The fall television season is now in full swing, as many of the shows that I enjoy have returned for the new (TV) year. Shows like The Office and Heroes I am excited about, they are great shows that I always enjoy, and when they are over, i want more. Hiowever, the best show currently on air (since David Simon's The Wire ended months ago on HBO) is FX's The Shield. Now three episodes into it's final season, Shawn Ryan's sometimes brutal, always compelling, look at corruption in the Los Angeles police department is scary good. When it debuted with much fanfare in 2002, it was compared to The Sopranos. However, on most every account, The Shield trumps David Chase's mega-popular crime drama. Both shows deal with an anti-hero who makes bad decisions as often as good ones. Both have stellar casts, and deal with gritty subject manner in adult terms. Both feature excellent, almost cinematic, uses of music in the telling of the story. However the tale of The Strike Team and it's leader Vic Mackey (played by Michael Chiklis) on The Shield, go above the somewhat conventional, albeit masterfully done, story of that NJ crime boss. Perhaps the most striking example of this is that whereas Tony Soprano is a mafia boss, Vic Mackey is a cop. Tony's actions are violent and law-breaking, they are supposed to be for someone in organized crime. The nature of these actions, and who they are perpetrated upon may surprise us, but hey should never shock us. Vic, on the other hand is a corrupt cop (or is he?) and watching him commit acts that (hopefully) most cops wouldn't commit is jarring and more brutal, if only because of the person who is committing those acts. But Vic isn't a villain, he's a loving father who is struggling to make sense of his now two autistic children, and an ex-wife who requires the same amount of care that his tightrope walk over the void on the streets demands. Vic is sympathetic, not because he's a 'cool' bad guy that we all secretly want to be like Tony Soprano, but because Vic isn't as clearly defined and he may have a heart of gold. His actions all seem to serve the good, even if those actions are bad themselves. The hard choices he makes produce some of the most stressful moments on television, As it is easy to root for Vic to win. The choices he makes are very grey, and he's strong enough and compelling enough to be a character that's not yet destined to one outcome.
The Shield is a story of a man weighing his own soul, and deciding his destiny with every choice. As a cop who walks a razor-sharp line, we can only hope Vic finds finds his life before he loses it.