Should I watch The Shield if I can't like bad cops?
August 6, 2012 11:11 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me decide if I should watch The Shield?

My favorite show is The Wire and I'm just finishing yet another runthrough. Since it would probably be pushing it to just watch The Wire again, I'm trying to decide if I should watch The Shield.

I have heard that The Shield is a good show. I've heard that it is exciting and filled with tense moments and good character development. But I also know that The Shield is about corrupt police officers and these are the main characters. Brutal and thieving is what I've heard. I really hate corrupt police and wonder if it would be especially maddening after having watched The Wire again and seen what bad police can do.

I don't really like rooting for bad people. But I can watch and enjoy shows about flawed people and even anti-heroes, provided there is some kind of moral center in the show. But if it's just going to be about seeing the hijinks a bunch of corrupt cops get up to I can't take that.

Still, I haven't seen even a minute of the show and have no idea what happens. All I've ever heard is what I said about it being exciting and about bad cops.
posted by Danila to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In my opinion there is a moral centre to The Shield which is separate from, and implicitly critical of, the hi-jinks of the corrupt police. There are many different characters with different moral standards, and even the worst have redeeming features, and the best have significant flaws. It's definitely not a show about 'woo-hoo these guys get things done, no matter what the petty bureaucrats and PC brigade might say'. It's a show about the price of corruption, but it is also critical of the bureaucrats of course.

In my opinion it is not quite as good as The Wire, but that's an impossible standard to set any show, it is extremely good and repays viewing.
posted by communicator at 11:23 PM on August 6, 2012

Give it a try. Vic Mackey is flawed but compelling, as are the rest of the characters. It is different than The Wire, in that it doesn't have the same, gritty realism, but it is a terrific show nonetheless.

I would not describe it at all as "hijinks of a bunch of corrupt cops." Basically, seconding communicator's analysis.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:30 PM on August 6, 2012

Based on your concerns, without giving anything away I would tell you that if you watch the first episode and still feel interested in continuing, then you should.

The show definitely goes deeper than simply "hijinks a bunch of corrupt cops get up to." Have you ever watched Sex and the City? One thing that show has in common with The Shield is that both grew much deeper and matured beyond where they began in their first seasons. Flaws emerged, sure, logical problems and clichés like any show will develop, but both those shows began from a relatively one-dimensional place and improved.

Try the first episode. I don't want to give anything away, but if the first episode leaves you curious to learn what happens next, then I don't think your concerns stated above will prevent you from enjoying the series.
posted by cribcage at 11:31 PM on August 6, 2012

It's not, like, zany bad cop shenanigans where they never get punished. It's more like an examination of the classic "bad cops that keep the streets safe" and how far they're willing to take it and the consequences that ensue. And Vic Mackey is a seriously compelling character. It's more "TV show" where The Wire is more "documentary", it's not as realistic, but I definitely enjoyed it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:33 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's my warning about The Shield...the first season is not very good. It gets a lot better and by the end of the series I was really enjoying it, but just a heads up- the first season sucks.
posted by saul wright at 11:34 PM on August 6, 2012

The Shield and The Wire are cop shows with similar names and a lot of 'work' themes (dealing with bad bosses and irritating colleagues, knowing you're really the most important worker, being on a good team in spite of mismanagement, etc.) and plenty of moral ambiguity and grittiness.

But they're not really that similar. The Wire is a much, much smarter show, as in sociologically thoughtful and morally compelling. The Shield aims at slightly witty shock value fairly often--the scenes I have in mind wouldn't be out of place in a Quentin Tarantino movie, except rated PG-13--and the closest thing to morals that I recall are on the order of "the ends justifies the means," "bros before hos," and necessity defense stuff, like breaking the law to get money to help someone innocent. The story-telling is great fun though.

They're both good shows, but something in the same ballpark that you might like better than The Shield is Justified.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:56 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

This was the BEST show I have ever seen. I actually felt I could skip watching The Wire because The Shield was so damn great.

