Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

 

Burt-DayIMG_4674

 

This past week, Nitehawk Cinema hosted the latest Kevin Geeks Out show, focusing on Wigs, Toupees, and Hairpieces in movies. It was my great honor to be among the talented and hysterical presenters. I got the chance to talk about one of the greatest movie stars of the past century, as part of my mission to remind people of his greatness. The following is what I presented:

 

000 BURT REYNOLDS

 

It feels like high time to remember what makes Burt Reynolds so important. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s he was the number-one movie star in the country for five years straight. For that reason, Burt’s story is part of America’s story. He met everybody. His memoir is loaded with many of the most famous people of the past century. His book is like Forrest Gump, if Forrest Gump was Burt Reynolds.

 

001

 

Why am I bringing up Burt Reynolds in a show about Wigs, Toupees, and Hairpieces? There are at least two big reasons, and I’ll get to them both. I’d argue that hair is a central theme of Burt’s stardom, and it’s also part of the reason we lost track of him.

 

Burt Reynolds, with his dog Bertha. 1970.

 

002 SAM WHISKEY

 

For a good part of his career, Burt didn’t have his signature mustache. Here he is taking a bath in SAM WHISKEY from 1969. That same year, Burt grew a mustache for his role in 100 RIFLES opposite Jim Brown and Raquel Welch.

 

003 DELIVERANCE

 

But one of Burt’s signature roles had nothing to do with the mustache. Here he is in DELIVERANCE from 1972. It’s a strong movie and Burt is a big part of what makes it that way. In an alternate universe, we can imagine, Burt continued on this hairless path.

 

004 AS ROCKY RHODES IN 'THE TWILIGHT ZONE'.

 

Burt says he grew the mustache because he was tired of being compared to Marlon Brando. This is Burt from an episode of The Twilight Zone, early in his career, where he plays a sort of Brando type actor. In the book Burt tells a story about Brando cornering him at a party to accuse him of cashing in on the resemblance. Burt said, “I’m not having surgery because you don’t like the way I look. But I promise not to get fat.”

 

005 MUSTACHE PARTY

 

So, the mustache. This is the popular image of Burt Reynolds in people’s mind. At one time in American pop culture, a mustache was a symbol of maleness, of virility. Maybe it was a Teddy Roosevelt thing. But as time went on, and especially nowadays, the mustache seems to promise comedy.

Ron Swanson.

Ned Flanders.

Chuck Norris.

 

006 PLAYGIRL

 

That’s the catch-22: It’s partly because of the very sign of his legendary machismo that people stopped taking Burt Reynolds seriously.

 

007 COSMO

 

And this is another reason. In 1972 Burt posed naked for Cosmopolitan magazine. He did it right before DELIVERANCE made him a huge star. Burt did it for a laugh, but it worked against him. People didn’t get it.

 

008 Fuzz (1972)

 

As you can see from this poster for FUZZ, that photoshoot haunted his image.

 

009

 

Most people see Burt as a playboy, as a goofball. They don’t remember how good an actor he was, and how great a movie star he was.

 

010 DANCING

 

This is Burt (on the far right) dancing at a party near Steve McQueen and his wife. It’s true that Burt Reynolds was always fun. It was part of his image.

 

011 DANCING

 

Another thing about Burt Reynolds that makes him awesome, but that also works against him, is his openness and honesty. He called his own movies crap when they were crap, and even when they weren’t. He was never afraid to be the butt of the joke, but maybe people stopped noticing he was in on it.

 

012 SHATNER

 

Here’s another thing: In America, you can’t ever admit you wear a hairpiece. William Shatner is an example of a guy who didn’t hide it, and so he’s generally treated as a punchline.

 

013

 

Here’s a guy who never admits it.

 

014

 

As long as you never admit it isn’t real, you’re invincible.

 

015

 

Even when there’s relatively apparent visual proof that you’ve had work done on your hairline…

 

016

 

As long as you don’t admit it, you’re golden. The second you admit it, you’re Samson post-Delilah.

