'The Shield' enters final season as greatest cop show ever

Patrick Varine

Dear HBO’s “The Wire,”

We had a wonderful time, darling, it’s true. I fell in love with your broad scope, your operatic tragedy and your masterfully critical look at urban dysfunction. But I have to confess: There’s always been someone else.

She’s sexier, more exciting and, quite frankly, just gives me more action.

Her name is “The Shield.”

Since I’m a little uncomfortable penning a love letter to Vic Mackey, you’ll have to settle for the metaphor above, but it’s true. While I stand by my assertion that “The Wire” is the greatest show I’ve ever seen on TV, F/X’s “The Shield,” whose seventh and final season debuts Tuesday, is the greatest cop show I’ve ever seen.

And I’m a big “Law & Order” fan – Lenny Briscoe was my main man. He can’t hold a candle to Mackey and his corrupt squad of LAPD cops, though.

For six seasons, I’ve watched them manage to wriggle out of almost every dicey situation they get themselves into. The show does a very good job depicting the temptations and best-of-two-bad-choices situations that often face cops who patrol some of the worst drug and gang territory in the U.S.

Mackey and his cops, operating the fictional Farmington district of L.A., have hopped into bed with drug dealers, gone to war with the local Armenian mob, and violated more civil rights than can be counted.

Mackey himself committed an unforgivable sin in the very first episode of the series (no fair to tell if you haven’t seen it), and yet he’s the show’s hero.

So how can it be the greatest cop show ever? Well, where “Law & Order” is about the crimes and criminals, “The Shield” is all about the cops, and the very-gray areas that they occupy in a world that expects them to be black and white.

Where Jack McCoy often finds himself hamstrung by the law, Mackey and his Strike Team simply color outside the lines, getting justice however it can be got, and helping themselves along the way.

How can we cheer for these men? Because despite all of the evil they’ve committed, they’re still doing good. You can be outraged when Mackey beats a suspect with a phone book to get him to confess, but here comes the gray area: it’s a pedophile who has a 7-year-old girl caged somewhere. For all of the messes they get themselves into and laws they break, they’re also the most effective anti-gang unit in the city.

But no one is safe. The show’s fifth and greatest season saw the death of a character that forever changed the dynamic of the series, and a conspiracy that began to unravel toward the end of the sixth season poses a threat not just to Mackey, but to the whole city of L.A.

Which brings us to where we are now: At the beginning of the final season, Mackey and his best friend hate each other, he’s working with an old boss who tried to have him put in jail to nail the Mexican mob, and his job as a cop hangs in the balance.

All of the strings are being pulled tight, which brings us to the best quality of “The Shield.” It’s the only TV series I’ve ever watched where, at the end of nearly every episode, I sat upright in my chair and exclaimed, “WHAT THE &$^! IS GONNA HAPPEN NEXT?!?

“The Shield” premieres Sept. 2 at 10 p.m. on F/X.

Sussex Countian