The Shield: The Complete Series Collection (2009. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.)

I wasn’t able to watch more than a handful of the episodes of this groundbreaking series on FX because my wife is not a fan of violence. Neither am I. I see little value in the Quentin Tarantino version of life: sex, grit, hatred, and methodical killing, as depicted in Pulp Fiction. I wish I had been able to convince my wife Rene’ that The Shield was a different sort of “bad cop” show, a Shakespearean enterprise of high art and great acting. I was never able to do that so, as I said, the few episodes I was able to watch were cherished moments spent with Vic, Lem, Ronny, and Shane, the four members of the Strike Force, a unit of anti-gang cops housed in the fictional LA precinct of Farmington.

My fortunes changed when my son Dylan surprised me this past Christmas with the entire series. 4,100 minutes of blood, guts, sweat, tears, sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll featuring probably one of the greatest ensemble casts ever assembled for a television series. Not convinced? Michael Chiklis as Vic Mackey gives a consistently believable, tough yet nuanced performance as the titular head of the Strike Team which inhabits “The Barn”, an old evangelical church in Farmington turned police headquarters. Walton Goggins hits every note as the troubled, sociopathic Shane Vendrell. They are joined by series regular C.C. Pounder playing a mid-career African American woman put in charge of The Barn while battling lupus, Michael Jace, as Julian, a homosexual African American line officer trying to play it straight on the force and in his marriage, Jay Karnes as the troubled intellectual detective Holland Wagenbach who has a penchant for discovering serial killers, Cathy Cahlin Ryan, who portrays Vic’s long suffering wife and the mother of three kids, two of whom are afflicted with autism, and Catherine Dent, as  Vic’s one-time love interest and tough as nails female beat cop. If that’s not enough, add to these fine actors and actresses,  Academy Award winner Forrest Whittaker as the IAD cop trying to take down Mackey and crew, six-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close, who lasted a season as C.C. Pounder’s predecessor, and Anthony Anderson who portrays street thug turned man of peace (oh yeah, I buy that!) and you have the makings of a cast, as I’ve stated, unequaled in television history.

I watched this series from beginning to end as I recovered from shoulder surgery and started working out on the treadmill in the master bedroom of our house. My wife was happy with this arrangement, though, as I’ve stated, I think she would have come around to being mesmerized by the storyline and acting of this fine cop show as I did. This is the show that, with Homicide Life on the Streets actor-turned-director Clark Johnson at the helm, and a great team of writers, took the production and story values of Homicide and NYPD Blue, mixed in the tragedy of good cops corrupted by power, a heavy dose of human nature, and created one of the strongest series in television history over its seven years of existence. Truly, there isn’t a weak episode or season in this package. And to be clear, no other actor could have portrayed Vic Mackey. Forget Michael Chiklis on the tepid new series Vegas ( alas, I had high hopes but my sons are right: it’s a dog), or in his comic book spin as The Thing, or his first series work in the uninspired The Commish. Chiklis is Vic Mackey and no matter what else he does in his acting career, that should be enough.

5 stars out of 5. A must see from beginning to end.

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