradictions plaguing modern day institutions, then Shawn Ryan’s L.A. cop show is its schizophrenic, brutal, and raging younger brother, a West coast beast consumed by horrific representations of good and evil and the blurring of ethical and moral lines post -9/11. If anything, The Shield never pulls punches when it comes to characterizations and story. The Farmington Police Force provides the focal epicenter for the show, a group anchored by a special Strike Team led by Vic Mackey (played to perfection by Michael Chiklis). Drug dealers, pimps, murderers, and rapists are the local flavor of the week, but the narrative runs on the fuel of deception, greed, corruption, and guilt within the departmental ranks. Unlike The Wire, Ryan’s vision centers specifically on cops, both dirty and clean, ambitious and contentious, and the devastating stories they both solve and create. It’s almost never a pleasant world to inhabit, but shards of light fill the frame every once in a while, complicating what should be black and white judgements. The first season of The Shield uses shock and awe tactics to create a chorus of long-lasting visceral moments, however it builds to a startling crescendo through the audience’s connection with each character, and the complexity of their plight. It’s hard to imagine six more seasons of such a draining story, for the characters and especially the viewer. But the beauty of The Shield lies in it’s desire to keep pushing genre toward the edge, both curious and frightened at what will happen when the entire whole tips over the side. Objects of heroism have never been more clouded with doubt.

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