 

017 Deliverance (1972)

 

Burt says, “I’ve always been frank about my hair, because if you deny it, you’re fooling yourself.  Everybody else will do jokes about it. It’s better if you do the jokes first.” And so he did. But I think it made people forget what an effective dramatic actor he was.

 

017a

 

Fun story about Burt and the hairpiece: “One night at a bar in New York some idiot came over and made a crack about a “pelt on my head and I said, “If you can get it off before I beat the shit out of you, you can have it.”

 

017b

 

Another admirable thing about Burt is his ability to make amazing friendships. He can be best pals with a guy who turned out to be as right-wing as Jon Voight…

 

017c

 

And he can be as close as he was to Ossie Davis, who told Burt, “You’re the only actor in the world liked by both African-Americans and the Ku Klux Klan.” For the record, Burt wasn’t interested in entertaining racists. If you watch his movies, his love for people shines through — regardless of their gender, race, or orientation. If it was a party, everybody was invited.

 

018 White Lightning (1973)

 

DELIVERANCE solidified Burt as a Southern-fried action star. He appeared – still without the mustache – in films like WHITE LIGHTNING

 

019 Gator (1976)

 

…and GATOR

 

STICK, Burt Reynolds, 1985

STICK, Burt Reynolds, 1985

 

…the latter of which also marked the start of his directing career.

 

021 The Longest Yard (1974)

 

One of Burt’s best and most famous movies, THE LONGEST YARD, shows what he can do without mustache power. It’s one of the greatest sports movies ever made.

 

022 Hustle (1975)

 

Coming from the same director a year later, HUSTLE was a very underrated crime film. Guaranteed Michael Mann saw this one somewhere along the line.

 

023 Lucky Lady (1975)

 

Here’s Burt co-starring with Gene Hackman, one of the key actors in the New Hollywood. In this era, guys like De Niro and Pacino, Hoffman and Hackman, began to redefine naturalistic acting on film.

 

024 Semi-Tough (1977)

 

And just as American movies were getting more serious, Burt went the other way.

 

025 Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

 

This is SMOKEY & THE BANDIT, the movie that was a colossal hit for Burt and his friend, the director and legendary stunt man Hal Needham.

 

026 Burt Reynolds, Hal Needham, Jerry Reed, and a bassett hound on the set of Smokey & the Bandit.

 

While most highbrow critics don’t give any kind of attention to Hal Needham’s work, I think it’s very important, not least because of how it showcases the severely under-appreciated art of movie stunts.

 

027 Hooper (1978)

 

HOOPER was maybe Hal Needham’s most personal movie, showing the life of a Hollywood stuntman. It’s great.

 

027a Hooper (1978) Japanese Poster

 

So is its Japanese poster.

 

028 The End (1978)

 

Even amidst the popularity of all the Hal Needham movies, Burt continued to direct, and this is also the era where he buddied up with Dom DeLuise.

 

Reynolds Roast 1977

 

Burt and Dom together are magic, they’re infectious, you can’t not love watching them,

 

029 The Cannonball Run (1981)

 

But they’re also clowns. Their movies together are live-action cartoons.

 

Dom DeLuise

 

If all you know is THE CANNONBALL RUN, it’s very easy to lose sight of Burt’s dramatic talents.

 

030 Paternity (1981)

 

When Burt makes a movie like this…

 

031 Sharky's Machine (1981)

 

…It’s easier for cinematic tastemakers to forget that, the same year, he also made a movie like this.

 

032

 

SHARKY’S MACHINE is really worth seeing. I wish Burt’s career had continued with him directing more of this kind of melancholy, sleazy crime movie.

 

033 Stick

 

Burt made an Elmore Leonard adaptation before it became the in-thing to do.

 

034 Heat

 

There’s a better film out there going by the same name, but HEAT is still pretty special, a perfect showcase for Burt as a tough guy whose glory was beginning to fade.

