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Interrogating The Shield

edited by Nicholas Ray

Publication Year: 2012

When The Shield first appeared on US television in March 2002, it broke ratings records with the highest audience-rated original series premiere in cable history. In the course of its subsequent seven-season run, the show went on to win international acclaim for its abrasive depiction of an urban American dystopia and the systemic political and juridical corruption feeding it. The first book dedicated to the analysis of this immensely successful series, Interrogating The Shield brings together ten critical essays, written from a variety of methodological and theoreti­cal perspectives. Topics range from an exploration of the series’ deriva­tion, genre, and production, to expositions of the ethics, aesthetics, and politics of the show. As may be expected from a multi-authored collection, this volume does not seek to present a homogenized account of The Shield. The show is variously applauded and critiqued. In their critical variety, how­ever, the essays in this book are a testament to the cultural significance and creative complexity of the series. As such, they are a reminder of the renewed power of quality television drama today.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Series: Television and Popular Culture


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-6


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pp. v-8

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pp. vii-viii

Thanks are owed first and foremost to Jennika Baines at Syracuse University Press for the efficiency and support with which she oversaw the volume’s completion. I am also greatly indebted to Annie Barva for her painstaking reading of the manuscript. Kim Akass and Janet McCabe dispensed sound advice and welcome...

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pp. ix-xi

Nicholas Chare is lecturer in gender studies in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne and visiting research fellow in the Centre for Cultural Analysis, Theory, and History at the University of Leeds. He is a former editor of the journal...

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pp. 1-10

In episode 4.1 of The Shield (FX, 2002–2008), “The Cure,” Officer Danny Sofer indulges in a bit of cod philosophy. After senior colleagues fail to materialize at the scene of a drive-by shooting, she addresses a rhetorical question to her partner, Julien Lowe: “If a guy gets shot in the ghetto, but the detectives don’t show up...

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1. The Derivation of a Television Crime Drama

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pp. 11-29

There are a number of ways to describe The Shield (FX, 2002–2008): the cable drama that put the little-watched basic channel FX on the map; a police procedural with more action and brutality than is expected in the CSI era; the television program that dared to portray cops as criminals in the wake of September 11, 2001; the...

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2. The Meaning of Messiness

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pp. 30-42

The text on the back of the Hill Street Blues (NBC, 1981–87) season 1 DVD claims that “before NYPD Blue and The Shield came Hill Street Blues, the series that revolutionized the TV cop show by giving television viewers a realistic glimpse into the daily lives of the offi cers and detectives at an urban police station.” I begin with this quotation because...

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3. Sound Policing

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pp. 43-64

The police—those tasked with maintaining order, enforcing the law, protecting individual persons and property, and preserving the executive powers of the state—are associated with particular images in the popular imaginary. A vision of the police exists that distils that large and varied organization into a few select symbols—the badge or shield, the baton, the blue uniform, the patrol car, the...

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4. Fitting the Profile

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pp. 65-86

Watching The Shield (FX, 2002–2008) for the first time, I was immediately struck by the parallels between one of its key characters, Detective Holland “Dutch” Wagenbach, and Agent Fox Mulder of The X-Files (Fox, 1993–2002). Both characters are interested in psychology and skilled in profi ling; both are presented as marginal to their professional organization; and both have a strong individual...

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5. Quality, Controversy, and Criminality

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pp. 87-104

This essay discusses how the links between quality television and controversial questions of morality pioneered by the HBO series The Sopranos (1999–2007) are developed in the FX series The Shield (2002–2008). Each program asks its audience moral questions about its central protagonist and tests the limits of their empathy with...

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6. Scenes from the Interrogation Room

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pp. 105-123

If you have ever watched a police show on television, then you have seen at least some of this typical scene before: the bleak, bare room with that lone table in the middle and a chair on either side, the irate cop on the edge in search of answers, the tightlipped criminal breaking under the strain of guilt, all mixed together with...

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7. “You Want Me to Lick Your Balls, Daddy?”

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pp. 124-144

This chapter had its origins in a paper presented at the 2005 conference of the British Association of American Studies. At that time, only three seasons of The Shield (FX, 2002–2008) had been broadcast in the United Kingdom, and the fourth had started to air in the United States. The constantly evolving paper was subsequently presented at several other conferences in the United Kingdom, the United...

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8. Glass Ceilings

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pp. 145-165

The Shield (FX, 2002–2008) offers an unflinching and unnerving portrayal of urban American police work during the twenty-first century’s inaugural decade. The program received critical acclaim throughout its seven seasons for examining the legal, political, and racial complexities of life in Los Angeles’s fictional Farmington District...

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9. “A Different Kind of Cop”

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pp. 166-185

Toward the end of The Shield’s (FX, 2002–2008) second season, the writers of the series make the unusual move of inserting in medias res an episode that operates as a kind of prequel to the entire narrative covered by the show. This episode, titled “Co-pilot” (2.9), encompasses events immediately anterior to those presented in the original...

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10. Cracking Ice

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pp. 186-208

Uneasiness about “the end” has emerged in television narrative. David Chase’s The Sopranos (HBO, 1999–2007) is widely celebrated as marking the start of a highly productive period of value-added dramatic televisual narration. The series conclusion raised a different kind of attention. When The Sopranos finished with an ex media res black screen, which gave no cathartic sense of closure or any terminal...


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pp. 209-218


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pp. 219-244

Back Cover

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pp. 245-246

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651895
E-ISBN-10: 0815651899
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815633082
Print-ISBN-10: 0815633084

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Television and Popular Culture