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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 3/11/03



The Shield: The Complete First Season
2002 (2003) - FX/Fox Television/Columbia TriStar Television (20th Century Fox)

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

The Shield: The Complete First Season Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/A

Specs and Features

Approx. 585 mins (13 episodes at 45 minutes each), NR, full-frame (1.33:1), 4 single-sided, dual-layered discs (3 discs with 4 episodes each and 1 disc with 1 episode plus extras), fold-out digipack packaging with slip case, audio commentary tracks on every episode (by various combinations of creator/executive producer Shawn Ryan, actors Michael Chiklis, Walton Goggins, Benito Martinez, CCH Pounder, Catherine Dent, Kenneth Johnson, Jay Karnes, Michael Jace and Cathy Cahlin Ryan, directors Clark Johnson, DJ Caruso, Guy Ferland and Scott Brazil, writers Glen Mazzara, Kevin Arkadie, Kurt Sutter and Scott Rosenbaum, director of photography Rohn Schmidt, camera operator Bill Gierhart, co-producer Dean White, music supervisor Evyen Klean and consulting producer James Manos Jr.), Behind The Shield documentary, FX featurette, pilot episode script, 8 casting tapes, 17 deleted scenes, program-themed menus, scene access (16 chapters per episode), languages: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English & Spanish, Closed Captioned


People who say they flat-out don't watch television have always bugged me. Sure, there's a lot of crap out there. But there are a lot of lousy books, plays and movies too and you don't hear these snobs swearing off of them. In fact, I might be prepared to argue that the ratio of good product to bad is greater in TV than in any other medium. Especially right now. Certainly I'd rather watch any given episode of the Jerry Bruckheimer produced CSI than any movie he's been involved with over the past few years. Usually, my reasons for not wanting to give a critically acclaimed show a chance have more to do with time than anything else. I already haven't been able to leave the house on Sundays for years, thanks to shows like The Simpsons, the recently departed X-Files and HBO's revolving door of A+ programs. I don't need another program to schedule my life around.

The Shield is one such show. I'd heard the buzz surrounding it and supposed it was probably pretty good, but just didn't want to get involved in something else. Now, thanks to the current vogue of releasing season-by-season sets of TV series, we can catch up with The Shield at our own pace. And sure enough, it turns out to be an above-average cop show, distinguishing itself from others of its type by virtue of strong writing, active direction and a great ensemble cast.

Set in the imaginary (but seemingly very real) Farmington district of Los Angeles, The Shield revolves around Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), leader of a strike team that operates under its own set of rules. Strictly speaking, these are dirty cops. But because their methods get results, you tend to overlook and, in some cases, even support their actions. A good example of this kind of good cop/bad cop dichotomy comes in the episode Throwaway. While investigating a series of truck hijackings, a member of the team shoots a suspected gang member who he thinks is pulling a gun on him. Turns out, though, that the "gun" was just a carton of smokes. So to protect his own, Mackey plants a gun on the kid. Later on, they find out that the kid isn't even in the gang anymore and because this set-up will be his third strike, an innocent man is about to spend the rest of his life behind bars. So Mackey and the team do what anybody would do in this situation. They disguise themselves as the real gang members, carjack a police evidence truck that's transporting the planted gun down to HQ for processing, steal the gun back and plant it at the real bad guys' place. Thus, the innocent kid goes free and the guilty are punished, albeit for a crime they didn't commit (and not for the ones they actually did).

Vic Mackey is unquestionably the center of this dramatic universe and Michael Chiklis bites into the role with everything he's got. He can go from utter fury to perplexed bemusement to deep sympathy with the slightest changes of expression. In some ways, he'll remind you of TV's other rage-aholic family man, Tony Soprano. And, like James Gandolfini, Chiklis is smart enough to realize that this show would get old pretty quick if he weren't surrounded by top-flight supporting actors. The Shield has them in spades. There's Benito Martinez as Mackey's primary nemesis, Captain David Aceveda. Catherine Dent and Michael Jace are terrific as uniformed cops Danny Sofer and Julian Lowe, the rookie who turns out to be one of the most complex and conflicted gay characters ever seen on television. Best of all are Jay Karnes and CCH Pounder as the odd couple of L.A. detectives, Dutch "Dutch-Boy" Wagenbach and Claudette Wyms. Their relationships with each other, and everyone else at the Barn (the nickname given to the renovated church which serves as the Farmington precinct building), are consistently compelling.