 

035 CITY HEAT

 

Teaming him up with his old buddy Clint Eastwood, 1984’s CITY HEAT should have been a hit. It wasn’t.

 

036 City Heat (1984)

 

I think the contrast between Clint and Burt at this stage of their careers is very telling. Both of them were stars who appealed to men as much as women. Both of them are better actors than most people recognize. Both of them directed. But only one of them became a mainstream Academy Award winning institution.

 

037

 

I love Clint, never get me wrong, but he would never let himself be the butt of the joke, the way Burt did so many times. Even in the movies he made with the orangutan, Clint was always the coolest guy in the room. In CITY HEAT, he calls Burt “Shorty.” The final line of the movie from Clint is, “You’ll always be Shorty to me.” And he gets the last word. [Clint is 6’4″, Burt is 5’11”.]

 

M8DCIHE EC004

 

Notice who’s wearing the nice suit and who’s wearing the silly costume.

 

039 Stroker Ace (1983)

 

This is also the era when Burt became more famous for tabloids than for movies. For one thing, a facial injury he sustained on the set of CITY HEAT led to a rumor Burt had AIDS. If you remember the ‘eighties, there was a lot of spite and prejudice in a rumor like that.

 

040

 

This is also around the time Burt met Loni Anderson.

 

041

 

It isn’t like Burt wasn’t famous for his offscreen relationships before, but this was where it started to overshadow his onscreen work.

 

042

 

In his book, Burt isn’t mean about it, but he indicates he got swept up in the relationship in a way he wishes he hadn’t.

 

043

 

Guess that’s hard to say no to, no matter what your type is.

 

044

 

Burt says this was one of the happiest times of his life…

 

045

 

…but then also the worst.

 

046

 

Again, headlines like these are the primary basis of his celebrity in the late 1980s. By contrast, Clint was really taking off as a serious filmmaker, going from BIRD to UNFORGIVEN.

 

047

 

People see Loni Anderson, a blonde bombshell, and they probably make assumptions about her, and about Burt for being into her. But the loves of Burt’s life were girl-next-door types.

 

047a

 

The chapter in the book on Burt’s regrets about it not working out with Sally Field is really affecting.

 

048 Cop and a Half (1993)

 

So real life got sadder, and then these were the kinds of movies Burt was getting. No offense to COP AND A HALF, but it’s no IN THE LINE OF FIRE.

 

TSDEVSH EC011

 

In the ‘nineties, Burt went back to TV for Evening Shade, a show that had one of the greatest ensemble casts ever, but it was on CBS at a time when it wasn’t cool at all to be on CBS, assuming that time ever existed.

 

050 Boogie Nights (1997)

 

Then, towards the end of the decade, this came along.

 

051

 

By the time Burt gives his phenomenal half-dramatic/half-comedic performance in BOOGIE NIGHTS, nobody seemed to remember that’s what he’d been doing all along.

 

052

 

I think movie fans of my generation revere this movie and we revere Paul Thomas Anderson’s work in general. BOOGIE NIGHTS is a great American movie. But it was well publicized that Burt was uncomfortable with it. He’s still never seen it all the way through. Anderson went on to make several more great films, and Burt didn’t. This kind of stuff leads people to take sides, and most go with the brilliant auteur over the so-called has-been. But it’s not that simple.

 

053

 

For one thing, Burt was 62 when he made Boogie Nights. Paul Anderson was 27. Keep in mind Burt started acting back in the 1950s. Imagine you’re Burt and some kid is asking you to do and say some pretty damn out-there things. BOOGIE NIGHTS isn’t porn, but it’s sure got porn dialogue. Burt was the son of a police chief. He was raised to be a gentleman. He had valid reasons to be concerned about his image at this point in time. I don’t think Burt Reynolds is an uptight guy, but I also think it’s okay if he wasn’t too comfortable calling Julianne Moore a “foxy bitch.”

