Saturday, March 10, 2012

FX's The Shield: Review and Analysis

The Shield
The Shield was an extremely frustrating show to watch. The writing was monumentally uneven. The lack of imagination from the writers was almost enough, on occasion, to kill any interest in the show. And the acting...well, at times, and from certain actors, it was very good. But at other times it was laugh-out-loud horrible. In particular, Kenneth Johnson, in the role of  Curtis Lemansky, took cringe-worthy acting to a new level. He of the gesticulating mouth.

Borderline Melodramatic


Like so many poorly written shows and books, the main problem that plagued The Shield was "jumping." That phenomenon that indicates the writers are unwilling or unable to build up the requisite tension for scenes and story arcs to be believable and effective.

Things "just happen" all too frequently in The Shield. It's almost as if you can see the point where the writers were over-worked, deadlines were looming, and they said "Fuck it. Just have them hold a gun to someone's head and that person will give the strike team the information they need. End of storyline/episode/subplot etc."

Speaking of guns to heads, resistance, and believability, it quickly became a cliché in the show that whenever obstacles came up for Vic Mackey and the strike team, they did just that. They held a gun to someone's head. And the person gave them what they wanted. Or the bent pigs on the team offered the criminal a deal. And the person quickly conceded. Or they unplugged the camera in the interrogation room and threatened a suspect. And then the suspect buckled.

Tastes Unaccounted For


It is almost incomprehensible that people compare The Shield and The Wire as if they are in the same league. The Wire is so many miles above The Shield that it highlights a simple fact. Many people are incapable of recognizing quality. They simply don't possess the observation skills to appreciate, discern or understand why The Shield is so lacking in so many ways. It's the Dunning Kruger law of illusory superiority applied to appreciating drama.

Suspension of disbelief crumbled dozens of times throughout the seven-year run of The Shield. In the world of fictional police forces, it has been said that the cops either come across as unbelievably inept or unrealistically proficient. In the case of The Shield, the former is definitely the case. For if there ever was a group of invincibly and moronically gullible, easily manipulated and simplistically placated morons, the fools of Farmington district are it.

Vic Mackey repeatedly duped, with ease, scores of his colleagues and assorted other buffoons. Yet, none of them ever truly pulled their heads out of their asses until perhaps the last episode. You can almost see the exasperation on the actors and actresses faces as they go through the motions of allowing their characters to be suckered time and again. And that in a nutshell is the entire seven-year plot of the show: Vic is a self-serving, nasty piece of work who never accepts blame or accountability.

Numerous potential story lines were sacrificed at the altar of that overriding, unrelenting, hammer-over-the-head, singular drum beat. Vic is bad. He destroys everything and everyone in his path. And he never changes. Never grows as a character. Never alters one iota.

Dominant Character Smothers All


Deus ex machinas crowd the sky. Plots wither and die. No audience expects a perfectly wrapped up and tidy ending to every storyline. But The Shield had too many dropped plots, stupid twists, and actions by characters that just didn't fit with what the audience had learned of them to that point.

How about the character of Julian Coles? The conflicted, self-loathing gay cop who is involved in a sham marriage? For the first few seasons, this was one of the most compelling narratives. Then...nothing. The writers threw in a clichéd scene in the final episode that involved him looking wistfully at two gay men. And that was it.

The absurdities are too numerous to detail here. But when you truly feel little when a character who has been on the show for five seasons is killed, you know something is wrong.

However, it is important to note that the quality of the show varied between seasons. Season one was quite good, and provided a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been an excellent show. Season two maintained some of the quality but  even then, the crime-of-the-week chintziness, the ridiculous plot twists and some of the other weaknesses detailed above were starting to push the show toward its borderline, melodramatic decline.

With the introduction of Glenn Close in season four, there was some hope that things might be improving. Unfortunately, season four was quite possibly the worst of the seven. On the other hand, season five was probably the best. With the appearance of Forrest Whitaker as Kavanaugh, the show received a much needed jolt of energy. A superb performance by Whitaker rejuvinated things and offered the possibility that The Shield might improve.

It didn't. The show withered from that point onward and offered one of the most ridiculous and unbelievable endings imaginable. The whole lack of authenticity surrounding the granting of immunity to a murderer/cop killer, armed robber, and drug dealer, was head-shakingly preposterous.

There are numerous holes in plots, continuity issues and scores of other amateur hour examples that further highlight The Shield as sub-par. In one scene, a temporary strike team member, Tavon, lies in a hospital bed being duped by Vic and his boys into believing that he had assaulted Shane's wife. After the fight with Shane and his wife, Tavon had subsequently been involved in an accident and does not clearly remember what happened.

Terrible writing, acting, and execution of the scene, make it laughably bad. The actor who plays Tavon offers up one of the worst crying scenes ever acted at anytime, anywhere in the history of acting. And then viewers are treated to a shot of an overhead microphone as it briefly dips into view. Horrid.

Other times, the lack of authenticity just screams: crap. In one scene, there is a streak of blood on a street from two criminals who have been dragged to their deaths. However, no one told the clods in charge that the average human has about five and half pints of blood in him, not the hundreds of gallons necessary to create the absurdity they chose to go with.

Themes?


With seven years' worth of episodes, surely there must be some regular themes that crop up? Perhaps that everyone has an affinity for blowhards and bullies and even feels a twisted admiration for those pushy, self-serving fucks because they have the guts to do what we all dream about doing.

But apparently little sociopathic wackjobs like Mackey's character also have the ability to dupe most of the people they interact with while simultaneously using them for whatever purpose necessary. Of course, individual episodes also had themes, and those were always telegraphed in the most awkward and brazen way possible.

But why put in the time to watch all seven seasons if I have so much to criticize? As mentioned, numerous individual shows were very good, as were (usually) at least a few scenes per episode. And while the range of concepts explored was limited, at least the writers did close out the show with Mackey screwing over every last person in his dreary orbit.

A last minute change of character just wouldn't have washed although the writers did flirt with this idea throughout the last few seasons of The Shield. In the end, Vic Mackey was no better, and in many ways far worse, than the scumbags he arrested. Also, watching flawed television shows or movies increases a person's appreciation for the truly great efforts and sharpens the ability to dissect what went wrong in the second rate offerings.

The Shield: a sometimes good, often mediocre show that could have been so much better.