The Shield — Killer TV No 6

We’re into the top six of CrimeTimePreview’s Killer 50 crime shows…


FX, 2002-2008, seven series

‘Good cop and bad cop left for the day. I’m a different kind of cop.’ – Vic Mackey

Michael Chiklis, Glenn Close, Catherine Dent, Paula Garces, Walton Goggins, Michael Jace, Kenneth Johnson, Forest Whitaker

Identikit: An experimental LAPD division is set up to deal with a crime-ravaged district of the city, with a Strike Team that includes leader Vic Mackey, a brutal and illegal operator who maintains order while profiting from drug-protection scams.

logosExploring the bad side of the badge, The Shield was a slickly scripted, pacy portrayal of city policing as a form of urban warfare. Though an ensemble drama, it was the block-like figure of Detective Vic Mackey that dominated proceedings. He was violent, obnoxious, insubordinate, corrupt – but effective. He made enemies on the street and at the Barn (the converted church that served as headquarters), particularly politically ambitious Captain David Aceveda. From the pilot these two butted heads, with Mackey telling Aceveda that he did not answer to the captain, and Aceveda planting officer Terry Crowley to gather evidence on Mackey’s corrupt methods and protection racket for drug dealers. The episode ended spectacularly with Mackie shooting Crowley in the face during a drug siege and making it look like the cop was killed in the shootout. The question of whether Mackey, whose clean-up rate also made him powerful allies in the police hierarchy, would ever have any justice visited on him kept the tension simmering brilliantly for seven series. Mackey was no pantomime villain, however, but a complicated figure of contradictions, loving his children and generous with his assistance to the odd hooker, but happy to set a police dog on a drug dealer. The biggest threat to the Strike Team came from Internal Affairs Department investigator Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh, played with scary intensity by Forest Whitaker. The Shield was a riveting journey with a great cast of characters, including Mackey’s cronies, such as Shane Vendrell, the strait-laced, pompous Dutch, and Claudette, the star detective unjustifiably kept from promotion to captain. And topping it all was Mackey – ‘Al Capone with a badge’ – who never failed to appal and fascinate.

Classic episode: On Tilt – the finale to season three saw the Strike Team targeted by an Armenian hit man and Vic taking matters into his own hands, while Claudette endangered her career by pursuing a risky case that made her unpopular with colleagues and the DA.

Music: Hip hop (Master P), pop (Duran Duran), country (Willie Nelson) and hard rock (Kid Rock) all featured during the series. The theme music was composed by Vivian Ann Romero, Ernesto J Bautista and Rodney Alejandro.

Watercooler fact: Kurt Sutter, who produced, wrote, directed and even starred in The Shield (as Armenian hit man Margos Dezerian), went on to create Sons of Anarchy, which stars his wife, Katey Sagal.

Vegas, Sky Atlantic, with Dennis Quaid, Michael Chiklis PREVIEW

Dennis Quaid (Sheriff Ralph Lamb), Michael Chiklis (Vincent Savino)
Cowboys v gangsters – Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis. Pics: BSkyB

Rating: ★★★½ 

Sky Atlantic: starts Thursday, 14 February, 10pm 

Story: In 1960 Las Vegas is a fast-growing entertainment mecca in the Nevada desert. Rancher-turned-sheriff Ralph Lamb, charged with enforcing the law as the mobs jostle to control the lucrative gambling businesses, is soon crossing paths with the new gang boss in town – Vincent Savino.

The Americans do period crime shows so much better. Where we get Father Brown and Poirot, they have Boardwalk Empire and now this slick new series from CBS.

Vegas is part nostalgia trip, part mafia caper. It recreates the desert gambling town in its glamorous youth during the early 1960s, a defining moment of Rat Pack rakishness and gangland investment.

But there’s a twist in the shape of the show’s hero, Ralph Lamb, played by Dennis Quaid. His horse-riding, rifle-wielding sheriff is pitted against mob wiseguy Vincent Savino, played with total credibility by that pitbull we all loved to hate in The Shield, Michael Chiklis. It’s cowboys v gangsters.