 

054 The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)

 

Burt was incredible in BOOGIE NIGHTS, but just about everything that came afterwards was underwhelming. THE DUKES OF HAZZARD was a movie based on an old TV show that was itself a rip-off of Smokey & the Bandit, and now Burt was getting novelty-cast in the Jackie Gleason role.

 

longest_yard_ver2

 

055 The Longest Yard (2005)

 

Don’t even get me started on what happened here.

 

056

 

So the full-on renaissance he deserved didn’t happen. Burt returned to Florida. He runs an acting school there now.

 

057 Burt Reynolds Institute & Museum in Jupiter, Florida.

 

Can you imagine getting acting lessons from Burt Reynolds? That’s a movie right there.

 

058

 

Burt turned 80 this month. If I had to bet on any human being lasting past a hundred, it’d be him, but still.

 

059

 

Too often the critical re-evaluations come too late. I don’t think it’s too radical for me to suggest that the work of one of the most popular movie stars in history is worth another look.

 

060 IN CONCLUSION

 

Let’s not let a legend go under-remembered in his own time. And one last thing about the book: It not only has chapters remembering Bette Davis, Lee Marvin, and Frank Sinatra, but there’s also one dedicated to the horse Burt rode in the movie NAVAJO JOE. What’s better than that?

 

Navajo Joe (1966)

 

 

— JON ABRAMS.

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The Newsroom is one episode away from being out of our lives forever, but when it comes to infuriating the more discerning minds among us, it’s not done yet. (A few examples: Here. Here. Here.) To be fair, I didn’t see it, and probably won’t. Life is too damn short. But maybe some of you might like to know why I wouldn’t bother.

This brief piece came from my weekly column on new DVDs and Blu-Rays at Daily Grindhouse. It covers my overall feelings on this particular series:

The Newsroom: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Temporary cover art

The two main characters on this show are named Will McAvoy and MacKenzie McHale, so I would humbly venture to suggest this show would be overwritten even before any of the characters were to begin to speak.

The central conceit, that this is the story of a fictional team that breaks the news centering around real-world news stories that happened two years beforehand, strikes me most frequently as unintentionally comedic and not remotely as intelligent or as self-aware as its defenders will attest. Here’s something that can be hard to understand, but still true in my opinion: Something can sound intelligent and still not at all be intelligent. No matter how voluminously-composed the monologues are, I can’t help feeling that show creator Aaron Sorkin is what I would call a Bad Good Writer. Obviously he’s a big talent, able to attack social concerns in a way that appeals to a broad audience, and so many fine actors line up to work on his shows that clearly there’s significant merit in Sorkin’s work, to them at least.

But his work can be howlingly self-important, and overly wordy to the exclusion of telling a good story. To be fair, I haven’t watched anywhere close to all of The Newsroom‘s three seasons, but I did watch all of the indulgent and deathly anti-comedic Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (Sorkin’s show about the making of an SNL-style variety show) in uneasy fascination, and that’s what everything I’ve seen of this show reminds me of most.

In my opinion, the best projects I’ve seen connected to Aaron Sorkin’s name are CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR, MONEYBALL, and THE SOCIAL NETWORK.

Movies.

With directors.

Directors who know how to take a dense script and make it visual.

Sorkin’s TV work is all about pointing the camera at actors, so they can hold forth with his prolonged text-volleys. Sometimes the camera follows the characters as they walk and talk, but that’s about as cinematic as it gets. If Aaron Sorkin had to tell a story without words he’d be dead in the water.

And that’s not to my taste, to say the least. My storytelling inspirations are generally the kind of people who can tell a story without words, as well as with them. In the silent era, Aaron Sorkin wouldn’t have worked a single day. Then again, they didn’t have blogs back then, so there goes half the stuff they rail against on The Newsroom anyway.

Follow me on Twitter, which Aaron Sorkin hates, at @jonnyabomb.