Airing on the cable channel FX, The Shield has more latitude than the regular networks, but considerably less than HBO. Basically, this means that they're allowed to add the suffix "-hole" onto the word "ass", but have to say "boned" instead of the f-word. As for T&A, you'll find A in abundance but T is somewhat more discreet. After the powerhouse Pilot episode, The Shield loses some steam and takes a few episodes to find its groove. But by episode 5, Blowback (the first episode on Disc Two of this set), the series establishes its own voice. Special mention should also be made of The Shield's use of Los Angeles as a character in its own right. This is one of the few weekly series I've seen that really feels, looks and sounds like LA. From the locations to the well-chosen music, this is a Los Angeles that isn't usually seen on TV, but will feel instantly familiar to anyone who's ever lived here.

Fox's presentation of The Shield on disc is by and large extremely admirable. Yes, there are some problems with both picture and sound, but I believe this is more a result of the show's extremely low budget than any mistakes made in authoring the discs. This is especially true in the audio department, where the sound quality varies wildly from episode to episode. It improves (or at least becomes more consistent) as the series progresses, but the first couple of episodes are very flat indeed.

In terms of extras, this is one of the more impressive TV compilations so far. With the exceptions of The Simpsons and Mr. Show, most series box sets only provide selected audio commentary on two or three episodes. The Shield doesn't just get a commentary for every episode, it gets a darned good commentary on every episode. Credit creator and executive producer Shawn Ryan for that one. He appears on all but two tracks and I would have to guess that Mr. Ryan has listened to a commentary or two in his day. He doesn't hog the mike but instead serves as a kind of moderator. He asks participants the questions we'd like answered, keeps things moving along and always remembers that if somebody refers to someone by their first name only, we aren't going to necessarily know who that person is or what they do. In addition to Ryan, participants include every single featured actor on the show, the writing staff, several producers and directors, and a number of usually unsung crewmembers. When was the last time you heard a camera operator participate in a commentary track? Every commentary is worth listening to on these discs. They're candid, forthright, loose and often very funny. It's apparent from listening to these tracks that these people get along famously and can't believe their good luck that this show they worked so hard on actually found an audience.

The rest of the extras are on Disc Four and they're something of a mixed bag. There are no less than seventeen deleted scenes, each with an audio introduction by Ryan explaining what we're about to see, where it was supposed to go, and why it was cut. Unlike the episodes themselves, these are presented in letterboxed widescreen. Before you start complaining that the shows themselves should have been given the anamorphic treatment, realize that you can frequently see camera shadows, light stands, and boom mikes creeping around the edges of the deleted scenes. The Shield is matted for a reason: the hyper kinetic camera work makes it pretty tough to hide these rough edges.

Also worth looking at are casting tapes for eight of the show's stars. These are kind of interesting and sometimes feature dialogue that was significantly changed between the audition and the shooting of the actual episodes themselves. Shield completists can read Shawn Ryan's script for the Pilot episode on Disc Four as well. Of considerably less interest are the two featurettes. Behind The Shield is the longer of the two, providing on-camera interviews with all the principals and getting sketchy character descriptions from each of the actors. The Shield FX featurette is the condensed version, produced for FX to whet your appetite for Season Two. If you watch the first one, there's no need to watch the second. One minor complaint I have with the set is that there are no episode recaps, like with HBO's Sopranos sets. The Shield isn't as addictive as The Sopranos and I would sometimes go days between episodes. In this case, recaps actually would have been pretty useful.

Originally, most people assumed that television DVDs would appeal mainly to existing fans of the shows in question. I think that's beginning to change. Like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and 24, The Shield is a set that you can pick up sight unseen, fairly confident that you'll get four discs full of quality entertainment. But with Season Two already underway on FX, I don't think I'm going to make this appointment TV anytime soon. Instead, I'll just wait for The Shield: The Complete Second Season to arrive on DVD. If Ryan and company continue on the path they started on in Year One, I don't think I'll be disappointed.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com




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