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What's Streaming: THE SHIELD

The definition of groundbreaking

The very first FX television network series was “The Shield.” Created by Shawn Ryan, the show turned the traditional law enforcement series on its head. The central figure in the storyline was Detective Vic Mackey (played by Michael Chiklis of “The Commish,” “Fantastic Four”), the leader of the strike team for the fictional Farmington district of Los Angeles and the series’ anti-hero.

“The Shield” had a lot to live up to, being the debut product of the FOX network cable expansion back in 2002. The show had very little for a budget and casting was difficult. But when Michael Chiklis arrived for his screen test, the show’s creator said: “He was on his feet and pacing around like a caged tiger.” This typified the character of Mackey, a bulldog of a man on steroids, ready to take down whoever was in his way for his own benefit.

The subject matter of the series was never glossed over. Instead the writers pulled the curtain back and displayed their challenges and failures with a bright light for all to see. Issues on the struggles of autism, male rape, suicide, illness, pregnancy and infidelity were hot topics usually reserved for the big screen or upper cable networks.

Given that Chiklis was stretching beyond his comedic roles, the announcement of his casting had everyone scratching their heads. But he proved to everyone he was more than capable for the challenge. His portrayal to this day stands out as one of television’s most despised and most rooted for characters. And it all started with Vic killing another cop and the coverup that follows.

“The Shield” was not just groundbreaking for its storylines, but more so for the look and feel of the show. The lack of budget forced the crew to make the very best of what they had on hand, shooting in a high-grain film and non-stop camera movement with constant zooms and shaky movement that inspired other productions.

In the seven years “The Shield” was on, it never failed to deliver at least one grisly, shocking scene each season and always somewhere in the middle of the run. Each season the strike team, consisting of Vic, Shane (Walton Goggins of “Justified,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Ant-Man”), Ronnie (David Rees Snell), and Curtis (Kenny Johnson) would build from the foundation of killing one of their own to covering up one bad choice after another.

But it didn’t stop there. Shawn Ryan wanted to build a sense of controlled chaos, having the focus of the show split between the criminal behavior of the strike team and the plainclothes detectives and uniformed officers who applied the letter of the law in the L.A. district. The devastation of each season led to another shakeup for the Farmington police force to deal with.

“The Shield” never faltered. Each season stood on its own and was always worth the watch. The show continued to deliver the goods until the final episode without ever leaving a dull moment. The intensity of the show, the production, the acting, the storytelling and the final product are the very definition of groundbreaking, and many shows today owe a debt of gratitude to “The Shield” for leading the path.

The subject matter of the series was never glossed over. Instead the writers pulled the curtain back and displayed their challenges and failures with a bright light for all to see. Issues on the struggles of autism, male rape, suicide, illness, pregnancy and infidelity were hot topics usually reserved for the big screen or upper cable networks.

This kind of storytelling began to pull in heavyweight actors of the big screen to commit to the long hours of television production. Veteran actors Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker joined the cast but their characters didn’t survive the chaos for long, and when the dust settled (which was inevitably kicked up again) the characters were more damaged than when they joined and moved on. And always the focus returned to Vic and the suspicions of his and his team’s actions.

So many great actors made their start in “The Shield” or grounded themselves for bigger roles down the road. A very subdued Michael Peña, who played “Army” Renta during the fourth season, went on to become the bombastic character Luis in Marvel’s “Ant-Man” films. Anthony Anderson, who played Antwon Mitchell with an oozing evil for three seasons, became one of the lead detectives in “Law and Order” and is currently in “Black-ish.” CCH Pounder (Detective Claudette Wyms) was a regular on-and-off character in “Law and Order: SVU” and eventually moved to other roles, including Mrs. Frederic from “Warehouse 13.” Even Danny Pino, who played the international drug lord Armadillo, moved on to “Law and Order: SVU.”

“The Shield” never faltered. Each season stood on its own and was always worth the watch. The show continued to deliver the goods until the final episode without ever leaving a dull moment. The intensity of the show, the production, the acting, the storytelling and the final product are the very definition of groundbreaking, and many shows today owe a debt of gratitude to “The Shield” for leading the path.

If you haven’t seen the show, break some ground yourself and give it a shot. If you have seen it but it’s been a while, take a ride to Farmington again, it’s worth the detour. You can watch all episodes of “The Shield” with limited commercial interruption on Hulu today.

To reach Brian Fitz-Gerald email him at bfitz-gerald@rosebudmedia.com.

Michael Chikilis as Vic Mackey in 'The Shield.' (via Google)
The Shield (via Google)