The Shield

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10-11 p.m., Tuesday, April 3
FX


TV has had a long and rich tradition of police drama, from the heroic to the absurd, but it's safe to say there has never been anything like the Strike Team on FX's "The Shield," which enters its sixth and penultimate season. Michael Chiklis' Detective Vic Mackey, perhaps more than any TV cop, embodies what is good and bad about the LAPD and law enforcement in general. He is what we want most and fear most about the police.

Mackey is passionate about his work and ruthless about seeing that criminals, especially those who prey on the weak and vulnerable, are caught and punished. He can be relentless in his pursuit of justice. But he also can be overzealous. He will cut corners, plant evidence and beat suspects to within an inch of their lives, or worse. He is the cop who gets a commendation for heroism and the cop who disgraces the force, all rolled into one.

This bold mixture creates the paradox of cops who are, in some ways, as tainted as the bad people they arrest. That, combined with fast-paced storytelling and a visually exciting style, has made "Shield" distinctive for five seasons. Based on the first half-dozen episodes of the sixth year, there will be no limping to the finish line.

This being "Shield," a confession is in order. I've watched it only sparingly in the past couple of seasons. This is not a reflection on the show but on the demands of being a TV critic. You spend a lot of time watching things you need to see instead of things you want to see.

So I was a little nervous about this review. Could I or, for that matter, any viewer whose attention had drifted during the past few seasons, come back to a series that does not stand still? The answer is absolutely yes.

FX created what it calls a "promosode," a 15-minute presentation that serves as a bridge between the last season and the new one. It's available on AOL, MSN, TV.com, Yahoo! and elsewhere. Even without it, though, the premiere quickly establishes that Mackey's days as a cop are numbered, that he is in hot pursuit of the person who murdered Strike Team member Curtis Lemansky and that Mackey himself is being looked at (and framed) for the killing. What Mackey doesn't know is that Lemansky was killed by another member of the Strike Team, Detective Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins). Vendrell mistakenly believed that Lemansky, arrested for misconduct, was going to incriminate the team in exchange for a shorter sentence.

Exec producer Ken Sutter penned the season premiere, in which Mackey's search for Lemansky's killer is only slightly distracted by the internal investigation being conducted by Lt. Jon Kavanaugh (a memorable guest shot by Forest Whitaker). Chiklis, Goggins, CCH Pounder (who plays their boss) and Jay Karnes (fellow detective Dutch Wagenbach), in particular, have become so comfortable with their characters and their relationship to one another that the acting stitches that hold the episode together are invisible.

And now you know everything you need even if you've never watched before. So do it before it's too late and you have to see it all on DVD.

THE SHIELD
FX
Fox Television Studios in association with Sony Pictures Television
Credits:
Executive producers: Shawn Ryan, Scott Rosenbaum, Kurt Sutter, Charles H. Eglee, Glen Mazzara
Co-executive producers: Adam E. Fierro, Kevin G. Cremin
Supervising producers: Sarah Fain, Elizabeth Craft
Producer: Michael Chiklis
Co-producer: Craig Yahata
Creator: Shawn Ryan
Director: Michael Fields
Teleplay: Kurt Sutter
Cinematographer: Rohn Schmidt
Production designer: Anthony Medina
Editor: Angela M. Catanzaro
Set designer: Dena Allen
Casting: Wendy Weidman, Barbara Fiorentino, Rebecca Mangieri
Cast:
Detective Vic Mackey: Michael Chiklis
Capt. Claudette Wyms: CCH Pounder
Councilman David Aceveda: Benito Martinez
Detective Holland "Dutch" Wagenbach: Jay Karnes
Detective Shane Vendrell: Walton Goggins
Danielle "Danny" Sofer: Catherine Dent
Julien Lowe: Michael Jace
Detective Ronnie Gardocki: David Rees Snell
Corrine Mackey: Cathy Cahlin Ryan
Detective Steve Billings: David Marciano
Tina Hanlon: Paula Garces
Lt. Jon Kavanaugh: Forest Whitaker
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