BILL MURRAY

 

One thing about Bill Murray, he’s a loyal friend. That is so obviously true that just in writing about Bill Murray movies, I’ve mentioned it twice at least. Here and here. If you’re lucky enough to get Bill Murray in your movie, he will go all-out to help promote it. And if you happen to be George Clooney, this truism kicks up onto another plateau. Apparently, Bill Murray is so dedicated to THE MONUMENTS MEN that he even got onto the internet for what may easily be the first time ever to talk about it. And he’s been on TV a ton in the past ten days, not always overtly to promote the movie. Maybe it has to do with the twenty-year anniversary of the release of GROUNDHOG DAY. (Technically, Wednesday.) Or maybe he’s just getting comfortable there.

 

Here’s a handful of the Bill Murray appearances so far this month:

 

Bill Murray making a memorable entrance, as usual, for David Letterman:

 

 

Bill Murray with the cast of THE MONUMENTS MEN on Jimmy Kimmel’s show (by the way this happened Thursday night — bet you five bucks Kimmel did this for bigger ratings as an F-you  to Leno):

 

 

Bill Murray at the Super Bowl:

 

 

Bill Murray talking to Charlie Rose about CADDYSHACK:

 

 

That full interview:

 

 

Bill Murray talking to a fine-ass sports reporter:

 

 

BILL MURRAY

 

I’m sure there are plenty more, but what am I, his press agent?

 

FLYING

@jonnyabomb

sleepy hollow

Sleepy-Hollow

FOX has a new show from the writers of the new STAR TREK which re-envisions Washington Irving’s 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” for the modern day.  I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this information.  I grew up on that short story, and on the 1949 Disney retelling.  I grew up not far from Tarrytown where the story is set. I went to haunted hayrides there.  In high school I drew pictures of the Headless Horseman while other kids were trying weed for the first time.  This is a story that has a lot of power for me.  This is a property I know about, more than most.

There’s stuff I like about the promo footage.  I like seeing Clancy Brown (STARSHIP TROOPERS) in anything, although it doesn’t look like he makes it out of the pilot.  I like Nicole Beharie, the female lead, having just seen her in 42 and thinking she made near-angelic sweetness a believable human characteristic there.  I like the idea of the Headless Horseman running rampant through the very bucolic Dobbs Ferry.

But there’s some bizarro stuff in here too.  The premise is that Ichabod Crane, who in this incarnation fought with George Washington, is woken up 250 years into his future, where his nemesis the Horseman has been once again causing trouble.  First of all, that’s Rip Van Winkle, if you know your Irving, but neither that nor the fact that Ichabod has been stripped of his characteristic cowardice is what worries me nearly as much as THE CONSPIRACY.  Oh no, the conspiracy! The back-of-the-dollar-bill spooky-eye pyramid Illuminati conspiracy!  I’m not being sarcastic.  I’m actually concerned.  Concerned that this is going to be turned into NATIONAL TREASURE: THE SERIES.  I don’t watch those movies, the same way I don’t watch DA VINCI CODE movies, because I’m not interested in historical conspiracies.  I’m interested in ghost stories.  Especially when it comes to SLEEPY HOLLOW, I’m interested in the ghosts.  And on top of everything, here they’ve got the spectral swordsman wielding automatic rifles just like he’s Val Kilmer in HEAT.

It’s adequate cause for concern, is all I’m saying.  There are ways to allay worries.  (I am, as always, eminently hirable as consultant on matters of supernatural accuracy.)

Anyway here’s the trailer.  You decide for me.  Keep an eye out for a special guest appearance by the tagline from Tim Burton’s 1999 SLEEPY HOLLOW ad campaign!

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

@jonnyabomb

Arrested Development Season 4

It’s possible you may have heard something vague about Netflix bringing back the cult TV series ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT for one more season. There’s been some talk. (Enough mock-naïveté: It’s one of the biggest pop-culture stories of the year.) The show originally ran for three little-watched seasons on Fox, but it since has gained in popularity over the years, as its talented cast got more work as a direct result of their go-f0r-broke kamikaze comedy, and as word spread amongst comedy fans on how ridiculously funny and expertly constructed it was. Most people discovered the show through watching the seasons via Netflix, so it’s fitting that Netflix is where the fourth season will be exclusively available.