I am super duper picky about character development. If Deadwood could have gone a season or two further, it might've bested The Shield.

I have not needed, or wanted to, or by default watched another cop show since. It's been what - 5 or 6 years since it ended??

Call me satiated!


When you are done, please remember to memail me and I will share with you the best commentary ever on the show's finale.
posted by jbenben at 12:03 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I love Timothy Olyphant, and Justified leaves me cold. As does Sons of Anarchy.

The acting was superb on The Shield and I thought it was very very smart.

I live in LA, and at the time I was watching, I was living in the Rampart District, where the show was filmed and in the police district that the show was based on (Wikipedia!)

It's highly possible I found the show so compelling because the characters are very true to Los Angeles. There's always controversy and corruption in LA ("It's China Town, Jake.") and I honestly believe this show captured the complicated modern day story of all the conflicting interests that drive politics in this vast and varied collection of neighborhoods that make Los Angeles.

If it doesn't grab you, skip it. But I will say no show ever did a better job of building towards the ultimate crescendo - it does not leave you hanging when it ends.

I still think about that show all the damn time, pondering its narrative.

Anyway, this is my 2 cents.
posted by jbenben at 12:15 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't really like rooting for bad people.

Ah, but that's what makes The Shield fascinating, I think. Because it's basically seven seasons of simultaneously rooting for Vic Mackey, who is a bad cop all the way to the core, while also desperately wanting him to get what's coming to him.

In the end, we let him off the hook despite his numerous and increasingly horrifying crimes and betrayals. His corruption is in a way a reflection of our own compromises, where all that's left is to let the ends justify the means.

On the other hand, the show isn't completely cynical, by any means. Lem is the one halfway moral guy on his team, and the show does well over the third, fourth and fifth seasons to play his increasing disgust with what the others do against his seeming inability to detach himself from the ever-deeper nightmare he's in.

I loved The Wire for different reasons. I'd say that this particular show is unique and compelling in its own way.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:38 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've now watched six minutes of the pilot episode and I have one question that could help me decide. What I have seen so far is them running down a black drug dealer and humiliating him. Also they used pliers against a latino drug dealer. My question is this: in seven seasons, do they ever use their tactics against someone who is innocent?
posted by Danila at 12:48 AM on August 7, 2012

Do they ever use their tactics against someone who is innocent?

IIRC, the most clear-cut example occurs in the episode you're watching (big spoilers to say what it is; it's nearly unique in the show, but it continues to matter for a long time). There's an episode in season 2, I think, where someone innocent gets framed. There's a sort of brutal scene where someone who is more or less innocent literally asks to be beaten as a 'tactic.' And there are numerous instances where someone with a bad past suffers for the wrong reasons, e.g. someone gets tortured even though they weren't really guilty of what they were being tortured for.

That said, I don't know that this should be the deciding factor. Could you like a well-acted, well-written show about people whose lives are spiraling out of control as they manage bad decisions with bad decisions? Can you chalk it up as dramatic tension if innocents suffer indirect damage, emotionally and career-wise?
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:11 AM on August 7, 2012

posted by schroedinger at 1:11 AM on August 7, 2012

OK. I can't quite let this drop.

- All of the actors on The Shield I've seen since in other roles, none of them rise to the same level of artistry they collectively achieved on The Shield. I can see in retrospect everyone was giving their best.

- Just recently, it finally blipped on my radar that there serious issues with the integrity of our mayor in LA (I live in WeHo, so I get to ignore this 99% of the time.) Nothing about who or what this man might be is an enigma to me now. Google after you watch the series.

- Similarly, the LA City Council just voted to (very stupidly, there were other measures they could have taken to curb proliferation if that was a concern - which I believe it is) shut down ALL medical marijuana dispensaries in the county. I think they might grandfather a few. Honestly? This only benefits the drug gangs. After having watched The Shield, I have a very very hard time believing this was an above board action. Follow the money.


