I want a car like “The Shield.” I want a sirloin like “The Shield.” I wish I could find a laptop like “The Shield,” and an airline and an antidandruff shampoo like “The Shield.”
To simply call “The Shield” a great drama series damns it with faint praise. Week in, week out, it sets the bar for steadfast excellence that everything — not just other TV shows — should reach for.
It always has, with its splendid ensemble led by Michael Chiklis as Detective Vic Mackey (plus terrific castmembers CCH Pounder, Jay Karnes, Walton Goggins, Kenneth Johnson, Catherine Dent, Michael Jace and David Rees Snell). With its raw, kinetic storytelling. With its gritty vision of Los Angeles, one of resignation bucked up by a fierce resilience.
In sum, “The Shield” never disappoints. (If only I could find a woman like “The Shield.”)
Now it’s back for a fifth season, premiering 10 p.m. ET Tuesday on FX. The saga of a rogue lawman — and the corrupt, warring precinct where only his brand of law enforcement seems to make a ripple — carries on where it left off, at full tilt.
A year ago, Glenn Close arrived as the new captain, Monica Rawling, who was full of plans for reforming police practice in the LAPD’s blighted Farmington district. She even decided to trust Mackey, despite concern for his vigilante tactics running his anti-gang strike team.
By the end of last season, Rawling’s dreams were dashed and she was gone.
Meanwhile Mackey, despite some close calls, was still in place, his four-man strike force intact. Here was more evidence that, in a murky moral climate like this, Mackey has the cunning, brass and charm to sustain his renegade style. In the war against crime, maybe he’s a necessary evil.
Whitaker adds to the drama
During the 11-episode season ahead, he will face new challenges to his crusade — not to mention challenges staying out of jail.
A major headache comes courtesy of new cast member Forest Whitaker as Lt. Jon Kavanaugh, who’s in charge of an Internal Affairs probe with Vic in the cross hairs.
What Kavanaugh suspects and intends to prove is what viewers witnessed to their shock on the series’ first episode back in March 2002: Mackey killed a fellow cop he knew had infiltrated his strike force for the feds. Then he pinned the shooting on a dead drug dealer. Case closed.
Or was it?
“I always knew I didn’t want to just let that murder fall by the wayside,” says Shawn Ryan, who created “The Shield” and continues as its executive producer. “Vic has become in many ways the quote-unquote hero of the show and he’s very likable, so it’s easy to forget about the misdeeds. But I think it’s important to remind viewers of that side of Vic.”
Viewers can expect a riveting, seasonlong reminder. Whitaker (“Bird,” “The Crying Game”) is superb as the investigator who, by turns affable and coldly calculating, means to take Vic down.
“I just want to get him off the street before he does any more damage. That’s it,” purrs Kavanaugh, slyly understated as he tries to enlist Vic’s longtime foe, David Aceveda, to the cause.
Aceveda (played by Benito Martinez) used to be Vic’s captain, but now, as an L.A. city councilman, he can wash his hands of this problem. Even so, he considers Vic unfinished business and it gnaws at him. He can’t resist getting involved.
Drive a wedge through the strike team, he advises Kavanaugh, and before the season opener is done, Kavanaugh is squeezing one of Vic’s own teammates in an effort to rat him out.
“The worst animal in the joint — 98 percent of the time, he’s just like everybody else,” Kavanaugh will state in a future episode. “It’s the other 2 percent that lands him where he is. I’m going to know everything about Vic Mackey, and when he goes into the 2 percent zone, I got him!”
That remains to be seen. But there’s no doubt that, in its new season, “The Shield” remains full of twists and intrigue. It’s smart and complex and a nonstop rush. It’s an action show that’s character-driven, with every character richly drawn and all of them compromised in one way or another.
As Ryan explains, “We don’t worry about the typical things that TV shows worry about: Are our characters likable? Are they always doing the right thing? Who are you going to root for and not root for? We try to change all that on a weekly basis.”
Mission accomplished. But one thing doesn’t change: “The Shield” is unabashed, irresistible drama. Everything should be this surefire.