TV UK, 2 July

The moral crisis of cops and vampires.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

Channel 5 is currently acting as a window on America, with its America’s Finest strand. One Tuesday night on Channel 5 tells you all you need to know about the moral confusion that plagues contemporary America.

Skipping over CSI (9pm), which has become distinctly mediocre, The Shield (10.55pm) has always been interesting because of its sympathetic focus on Vic Mackey and his ‘strike team’ of tough, white cops who regularly break the law both for their own ends and in the course of the job. At the end of the last season, the team stood in an abandoned building staring at the fortune they had just stolen from the Armenian mob, and looking afraid rather than triumphant. Had they finally crossed an invisible line? Perhaps not.

The new season sees a return to business as usual, albeit with the threat of detection hanging over the team. By the end of the opening episode, though, Vic was prepared to risk all by using his ill-gotten gains for a legitimate police operation to stop a shipment of guns hitting the streets. Ironically, this was necessary because outgoing captain Aceveda is increasingly suspicious of the strike team, and apart from being generally uncooperative, he has told nice-guy detective Dutch Boy to keep Mackey out of the loop in his investigation of murders associated with the Armenian heist, which means Mackey doesn’t know the money is marked. Oh dear.

If anything, though, it is virtuous black detective Claudette who risks losing her soul, not by breaking the law, but by getting involved in politics. With the ambitious Latino Aceveda now elected as a city councilman and Claudette set to take over, the two are locked in a struggle for power. Politics has always been a dirty business in The Shield – and the focus of racial tension. While Mackey seems to have retained his eccentric morality either side of the law, it remains to be seen whether Claudette will cope with power.

This seems to be the theme of Lyon’s Den (9.55pm), though Tuesday’s opening episode was spectacularly unpromising. The legal drama stars Rob Lowe, and also has the same composer as The West Wing, Snuffy G Walden, but so far it has otherwise shown none of The West Wing’s class. Lowe’s character Jack Taylor was quickly established as a bleeding heart, the son of a powerful senator who nonetheless prefers to devote his time to a free legal clinic. In the first episode he helped a Nigerian asylum seeker and learned a valuable lesson about destiny. (This is Star Trek: Voyager territory.)

The apparent suicide of the head of his massive legal firm had Taylor’s own destiny calling, and he was forced to take the position in order to keep the free clinic open. Next week’s episode makes it clear that not only is Taylor’s snubbed rival for the job plotting against him, but so is his father, and the firm’s chief executive…. Oh, and his predecessor was probably murdered as part of some massive conspiracy. Apparently the show has been cancelled in the USA, so we’ll just have to see if one season was enough for it to get good, and tell us something new about the morality of the law. I have my doubts.

Angel, the original vampire with a soul, is no stranger to moral confusion, and his spin-off series is still plugging away at 11.55pm. Angel never achieved the success of Buffy, largely because once you get the general idea, the character is quite boring, having been eclipsed in the original series by the more charismatic vampire with a soul Spike. But the spin-off does show the occasional flash of inspiration. Angel’s old role is now played by renegade British Watcher Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, who, apart from having dubious motives, is regularly unshaven, and is sleeping with evil lawyer Lilah.

Such moral ambiguity might be forgivable in a vampire, but Wyndham-Pryce has always been the Tim Henman of the Buffy franchise. Moral crisis indeed.

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