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'The Shield' surprises with grit, characters

Sunday, March 10, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Forget the Michael Chiklis you know - the round, puffy family man who presided over "The Commish" and "Daddio." As bad cop Vic Mackey on FX's new cop drama "The Shield," Chiklis has become a bald tough guy.


"The Shield"

When: 10 p.m. Tuesday on FX.

Starring: Michael Chiklis, CCH Pounder

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'Embassy' mildly enjoyable


"Good Cop and Bad Cop have left for the day," Mackey tells a suspect in interrogation. "I'm a different kind of cop."

"The Shield" is a different kind of cop show - gritty, tough, no-holds barred television that feels more real than any other police drama on the air. It makes "NYPD Blue" look like a children's show.

That won't sit well with all viewers. Many will object to the TV-MA-rated show's violence, the sight of a nude corpse, banter about oral sex and the use of racial epithets and profanity (the s-word that's synonymous with feces gets tossed about most often).

Viewers able to get past these trappings will see "The Shield" for what it is: A quality, character-driven drama.

Mackey heads up a special "strike team" in Los Angeles' Farmington district. He dresses in black leather rather than blue and operates under his own set of rules that aren't always in concert with the law.

"He's Al Capone with a badge," complains Mackey's boss, Capt. David Aceveda (Benito Martinez), who has little control over the rogue cop.

Mackey is protected by Aceveda's superiors in the department, a matter of constant frustration to Aceveda, who has political aspirations that would be helped if he could take down a bad cop. For his part, Mackey derisively refers to the Hispanic Aceveda as a "quota baby."

Mackey and Aceveda are the show's most blatant adversaries, but they're surrounded by a squad of diverse characters, including no-nonsense, street smart Detective Claudette Wyms (the always great CCH Pounder) and her arrogant, pathetic partner, Detective Dutch "Dutch Boy" Wagenbach (Jay Karnes).

Dutch Boy wants to ask out beat cop Danny Sofer (Catherine Dent), but his initial ham-handed attempts fail. Sofer is busy training her new partner, officer Julien Lowe (Michael Jace), who has some secrets of his own.

Most of the cops stay out of Mackey's way, but Dutch Boy challenges him, which leads to retribution and intimidation.

"OK, who took my Ding Dongs?" Dutch Boy complains, accusing Mackey.

"Ding Dongs? What are you, in kindergarten?" Mackey shoots back.

Created by Shawn Ryan, previously a writer/producer on The WB's "Angel," "The Shield" is a show that becomes all the more intriguing when you consider its tangled web of contradictions and ambiguity.

Aceveda hates Mackey and wants to bring him down, but at the same time, he calls on Mackey to use his rough and tumble methods in the pilot when a pedophile won't reveal the location of a kidnapped girl.

Similarly, Mackey is a thug, but he tries to help a prostitute by giving her money to buy food for herself and her son.

Ryan wrote the pilot, which includes a thread about Aceveda's efforts to get dirt on Mackey by planting a mole (Reed Diamond) in the strike team, a story that plays out over several subsequent episodes.

It's not just Ryan's plotting that makes "The Shield" stand out. The dialogue simply captures the odd, humorous conversations people have every day.

"You want to start dating again, that's fine, but why a cop in our own precinct?" Claudette complains when the divorced Dutch Boy expresses his interest in Sofer. "That's just lazy."

Clark Johnson, an actor on "Homicide: Life on the Street" and one of the best up and coming directors today (he did HBO's excellent "Boycott" last year), directed "The Shield" pilot. Johnson gives the show a distinct look and energy without copying the shaky camera movements of "NYPD Blue," "Homicide" or other gritty cop shows.

Future episodes of "The Shield" continue to develop the characters, and though Vic is fleshed out, he's never made cuddly. That's a credit to both the show's producers and Chiklis, who evinces a completely different persona in "The Shield." Just pray it doesn't go to his big bald head.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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