The Shield: Pilot (2002) TV Review

When the opening shot of a TV show warns you that the show you’re about to watch has graphic violence, nudity, strong language, and that it may not be appropriate for children, you know what’s coming up next ain’t “Picket Fences.” In the vein of tough cop shows like “NYPD Blue” comes the FX Channel’s first original series, “The Shield,” starring a leaner and meaner Michael Chiklis as Vic Mackey, a Los Angeles Detective who gives the term “bad cop” a bad name.

Mackey is head of the Strike Team, a street tactical unit composed of plainclothes Detectives in the Inner City. Mackey has a firm control of his men and has a firm grasp of the politics of police work, and as long as he’s producing results — safe streets, arrests, and convictions — he’s bulletproof from anyone who disagrees with his methods. And there are a lot of people who disagrees with his methods. One of those is the new Captain at Mackey’s precinct, David Aceveda (Benito Martinez), a Latino cop with his eyes on a higher office and sees Mackey as his ticket to stardom. As is the case with all episodic crime drama, “The Shield” has a Case of the Week, and the pilot’s involves the murder of a woman and the abduction of her daughter, a 7-year old girl who is presently in the hands of a pedophile that is not talking.

FX did a smart thing with the pilot and ran the episode for 30 minutes before hitting the first commercial break. This lets us become immerse in the show’s world, and when the 30 minutes is finally over, we have a good feel for where we are and what to expect, and the break is a welcome event. There is a raw intensity to “The Shield” that was never evident with “NYPD Blue” or any other cop show, and to say that the producers are taking risks is an understatement. They are going so far off the reservation that I can almost guarantee there will be protests over the show’s premise, although the show’s off-network status might make it just a little “off the radar” for some potential critics. Although, as “NYPD Blue” proved, unwanted attention means attention, and any attention is good attention when you’re trying to get people to take a shot with your show. So is there any way “The Shield” can lose from the inevitable protests over its graphic and less than flattering contents? Highly unlikely.

If you take away the cursing, the violence, and the shock value of seeing cops act as bad as the crooks they’re arresting, is “The Shield” worth a watch? Yes, it’s very much worth a watch. Michael Chiklis, who ironically played a “nice guy” cop in the now-cancelled “The Commish,” is the last person you’d expect to play Vic Mackey, but I’ll be damn if Chiklis doesn’t pull it off. His Mackey is a bulldog that steals from drug dealers and uses unnecessary force as a matter of convenience. His Strike Team cops are bounty hunters with badges and the permission to use deadly force. And yet, despite his bombastic and cavalier personality, there are scenes where Chiklis turns his brutal cop into a human being who cares about the people he’s protecting. So is the tough cop a mask, or is the human cop the real mask? You never know, and that’s what makes Mackey the most interesting and complex character on TV right now.

Besides Chiklis, “The Shield” has a full plate of interesting characters and able actors playing them. There’s Martinez as Aceveda, the ambitious politician with a shield; CCH Pounder as Wyms, a veteran cop who disapproves of Mackey and yet understands why he’s necessary. Members of Mackey’s Strike Team go by in a flash and I would have liked to know more about them. As it is I don’t even know their names, but that’s what future episodes are for, I suppose. Mackey himself feels like a background character in the pilot, with the Case of the Week belonging to Wyms and her partner, recent transfer Dutch (Jay Karnes), a by-the-book cop with a good head on his shoulders but is obviously too square. Dutch is the object of Mackey’s scorn and practical jokes, and in one funny scene, Dutch demands Mackey return his stolen ding dongs. Mackey responds by dropping someone’s stool sample into Dutch’s desk drawer. Rounding out the cast is Catherine Dent as Danielle Sofer, a uniform cop who has a prior relationship with the married Mackey, and who hasn’t been able to get over him even though she knows full well that he’s no good for her.

Like a lot of cop shows today, “The Shield” uses a cinema verite style of shooting, using predominantly steadicams that can zoom in and out at a moment’s notice. The style is too familiar nowadays to be much of a distraction or an innovation. Creator/producer Shawn Ryan is the pilot’s screenwriter, a good idea since the creator knows the characters the best, and is able to scratch out a bible for future scribes to follow. In the pilot’s best scene, Mackey and Aceveda does verbal battle in front of everyone in the precinct over — get this — an incident report. The scene is completely unexpected and infuses the show with intense friction.

“The Shield” has great potential. Being on the FX Channel and being that the channel has a vested interest in the show’s success, it’s a good bet they’ll give “The Shield” all the opportunity it needs to find an audience. You can expect “The Shield” to be on for a while, at least until it proves to be a complete loser. If the show manages to maintain the quality and crisp originality it showed in the pilot, “The Shield” might just follow in the footsteps of its forefather “NYPD Blue” and have a long career in law-enforcement.

Whatever its future, I’ll enjoy the show while it’s on the air now, because shows like this don’t come around often. Remember the first time “NYPD Blue” premiered? Yes, folks, that was almost a decade ago. “The Shield” is a long time in coming. Thank God it’s finally here.

Clark Johnson (director) / Shawn Ryan (screenplay)
CAST: Michael Chiklis …
Catherine Dent …
Walton Goggins …

Buy The Shield on DVD