Ralph Lamb rides into the airport in Vegas
High plane drf Ralph Lamb

Created by Goodfellas writer Nicholas Pileggi
The culture clash is signalled immediately as rancher Lamb rides his horse onto the runway of the fledgling Vegas airport to confront air traffic control about routing a passenger plane over his cattle herd, scattering the animals for miles. On that plane is sharply dressed Chicago crime boss Savino.

Lamb is temporarily appointed sheriff to investigate the murder of the governor’s niece, the actual sheriff having gone missing. Meanwhile, Savino struts around the Savoy Hotel, dishing out beatings to any who displease him and turfing out dealers found skimming.

The series, created by Goodfellas and Casino writer Nicholas Pileggi, gets off to an adrenaline rush of a start, sweeping round a recreation of the original, more low-rise strip of casinos, lovingly evoking an era of huge cars with extravagant fins and Mad Men standards of cool dressing for cocktails and roulette.

Savino (Michael Chiklis) at his casino with Sheriff Lamb (Dennis Quaid)
East v West – Chicago boss Savino plays host to rancher Lamb

Carrie-Anne Moss as the assistant District Attorney
Action set-pieces include a great chase as Lamb on horseback goes after a Hell’s Angel on motorbike. And the face-off between the sheriff and Savino has plenty of machismo and menace.

Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) looks like a potential love interest for Lamb as assistant DA Katherine O’Connell, while of the Marlboro Man trio of good guys is completed by Jason O’Mara (Terra Nova) as Lamb’s younger brother and Taylor Handley (Battle: Los Angeles) as his son.

Vegas is inspired by the true story of a rancher who served as sheriff of Clark County from 1961 to 1979. The series is a departure for mainstream US network CBS, maker of formula series such as NCIS and Criminal Minds.

Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis
The stakes are high as Lamb investigates a young woman’s murder

Can the friction between sheriff Lamb and Savino keep Vegas firing every week?
As cable networks HBO, AMC and Showtime have set the agenda with acclaimed dramas such as The Wire, Breaking Bad and Homeland, CBS seems to want to produce something more edgy and character-focused.

Whether it has hit the jackpot in Vegas may depend on how well the writers can maintain the sparks coming off Lamb and Savino. CBS‘s other big new show, Elementary (showing on Sky Living), seemed to be rating higher with viewers before Christmas, but Vegas is averaging around 10million viewers a week in the US, and this opener certainly felt like a good bet to find its feet.

Cast: Dennis Quaid Sheriff Ralph Lamb, Michael Chiklis Vincent Savino, Carrie-Anne Moss Katherine O’Connell, Jason O’Mara Deputy Jack Lamb, Taylor Handley Dixon Lamb, Sarah Jones Mia Rizzo, Aimee Garcia Yvonne Sanchez, Vinessa Shaw Laura Savino, Michael O’Neill mayor Ted Bennett, Gil Bellows George Grady, James Russo Anthony ‘Red’ Cervelli, Michael Reilly Burke Rich Reynolds, Michael Wiseman as Johnny Rizzo

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Vegas and The Following coming to Sky Atlantic; Elementary will be on Living

Sky has just announced a triple whammy of forthcoming crime/thriller shows from the States.

Vegas stars Dennis Quaid (Vantage Point) and Michael Chiklis (The Shield) in a Boardwalk Empire-type trip back to old days in Vegas. Quaid is former Las Vegas sheriff Ralph Lamb, tasked with bringing order to the new gambling mecca that wise guys like Vincent Savino (Chiklis) want to carve up. It’s a Mad Men era crime caper from Goodfellas writer Nicholas Pileggi.

Meanwhile, Sky Atlantic is also lining up for early 2013 a Kevin Bacon (Mystic River) thriller called The Following. James Purefoy (Rome) will also star as notorious serial killer Joe Carroll, who escapes from death row to begin a new killing spree. Bacon is former FBI man Ryan Hardy, who – with overtones of Red Dragon/Manhunter – is a psychologically scarred agent who once caught Carroll and knows him better than anyone else. Natalie Zea – of Justified fame – will play Carroll’s wife.

Finally, Elementary, the CBS contemporary New York spin on the BBC’s Sherlock, will arrive on Living this autumn. Johnny Lee Miller (Trainspotting) is Holmes alongside Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels) as Joan Watson.

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