- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

NEW YORK
When it premiered last March, "The Shield" caught viewers by surprise.
Here, it seemed, was another police drama. Starring Michael Chiklis, roly-poly star of "The Commish" a decade ago. Airing on FX, a cable network best known for identity crisis after it bowed in 1994 with live talk for women and the slogan "Television Made Fresh Daily," then switched its focus to young men and pledged "anti-tude."
Now "The Shield," easily the best new series on television last year, returns for its sophomore season tonight at 10 p.m. EST, just months after knocking critics and viewers for a loop with its raw power and finally putting FX on the map.
"The Shield" also vaulted its star to a surprise best-actor Emmy for his performance as Los Angeles Police Department Detective Vic Mackey, the ferocious leader of an anti-gang strike team. Then, last month, Mr. Chiklis also landed a Golden Globe nomination. (Those awards will be presented Jan. 19.)
An actor once typed as a middle-aged Joe is, at 39, reborn on "The Shield." It's as obvious as the 60 pounds he chiseled off for Mackey's pit-bull physique.
Mr. Chiklis was dreaming about this and working toward it just a year ago, but who could fail to be surprised that it happened according to plan?
"I'm driving by a 'Shield' bus," he crowed from his car phone last week, having spied himself in the next lane in his chilling pose as Mackey. When he added, "This has been a magic-carpet ride," he wasn't just talking about "Shield" posters sighted on an L.A. freeway

It has been some ride, all right. It's just getting started, too. In its second season, "The Shield" appears to be as unrelenting, unabashed and irresistible as before.
Sort of like Mackey, who is up to his shaved pate in trouble.
For instance, a drug czar from Mexico seems to be bent on uniting two rival L.A. gangs to move his wares, which not only would present a new law-enforcement headache, but also would jeopardize the kickbacks Mackey and his boys get from the traffickers already in place.
Meanwhile, Captain Aceveda (Benito Martinez), who spent the first season trying to nail his vigilante cop, is ready to form an alliance with Mackey. Their common foe is a civilian watchdog sniffing for corruption that could doom Aceveda's political ambitions. Suddenly, they see the sense in watching each other's back.
What "The Shield" retains this season is what set it apart from the beginning: It's an action show that's character-driven, with every character richly drawn and all of them compromised, if only by blindness to the villainy pervading the force.
It's a murky moral climate that qualifies Mackey as the precinct's best lawman while he breaks the law to carry out his job. An ACLU nightmare, Mackey lords over his informants, tampers with evidence and bullies suspects to leverage access to high-level crooks. He even has committed the ultimate sin: He killed a fellow cop, pinning the murder on a dead drug dealer.
Never at rest, Mackey has the arrogance, cunning and charm to sustain his renegade style.

For Mr. Chiklis, it's a dream role but also the sort of role that, after a long shooting day, leaves him physically and mentally spent.
"I come home to my wife, and I'm completely placid," he says with a laugh. "I'm all 'Yes, dear. Yes, dear.'"
Besides Mr. Chiklis and Mr. Martinez, the splendid squad of actors includes CCH Pounder, Catherine Dent, Michael Jace, Jay Karnes and, as Mackey's strike-team sidekicks, Kenneth Johnson and Walton Goggins.
"But it's just dumb luck, the sort of chemistry and camaraderie we have on the set," Mr. Chiklis says. "I pulled into work, and I caught Walton Goggins putting the 20th orange cone in my parking space. I said, 'You're busted.' But that's the way we goof on each other."
With seven of the season's 13 episodes completed, Mr. Chiklis admits there was worry when production resumed in October: Might the acclaim heaped on the show since its first season wrapped prove as much a burden as a blessing on the cast and crew as they got back to work?
"It's cool that we made some noise early on," Mr. Chiklis says, "but our biggest fear with all the attention, and then winning the Emmy, was that we would try to outdo ourselves just for the sake of it.
"But we didn't want to make the other mistake: after all the buildup, to have nothing happen."
On "The Shield," that's not about to happen.

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