This is not your father’s cop show. Even if you’re father watches NYPD Blue.
The Shield may just be the show that puts F/X on the map, if it can stay on the air long enough to do so. This is a series that pushes all the boundaries. It features a level of adult language that is comparable only to South Park, fleeting nudity that rivals that of the previously mentioned NYPD Blue, and violence levels never before seen on a network television series. The weekly plots also push the li…its, with the main character being a crooked cop that is happy to get the bad guys off of the street… as long as it serves his best interests.
All of the acting is above-average here, from the main characters all the way down to the one-episode bit player. It is the work of star Michael Chiklis, however, that puts him head and shoulders above the rest. It is almost unheard of for an actor to portray a tough guy with emotions and a sense of sadness without resorting to clichés, but Chicklis pulls it off flawlessly. He earns his Emmy the hard way; through becoming the gritty character that he is portraying. Not enough can be said about his fine turn in this dramatic series.
My problem with the show, however, is that it goes to great lengths to make the wonderful storylines as inaccessible as possible. While attempting to add an air of realism and toughness, I feel that the shaky camera moves and grainy footage draw too much attention to themselves, and take the focus off of the excellent scripts and award-winning actors. This is one boundary that I prefer not be crossed… at least not to this extreme.
The original Dolby Stereo track is present on this collection, which actually leaves me a bit disappointed. I was really hoping that the television-quality audio would be beefed-up for the show’s move to DVD, but this was not the case. A Dolby Digital 5.1 track would really help to bring this series to life. The stereo offering presented here is flat, with little to no imaging present. Bass frequencies are muddy, and the dialog is not always easy to follow. This show deserves a better audio mix than it has received.
As I stated earlier, my #1 problem with this show is the horrific video techniques it utilizes. I understand that the producers are going for the “live” look, but I have seen episodes of COPS that had better lighting and clearer photography. The picture quality is unbelievably grainy due to the 16mm stock the producers have chosen to use, which makes some nighttime scenes very hard to see. Likewise, the lighting levels are either overblown or underutilized. The whole piece has a gritty, hot, overexposed look to it.
One of the things that I enjoyed about Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic was its overexposed, handheld camera style. My grievance with utilizing such an effect here is the fact that it takes so much away from the story. Drama as good as this should be seen up close and personal, but these extreme film processes actually pull the viewer away from the realities of the situations depicted herein. Techniques such as shooting dialog through chain-link fences, windows and car doors separate the viewer from the tension, subconsciously telling the viewer that this is all make believe, and there is nothing to be concerned about. Some may enjoy this unique film style, but I am not one of them.
One area of this set that I am a fan of is the plentiful special features section. Four episodes come with a Commentary track, down from Season One, where every single episode had such a track. The four that are here are entertaining and informative, however, so I have no complaints. Also, the number of Deleted Scenes is way up, as there are a total of 37 of them here for viewers to enjoy… almost a full episode in themselves! The Deleted Scene menu selection screen has an introductory audio track, which I don’t believe I have seen before. This was a cool little idea, as you get a brief word on why there are so many scenes included, and some basic reasons why the scenes were cut. There are some brief comments included on various scenes as well. Each scene is presented in a fully completed format, and are broadcast-quality.
The Editing Room is an interesting twelve-minute bit with optional commentary that compares the Editor’s Cut of a scene to the Final Air Version. I found this to be my favorite of all of the extras. The commentary track walks the viewer through the editing process, and gives a hands-on example of how and why cuts are made, as well as showing how much control the editing process has in how the final story plays on the screen. Many titles take a look at this process, but I feel that this one is particularly well done.
Another detailed extra is the Sound Surgery walkthrough. This segment allows viewers to isolate elements of the soundtrack, with options such as Production Dialog-only, Music-only and Sound Effects-only tracks. Each track features an intro by the sound technicians for the show, letting the viewer know what they will be hearing, as well as some quick facts about that particular aspect of the final mix. As is the case with The Editing Room, this too is a segment that has been tried before on various other titles, but is done particularly well on this one.
Next up are three featurettes. Wrap Day is a behind-the-scenes look at the shooting process, filmed on the last day of shooting for Season Two. This is a great place to meet the crew, and to see how much time and effort goes into the logistics of filming a weekly television drama. Most of the fluff has been taken out of this piece, leaving just the meat for viewers to enjoy (27 minutes). I was came away disappointed with the Director’s Roundtable featurette, however. This is a Q & A session with three of the directors of the series, moderated by series creator Shawn Ryan. Usually, I am a sucker for discussions with the director, but for some reason I just wasn’t feeling this piece. While there is a ton of information here concerning the logistics of shooting the show, and why some creative decisions are made over other ones, I felt that the whole thing ran way, way to long. If you are a die-hard fan of the show, this will probably be some place you will want to spend some time, but for the casual viewer, this segment is just a bit too detailed (48 minutes). The Raising the Barn segment, on the other hand, is just my kind of thing. This nine-minute interview with the Production Designer is absolutely fascinating, covering the how’s and why’s of building a set, as well as dressing it to fit the program. We find out that the station was modeled after an actual church building, and get to see some comparison shots between the existing location and the studio set that really helped to put the show’s locations into place in my mind. It is wonderful to see how this rare two-story set fits together as a cohesive unit.
Finally, there is a short 60-second Teaser for Season Three, and the inclusion of some DVD-ROM content.
Often shows that are edgy and push the norms are lauded for their uniqueness and daring. This show does well to cross those borders, while stepping on only a few toes along the way. Sometimes, there are reasons that we have generally accepted rules and guidelines with regard to how a television series should look. The Shield contains some perfect examples of why some of those rules should not be broken. Those in charge of this production are indeed daring, but I personally feel that their risk taking with regards to the video presentation draws way too much attention away from the plots at hand. If you have never seen this show, you may want to watch a few episodes on F/X before buying this title. Of course, if you are already a fan, then proceed and enjoy.
Special Features List
- Commentary on 4 Episodes
- 38 deleted scenes, with an introduction by Shawn Ryan
- Scene evolution: “Connie Gets Shot” with commentary
- Featurettes: Wrap Day, Director’s Roundtable, Raising the Barn
- Season 3 Teaser