Here’s the trailer:

You’d definitely want to be up on the show before you watch the new episodes. There are a lot of long-running jokes that look to be making their triumphant return. Along those lines: the banana stand. It’s a long story, but the once-wealthy now-struggling Bluth family have a particularly wackadoo side venture, a stand that sells frozen bananas. That idea sounds kind of awesome to me but crazy to most people, so it was a routine source of hijinks on the show.

The banana stand has been making real-life appearances (along with some members of the cast and crew) in various locations to promote the show’s return. This week it’s been at Yankees Stadium and in Columbus Circle, and today, from 11am to 5pm, it’ll be in front of the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. You can line up for free frozen bananas and possibly more, if you show up in costume. Follow @ArrestedDev for daily location updates and more information. I’m not sure where this thing is going next, but you can be sure there’ll be some real weirdos there!

And follow me @jonnyabomb, because I’m never nude.

Never Nude

NETFLIX  "Arrested Development" Bluth's Original Banana Stand New York City Opening

NETFLIX  "Arrested Development" Bluth's Original Banana Stand New York City Day 2 Columbus Circle

 

Lindsay Lohan almost ran me over once.  It’s not my greatest Hollywood anecdote, but it happened.  At the time, I was working as a production assistant on the set of a TV show in Los Angeles.  My job was to corral all the background extras for the scene into a break area in an alleyway behind this jewelry store where we were shooting.  It was a wide alley, leading out to the street — big enough for cars to drive through though narrow enough that they’d need to do so cautiously.  I stepped out in the alley to address the group, back to the street.

Suddenly, a car sped right past my left shoulder, not more than six inches from me, fast enough to be dangerous but slow enough for me to spin around and spot the familiar face in the drivers’ seat.  It was like that scene in JAWS where Brody is shoveling chum and grumbling to Quint and while his back is turned, the great white zooms right past him – only instead of a shark it was the cute redhead from MEAN GIRLS.

 

I should say “allegedly” regarding all of the above, since there were no cameras recording the incident.  Easily deniable.  As it happened, I doubt she even noticed.  So you’re free to doubt me.  But please know that character assassination is not my thing.  That’s not the goal.  Near-accidents happen.  No big deal to me, really.  I don’t hold any personal grudges against Ms. Lohan.  I’ve been almost-killed by all sorts of people, many of whom are my greatest friends. 

I only brought this up in the interest of full disclosure, because I wrote about Lindsay Lohan and the Lifetime TV movie LIZ & DICK for Daily Grindhouse and my unvarnished opinion may read to some like an act of vengeance. I can only hope that you take my word for it when I say that it was done entirely without malice.

Well, not entirely.  I mean, I hated the movie.  But I gave it my best shot.  And I don’t hate anyone who made it.  I just wish they wouldn’t have. 

Click on the picture or on this link for >>>LIZ & DICK<<< !!!

Go here for me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

THE SHIELD (2002-2008).

Posted: June 27, 2012 in Los Angeles, TV

For some reason it’s been coming up in conversation a lot recently, so I’ve got The Shield on the brain.  Here’s something I wrote back in 2008, when the show ended.  My argument was that, as much as I share the love for The Sopranos and The WireThe Shield is weirdly underrated when it comes to the great TV series of the past decade.

 

Truth be told, I don’t get the chance to follow that much television – episodic TV has gotten so dense and narratively sophisticated that most of the shows worth following demand one-hundred-percent involvement.  It probably says something about which shows I choose to follow religiously, but I definitely haven’t watched too much TV outside of the shows I do watch that way.  So I don’t know what the “Best” anything is; I only know which shows I find to be the most subjectively awesome, and this year that was The Shield.

