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The Shield Begins to End; 90210 Relaunches


After debuting in the spring of 2002 with an ad campaign that made it look like just another cop show,

begins its final season tonight on FX, and I have to admit I'm a little saddened knowing that Michael Chiklis' Vic Mackey only has 13 more episodes to commit absolutely immoral acts in the name of (half) truth, (street) justice, and the American way of might making right. On the upside, I imagine that over the next 13 weeks I will get to witness some of the most unholy displays of violence, internecine scheming, and characters absolutely betraying basic human values ever committed to basic cable in the name of the cop drama. Now, I've previously mentioned my rather unhealthy

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such as

The Shield

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, but I'm not just mourning a program that had the unforgivable gall to use the rape of a teenage girl as a mere plot point or depict the searing of a man's face on a stovetop's heating element. No, the inevitable passing of the

The Shield

marks the FX channel's dwindling interest in absolutely atrocious male human beings that has filled its programming over the course of this decade. From

The Shield

's Vic Mackey to

Nip/Tuck

's Dr. Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) to

Rescue Me

's entire fire department precinct, but especially Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary), and even

The Riches

' Wayne Malloy (Eddie Izzard), FX's original programming has been devoted to the idea of men behaving badly taken to an absurd extreme. Whether it be Mackey's amoral survival instincts, Dr. Troy's sliding-scale narcissism, or Gavin's co-dependent arrested development, these men aren't so much anti-heroes as classic drama's one-dimensional supporting characters--the guys who kill, say the wrong thing, screw the wrong woman, place the wrong bet, ally themselves with the wrong scumbag, etc.--thrust into the limelight, with the entire story lines shifting accordingly to follow the ins and outs of very mundane not-good men.

Watching these shows often feels as though a writing staff is trying to shove Louis-Ferdinand Céline's rosy take on human nature into the boilerplate hourlong seriocomic drama. It doesn't quite fit, but what comes out are these cartoonish melodramas masquerading as gritty TV drama. And as the first two seasons of the

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The Sopranos

proved, men want their soap operas, too. Of course, FX might have pushed this formula a bit too far. When you throw in the moral quagmire of

Dirt

and

Damages

and the just plain wrong universe of

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

, the American world according to FX is one of the most unseemly places on the planet. G-d bless this country--both the dismal survival-of-the-fittest realm depicted in such shows and the one that permits such wrist-slitting entertainment to be digitally beamed into my home. I can only hope the Ron Perlman-starring, biker gang-set

can live up to these standards.

The Shield Begins to End; 90210 Relaunches

Speaking of melodramas, the new incarnation of

debuts tonight on the

, and, yes, that is

The Wire

's Tristan Wilds in the cast. Though I watched only a bit of this show during its original 1990-2000 run (the ridiculous, asinine, turbo-bitchy story lines of

Melrose Place

were more my speed), morbid curiosity may draw me in tonight because I am eager to see how this version plays out in popular culture. The original

Beverly Hills, 90210

was one of the first hourlong dramas aimed squarely at young viewers, taking the adult drama model of

thirtysomething

and

L.A. Law

and adapting it to high school characters as they slouched toward adulthood, daring to portray such teenaged things as unwanted pregnancy, sexual relations, drugs and alcohol (remember the "euphoria" episode?), and other such risqué subjects handled with all the overbearing moralism that defines TV. And it became the first soap opera that many people who came of age in the 1990s watched religiously. Today, of course, that young audience is one of television's--and its advertisers--most sought after demographics, and it'll be curious how this predominantly wholesome 1990s program navigates a TV universe now that

The OC

,

One Tree Hill

, and

Gossip Girl

have upgraded the basic idea.

Of course, if the make-believe antics of adult white men wielding power and high school melodramas such as teen pregnancy don't do it for you, you can always tune in to the real thing at the Republican National Convention.

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