Crackle in the Shield

Many people that I chat with have taken to the act of “cord cutting”. Getting rid of one’s cable service, and relying entirely on online streaming. I see the benefits, but the act of television viewing goes beyond the watching. Flipping is a main cog in the TV experience. I really enjoy aimless wandering around the dial. Often getting lost during shows I’m watching to meander around my vast cable package. I really couldn’t tell you how many channels I have. It’s in the 300 range, but some of those are just music feeds and/or Greek news.

I do not have your Netflixes or HBO Go’s – but I did stumble upon a nice on demand service, kept free by advertisers, as God intended. Crackle is a hodgepodge of TV shows and movies that you probably have seen before, but if you haven’t, can catch them on this quaint website. They have old Adam Sandler movies, new Joe Dirt offerings, some classic Seinfeld, but I come to ballyhoo The Shield. After NYPD Blue and before The Wire, The Shield took the mantle of edgy cop show. Crackle has put up Season 5, the best season, mainly because of Forest Whitaker as a breathy, tenacious, weirdo. He gives a command performance as internal affairs investigator Jon Kavanaugh. For the whole season he gives a very awkward and purposefully uncomfortable performance as he tries to take down the anti-hero of the show, the awful, yet sometimes likeable, Vic Mackey (played by The Commish himself, Michael Chiklis). Mackey is a corrupt cop, in the corrupt world of L.A. gangs, drugs dealers, power hungry politicians, and shady backroom deals. He’s bad news. Killed a fellow cop, robbed the Armenian mob and that’s just the stuff before we get to Season 5. The two do a several-episode-long cat-and-mouse game. Chiklis is always ridiculously confident and heelish. Whitaker is a great cop but his world away from the force is a shambles. They do the old “the good guy is actually the bad guy and bad guy is actually the good guy” thing.

But rather than have a rooting interest, The Shield provides a pageant of a power struggle. One quickly learns that most characters will disappoint you in some way (hey, just like life!). The supporting cast is also pretty super. The diamond in the rough is Detective Billings (who I knew as Detective Vecchio from Due South). The other cops may be evil but they are good at what they do. Billings is terrible police. He himself sort of knows it but doesn’t really care. Mostly everybody else on the show has big moments for juicy acting fun. Crying in one scene, gunplay the next. Billings doesn’t do any of that, yet steals every scene he’s in and by the end of the season is a real highlight. My favourite is Detective Wagenbach, the by-the-book cop surrounded by break-all-the-rules cops. Dutch, as he is called, is a great lost soul. Good at his job, but doesn’t get the glory of others. He painfully stumbles through social interactions. Carrying the burden the way he knows, doing everything the way it should be, but there is no manual for forging relationships.

The show does get gratuitously violent and almost cartoony at times at how corruption permeates everything from the police to the clergy to to gas stations, in one big ball which strings are pulled out of. If you can stomach all of that, it’s great binge watching. The pace is excellent and you can bang-out several episodes in a row on a rainy or too-hot-to-do-anything-else weekend. Crackle doesn’t have the whole series, but I do recommend it. The Shield is not a formulaic procedural, it has long cases that span several episodes and sometimes seasons. Everything is not wrapped up in a neat little package. As I myself am a Whitaker-like weirdo rather than a Chiklis-esque bully, I had my own process for watching the show. Usually it’s a half-dozen egg omelette, strawberry lemonade Crystal Light and my mantra. I have mantras for TV shows I get into. Parks and Recreation was, “are we having fun yet?” (Adam Scott or not). Dawson’s Creek had me yelling, “Kick It!” during the opening credits. The Shield is a big deal as it gets its own mantra, “Sierra, Hotel, India, Echo, Lima, Delta – Sheild!”

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