"Also they used pliers against a latino drug dealer. My question is this: in seven seasons, do they ever use their tactics against someone who is innocent?"

I def remember some story lines where the wrong person was targeted. Interestingly, I don't think anyone targeted or tortured was innocent - but tagged for a crime they did not commit - YES.

This exact question is what made the narrative so compellingly rich.

I seem to remember some of the "good guys" detectives targeting the wrong individual and experiencing deep remorse, but this is contrasted by the bad cops and bad guys navigating each other in their murky world.

And for sure, the difference between the "Good Detectives" and their operating procedures literally grinding against the "Bad Detectives" on Vic Mackey's team (plus who is "good" and "bad" on that team) gives the show its depth and edge.


Someone above said the first season was a little flat. Maybe so, but that's what makes its artful crescendo so terrific.


If you are over violence - don't watch it. If you can stomach one more GREAT epic story about depravity, make The Shield your last viewing choice in this genre.

I now exclusively watch cooking shows because it is my Mental Sorbet.

Do as you will:)
posted by jbenben at 1:13 AM on August 7, 2012

That said, I don't know that this should be the deciding factor. Could you like a well-acted, well-written show about people whose lives are spiraling out of control as they manage bad decisions with bad decisions? Can you chalk it up as dramatic tension if innocents suffer indirect damage, emotionally and career-wise?

Well I wanted the answer to be yes. What I couldn't stomach is if they were only ever brutal against bad people like violent cocky child slavers. Lots of innocent people suffer on some of the shows I like most, and since that's how I think the world is, a place where the weak are targeted and victimized rather than protected, I don't find it realistic or satisfying if only the bad people have the worst stuff happen to them. But at the same time, there must be some voice for the weak, someone who at least tries to look out for them or cares, even if it is ultimately futile. Because that's just who I identify with the most.

I seem to remember some of the "good guys" detectives targeting the wrong individual and experiencing deep remorse, but this is contrasted by the bad cops and bad guys navigating each other in their murky world.

So the good guys or the people who try to be good are the ones who make the grievous mistakes? The bad guys or the people who think being good is for wimps are the ones who best understand how the world works and think it works just fine?

Now I have finished the episode and I think this is not the show for me. And not because of what happened at the end. That was actually quite interesting and I get why people think the show is exciting. But I was already extremely angry by then and counting down the minutes until it ended because I was so mad, and for me that's no good. I was at the point where if one little pig-tailed white girl had to die just so these bullies wouldn't win I'd be okay with that. I wanted the bad guy to hold out and not give in. I felt like the show was attempting to manipulate me so I would feel conflicted or root for the police bullies.

There are too many bullies in this show. Vic Mackey is a classic bully, the kind of person I could never root for and hate on principle. His team are bullies and bully-wannabes. The black female cop played by CCH Pounder is a bully (I felt like she was being presented as the voice of reason, but I saw her as a bully who tries to cut another cop down to size because...he has moral principles).
posted by Danila at 1:42 AM on August 7, 2012

The nagging feeling that the show likes its bad guys a little too much—that it likes to roll in the dirt a little too much—will never go away. Sometimes it's like they just try to think of the most gut-wrenching HARD CORE gritty thing they can think of to happen, and call that character development.

There is quite a bit of good stuff to the show, but I think you're right that it's not for you.
posted by fleacircus at 1:49 AM on August 7, 2012

Well I don't want to be too self-righteous about it. Sometimes I happen to be a moral prig with a soft spot for society's losers so my compass might be a little off. I do generally like quality stories.

Okay, one last question and I'll shut up: do they rape anyone? The Thomas Covenant fantasy series promised to be very good but I was unable to finish the series because it crossed my personal moral event horizon.
posted by Danila at 1:56 AM on August 7, 2012

There are too many bullies in this show. Vic Mackey is a classic bully, the kind of person I could never root for and hate on principle. His team are bullies and bully-wannabes.

