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The Shield: Complete First Season By Brian Jacks
Let’s start off this review by stating outright that I’m a huge cop show junkie. From the biggies that include Dragnet, Hill Street Blues, and NYPD Blue, to such lesser knowns as Ryan Caulfield, I’ve seen it all. My fixation is partially due to the sheer action inherent in such a genre, and partially because both my father and uncle were police officers, serving in the rough and tumble streets that was 1970s New York City. Therefore, with my years of accrued expertise in all things television-with-a-badge noted, it should hopefully mean something when I say that The Shield is one of the greatest programs to ever grace the small screen. And now Fox has released the entire first season on DVD in a tidy little package that everyone should own.
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Airing on the FX Network (once resigned to the Fox rerun junkyard), The Shield is a hard-hitting drama presided over by Michael Chiklis, who’s shed his puffy Commish façade and is now built like a German panzer. The show takes place in the Farmington district of Los Angeles, an area wracked with poverty, drug dealing, and anything else intrinsic with living in the inner city. From the precinct headquarters (once a church, and now cheerfully referred to as “The Barn”), Chiklis’ Vic Mackey runs the Strike Team, a small, close-knit, and semi-autonomous unit that specializes in counter-gang activities.
It’s not long into the first episode that Mackey proclaims, “I’m a different kind of cop,” and viewers catch on quick that he’s right. In their fight to own the streets, Mackey and his squad operate on a barely recognizable line between legality and criminality. Whether it’s making distribution deals with drug dealers or beating and torturing suspects, viewers are given a two-sided view of their main characters, often leaving them wondering whom exactly to root for. It’s the suspense, smartness and characterization of The Sopranos mixed with the ambiguousness of Dog Day Afternoon. In plainer words, it’s amazing television.
A host of other fascinating characters also occupy the series, from the politicized lieutenant who’s made Mackey a target, to homicide detectives and regular beat cops. There’s an assortment of ugly, brutal crimes showcased in this series, all honestly depicted in a way that would send shivers down any network television censor. Indeed, The Shield wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance of ever being seen on ABC or CBS, and I imagine it barely makes it on to FX. From words and phrases that make South Park seem tame by comparison, to situations that make the bloodiest parts of Third Watch seem elementary, this show packs more than the typical punch.
To sum up, this is great television.
Each episode of The Shield is presented in the original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full-frame. From watching the deleted scenes, however, it appears the series was filmed in 16x9, but for whatever reason fullscreen it went. The Shield often features the grainy, handheld camera work that’s prevalent in many of the action-oriented shows, and thankfully it works well here. Color filters appear to be used throughout, whether it be to add a hue or push up the contrast of a scene. This is a fast-paced show, and the photography is used to very good effect. Intentional grain aside, video quality is what you’d expect from a cable program, although compression artifacts are noticeable, mostly due to throwing four episodes plus commentaries onto each disc. It’s not too much of a hindering factor though, and all in all the quality is more than acceptable.
The Shield features a single Dolby 2.0 track, which won’t exactly make it a home theater demo piece, but it does the job. While the pilot episode is the most confined of the batch, throughout the season most of the sound is confined to the front channels, with the rears seeing usage only occasionally, mostly for music or other such ambiance. The series is noteworthy audio-wise due to its numerous usage of ever-changing songs that accompany much of the show, often to emphasize a particular scene. In fact, the producers are attempting to nab permission to release a CD of the songs used during the first season, so that should give a pretty good indication of the level of attachment the series has to its music.
On the supplement side, Fox has thankfully provided a nice assortment of extras, including full-length commentaries on every episode. Anchoring each track is creator/writer Shawn Ryan, with an alternating slate of colleagues appearing for each episode. Every one of the main actors participates, as does much of the principal crew, including producers, writers, and directors. Michael Chiklis provides a very interesting narrative of his experiences, and his fellow castmates each have their own stories to tell. That said, Ryan is skillfully adept at keeping the discussion screen-specific, providing a very impressive listening experience.
Next up are a series of featurettes and vignettes. Headlining these is the 20-minute “Behind The Shield,” a typical fluff piece. Featuring interviews with both the cast and crew, it looks at the production aspects as well as delving into the grittiness of the series. We also gain insight into the casting process, such as how CCH Pounder’s character was originally destined to be a man. This is accompanied by a short (two minute or so) FX-aired segment and a brief preview of the second season (which premiered this month).
Additionally, eight casting tapes from the principal castmembers are included, which is always interesting, and a whopping 17 deleted scenes, each with an audio introduction by Ryan. As aforementioned, we can see from these that the OAR was indeed 1.78:1, but no reason is given as to why the format change took place.
Rounding out the supplements is the complete script from the show’s pilot episode.
The Show: A.The Shield is one of the best shows on television.
The Look: B. Video quality is good-to-average, but it fits with the rawness of the series.
The Sound: B. Not exactly a reference piece, but it gets the job done.
The Extras: B+. Commentary on every episode? Count us in.
Overall: A. There’s no good reason not to own this collection.