The Shield is an ugly show, in the greatest sense of the word.  It has no fear in showing the worst sides of decent people and the truest sides of truly ugly people.  It’s not interested in selling you a line of bullshit, though it is interested in showing you how some people would sell you a line of bullshit.  So much of television is coated with makeup, designed to sell high-priced clothes and celebrity gossip magazines.  The Shield is, unusually, bravely, committed to ugliness.  The look of the show follows suit:  While long-time DP Rohn Schmidt is surely capable of shooting pretty pictures (see his work on Frank Darabont’s The Mist), the name of the game here is dingy steadi-cam, “found footage,” and harsh lighting.  While I’m sure the cast of actors are all attractive enough people in real life, in The Shield they are unanimously brave enough to frequently be filmed in less than their best light.  The most frequent subjects are of course the Strike Team:  Detectives Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins), Curtis “Lemonhead” Lemansky (Kenny Johnson), Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell), and later Julien Lowe (Michael Jace).  All decent-looking fellas, as that goes, but very often filmed as ogres in the course of the show – and that is of course, by design.

When an overtly attractive character appears on The Shield, it’s time to worry about their safety – pretty people don’t last long in this universe.  Exhibit A: Det. Tevon Garris (Brian White), well-remembered but short-lasting member of the Strike Team.  Either they get killed off, discredited, sent packing, or brutally disfigured.

One of the better in-jokes of the series is rookie officer Tina Hanlon’s last line in the final episode – “I made it.”  Played by the lovely Paula Garcés, I was sure that the character of Tina was destined for extinction, but of course I should have remembered that Tina wasn’t quite as pretty on the insides.

I’m harping on this point a little too long because I think it matters.  In a visual medium such as television, looks are important, and so how a meticulously planned and executed story such as The Shield looks, is a good starting point for overview.  And no character is shown in as unflattering a light as Detective Vic Mackey (played by Michael Chiklis, who gives a legendary seven-seasons-long performance worthy of every acting award they can sculpt.)  Make no mistake:  Mackey is a bad person.  There are shades of gray along the way, but those are lost in the vast blackness as the series progresses.  Shield creator Shawn Ryan and his writers, and Michael Chiklis and his fellow actors (all of the ones I’ve mentioned so far and the rest I haven’t yet), are all inspiringly crafty in how they’ve laid out the moral universe of the show.  Vic Mackey is very definitely a bad person.  He is a corrupt cop who kills a fellow cop, because he was investigating him – this is depicted in the very FIRST episode.  Yet, if we stick with the show, over the course of seven seasons we are constantly rooting for Mackey and his partners to get away dirty.  (There’s no getting away “clean” for anybody here.)

That’s all to do with the charisma Chiklis brings to the character.  Charisma, not charm.  There’s a major difference.  The audience of The Shield is caught rooting for a monster.  We also get to know the various members of the Strike Team, who start out at varying levels of likability and corruption (with Lem generally considered the best and Shane generally the worst), and through their complicity with Mackey, are brought to much lower levels of the latter, and somehow, higher levels of the former.

Walton Goggins is probably the overall MVP of the show’s final seasons, as he took a character that started out as a wild-eyed racist horndog and ended the show reaching new heights of doomed sympathy, although Kenny Johnson, as the generally good-natured and guilt-wracked Lem, was far and away the sad star of Season Five, and David Rees Snell comes all the way from the background character who always seemed to get the worst of it, to a dynamic force and Mackey’s last loyal partner in Season Seven, where his luck remains unfortunately consistent.

As I start to get lost in praise for the creators on- and off-camera, I haven’t even gotten to CCH Pounder and Jay Karnes as Detectives Wyms and Waggenbach, whose characters come as close to honest and capable of real friendship as this show gets, even though she’s doomed herself, and he’s more than a little creepy (see the cat incident in Season Three).  And then there’s Benito Martinez as David Aceveda, the police captain and eventual politician who is probably Mackey’s leading archenemy over the course of the series, who is arguably the bravest actor in a cast full of brave actors (true fans know I’m talking about Season Three).