Probably you've made a good call here. I like the show a lot but Vic is a bully (I'm thinking here of his interactions with Dutch and his family) and if that disturbs you, it won't get better. There's plenty of other things to watch.
posted by outlier at 2:03 AM on August 7, 2012

>do they rape anyone?
show creators or the cops? There are several rapes in the series (plus more we hear about as cases)
posted by pyro979 at 6:24 AM on August 7, 2012

I've seen series 1 of the Wire and halfway through series 6 of The Shield. I like the moral ambiguity of The Shield a great deal. Also, it's content to allow the viewer some intelligence - one character has a hidden side to them, which is revealed, left in the background for lots of episodes, then comes back with force. In this way, it's almost Mad Men with drug rings. The characters are complex and I like that. Yes, Vic is a bully, but it shows that even bullies have obligations and weaknesses, and I liked the shades of grey in there.

There is a prominent sexual assault in one of the seasons, but it would be a spoiler if I told you who or what it involved. You don't see anything too graphic from what I remember, it's mostly suggestion, but it isn't a comfortable watch.
posted by mippy at 6:39 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've watched all of The Shield and The Wire and really enjoyed both. One thing I think they have in common is the way characters can be spiteful or weak, or simply just make bad decisions.

I really don't want to spoil anything about The Shield, but it's not just "hijinks of corrupt cops". It can be sometimes, especially in the first couple seasons, but it doesn't stay that way. Again, not to spoil anything, but things start to so south I think in the 4th season and then get even worse as things go on.

One thing that's really positive about The Shield is that I think it gets better as it goes along, and imho the 7th and final season is pretty amazing. Not to hype it up or anything, but I couldn't sleep at all the night after I watched the finale. Not that the 5th season of The Wire wasn't good, but I don't think it was up to the standard of the previous seasons, especially after the powerful 4th.
posted by cali59 at 5:55 PM on August 7, 2012

The fact that it gets better as it goes along and apparently works through arcs rather than dropping plots left and right is what interests me and makes me reluctant to drop it. I spent two hours last night very angry about the one episode I saw. I could not take years or even many episodes of that.

I was at peace with giving up on it and I started watching Justified but I have another question. Is this based on the Rampart scandal?
posted by Danila at 6:10 PM on August 7, 2012

Loosely based on the Rampart scandal, yes.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:40 PM on August 7, 2012

It's hard for me to empathize with the idea of spending two hours feeling angry about an episode of a television show—which I say not to criticize, honestly, only to qualify my perspective as coming from a different personality type. But I watched the entire series of The Shield, and it only took me a few seconds sitting here to remember different episodes and think to myself that if you felt that way, then you are really going to hate when X or Y or Z happens later in the series. And that isn't counting all the things I've probably forgotten.

I said above that if you felt like continuing after the first episode, then you'd probably be okay with the remainder of the series. Based on your description of how you felt after watching the first episode, I would speculate that if you keep watching you are going to have similar feelings after many episodes.

I've had similar conversations with people about books and movies in a slightly different context, not because they connected on an emotional level with onscreen events but because these people had triggering issues. I found that those conversations were tricky to have, and I feared somewhat ineffective, without revealing spoilers. That might be something to think about. If you're willing to endure spoilers, you could Google an article that was critical of The Shield for its offensive content or browse Wikipedia's synopses of a couple random episodes. Maybe that would help your decision.
posted by cribcage at 10:27 AM on August 8, 2012

Thanks cribcage and everyone, the advice was very helpful. Yes I am definitely the kind of person who gets angry about things they see on tv, read in books, watch in movies etc. If I felt the show would at some point show an understanding of the angry reaction then I would have kept watching it, but from all I've been reading here and elsewhere, it seems I am not in sync with the direction of the show.
posted by Danila at 12:59 PM on August 8, 2012

« Older Shingles: Am I still contagious?   |   Crack my back Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.