TV UK, 5 August

The Shield shows that good drama takes time.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

While Channel 4 unleashes its impressive summer line-up of new American drama on the despised E4, those of us without digital TV have to make do with The Shield on Channel 5 (Saturdays at 10.50pm).

It is a measure of the cop show’s quality, though, that it maintains several plot strands over time, never forcing anything to an untimely conclusion. This week, the strike team take drastic steps to protect themselves from detection over the Armenian money train sting that is dominating the series. There is still no serious follow up of the genuinely shocking sexual assault of Captain Aceveda two weeks ago, and a glance at an episode guide reveals that it is only six episodes on that there will be a confrontation.

In the time typically taken by an entire new British drama series, a sub-plot is allowed to simmer. This is much closer to the time scale on which human beings actually operate, and the effect is that much more realistic. Aceveda’s anger and humiliation continue to build, interweaving with the rape case currently being worked by Dutchboy, and we can only imagine his plans for his assailant. Even good American drama like Law and Order can’t do this because of its more episodic nature.

For all its quality, though, The Shield, with its violence, corruption and racial politics, can hardly have enamoured its makers with the LAPD. You can’t please everyone. You may remember, though, that The Sopranos (one of the new series now on E4) is as popular with psychotherapists as with the mafia (1), and in one episode Tony’s nephew Christopher tried to sell his story to Hollywood.

Russian mobsters have gone one step further, producing their own drama series. According to Ananova, Vitalij Djomocka was upset with the unrealistic portrayal of his profession on Russian TV, and decided to produce his own authentic version (2). Djomocka also wrote the screenplay and stars in the series along with other gangsters. Actors were required only to play the police, who no doubt have their own stories to tell.

It is an intriguing idea. How many other hard-done-by professions might like to use TV drama to put their side of the story? The BBC’s recent medical drama Bodies was written by a former doctor, but he was more of a whistle blower than a trumpet blower. Indeed, that tends to be the way with TV drama, and it’s hard to imagine that the gangster’s eye view of Russian crime will be particularly entertaining, much less enlightening.

Really, it’s a mistake to think that successful drama is ‘about’ anything in particular. LA cops may or may not enjoy The Shield, but the reason the rest of us can enjoy it is that it rises above its particular circumstances and shows us the world that we all inhabit, albeit with more guns. The same goes for The Sopranos, The West Wing and Six Feet Under. Or it would if we could see the bloody things.

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