Also, The Shield is better than any other show I have ever seen at logically, convincingly, and invisibly integrating bigger-named guest stars into the cast, as anyone who followed the stints of Glenn Close, Forest Whitaker, Franka Potente, and most gloriously surprising, Anthony Anderson, will agree.

But this last season, which finished airing in November, the guest star characters were all gone, and we were left with what remains of the core cast members.  (Not all of the main characters make it out alive.)  And I have to tell you quite honestly, the series ended with a final episode more satisfying than any other I have ever seen.  More satisfying than many movies even, which at its best, is the strength of TV – the longer and the better you get to know the characters, the more impact the resolution of their story might be.  And the resolution of The Shield, such as it is, has a whole mess of impact.  It’s like life – the good guys, if there even are any, don’t necessarily get what they deserve, though some of the bad guys do.  What you thought you wanted, you don’t get.  What you thought you wanted, you get and wish you didn’t.  What you didn’t know what you wanted, you get just a little of it.  What you never expected to break your heart, does.

Now:  Does Vic Mackey get what he deserves?

Not a question for me to answer here.  I don’t want to ruin it for anyone yet to discover the last few scenes of the series.  All I want to say is that I was entirely satisfied by how it ended.  It felt right.  I’d love to know what other people thought, and if you haven’t seen the show, start at the beginning and dig through those DVDs.  It’s great.  I haven’t felt this much of a vacuum at a show’s departure since The Sopranos.

The Shield has truth in it, in its way.  The show started out trying to get at certain ugly truths about power and the corrupting power of lies, and its high quality and its truth stayed consistent all the way through.  I’ve lived in Los Angeles for eight years, and I will tell you that, while there are certainly exaggerations for dramatic requirements, I recognize Los Angeles in The Shield.  Not the Los Angeles they show you on most other shows, with the beaches and the high-end stores and the glass facades and the bleached blondes, but the Los Angeles that lives further east and to the south.  The Shield has the ability to shock you, the way LA itself has the ability to shock you.

[A big salute to my homeboy Jimmy G. for first lending me the Season 1 DVD way back, which sent me tearing through the rest of the series to date.]

One last thing:

I noticed that every mention of The Shield’s finale seemed to invoke either the series endings of The Sopranos, or The Wire, or both.  I’m an equal fan, arguably even a student, of all three shows.  I say this having seen every single episode of all three series, some more than once.  (Which explains where my twenties went.)

So while I can get into it, I’d rather not compare three series I am very fond of against each other, particularly because all three are after different thematic and creative goals.

In the case of The Sopranos, it’s an entirely different animal.  First of all, The Sopranos is filled with moments of blackest comedy, while The Shield is many things, but funny is never one of them.  More importantly, The Sopranos is about America, about family, and about crooks.  Cops rarely, if ever, figure into it.  The Shield is about L.A. in specific, family is only a pretense (at least for Mackey), and it still is very much a cop show, even though it inverts and subverts the formula that other shows continue to feed us.  As a cop show, The Shield still wants to deliver on some fronts, without ambiguity.  I bet you anything that even David Chase would agree that, when it comes to series finales, The Shield ends on the more dramatically satisfying note.

In the case of The Wire, it’s a little trickier.  Both shows are cop shows, or at least start out that way – they take the old standard of the cop show and have their way with it.  But The Wire is very different from The Shield – it has just a little to do with hope, whereas The Shield provides no such thing.  As much as The Wire is very clearly an angry invective against a broken system, it still ends up on the screen as ultimately a more optimistic, even utopian, vision in some ways.  The Shield isn’t going to lift you anywhere – it starts out with teeth bared snarling, and ends the same way.

But I don’t think you have to choose.

If you love The Wire, you still might love The Shield.  All those Wire people who want a new drug may do well to go back and learn The Shield, especially because the two shows share a secret weapon:  the under-lauded show-builder Clark Johnson, who set the directorial styles of both shows in their inaugural episodes, directed several episodes throughout, and directed both finales (and appeared in them both as an actor).

Wire fans, I ask you:  What does Clark Johnson know that you don’t?

12.31.2008.