Monday, June 15, 2009

The Shield in Perspective (No Spoilers)

My wife and I just finished the seven season run of The Shield, first shown on the FX Channel. Netflix made the seventh and final season available just last week. We saw The Shield on the strong recommendation of our nephew, Marc Thacher. I was extolling the virtues of The Wire, and my wife and I the power of Lost, and Marc said, yeah, but trust me, you have to see The Shield, it's the best show ever to have been on television.

He may well be right.

First, though, let me offer the ever-relevant apples and oranges proviso - television series, like all works of fiction, are never completely comparable. The Wire is in a superb now classic class of its own, not as police drama, but in its vivid, scalding, anthropologically rich presentation of life in the drug drenched hood. The Shield, in contrast, is more about police. And neither show has much in common with Lost, which inhabits a unique position in story telling that transcends even the science fiction of which it partakes.

But television series can nonetheless be compared on some levels.

Lost, for example, had a weak second and most of a third season (which ended with a stunning game changing finale). It also has had its share of weak episodes. The Wire also had a few weak episodes, though nowhere nearly as many as Lost.

The Shield had none. Furthermore, it started with a kick in the solar plexus at the end of the very first episode, and played out its ramifications through all seven seasons. And the last show was the best series finale I've ever seen.

I wrote a lot about the series finale of The Sopranos - and gave a talk about it at The Sopranos conference I helped organize at Fordham University last year. I thought the ambiguous ending was masterful.

But it didn't hold a candle to the ending of The Shield, which tied up in brutal, heart-rending detail the story lines of major characters - not with tantalizing question marks ala The Sopranos, but with punch in the soul resolutions. This is story telling on television in a new, real dimension.

All great television has great acting, and The Shield is in the top tier of that, too. Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker did some of their finest acting in their guest roles. Michael Chiklis was a tour de force in the lead role of Vic Mackey in every scene. And Walton Goggins grew as Shane in the series from a sidekick to one of the most memorable characters ever on television.

I'll say more about the plot in a later review (with spoilers), but, in the meantime, trust me, you have to see The Shield.

See also
... The Sopranos Anti-Ending and The Sopranos Conference at Fordham University May 2008

5-min podcast review of The Shield
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