So, Breaking Bad's done for the year, and while I've had a little time between jobs, I checked out a couple others shows that came to me highly recommended. Probably some general spoilers ahead, but I make these posts up as I go...
GAME OF THRONES:
As entertaining as promised by various people who recommended it to me. Sort of insanely addictive after a few episodes, and Peter Dinklage is what critics would call "a revelation" here. His character is a weirdly terrific highlight in an engaging, generally well-executed fantasy soap-opera -- part Lord of the Rings, part Tudors (with actors borrowed from both). I ripped through its two existing seasons in an embarrassingly short amount of time. To me, it doesn't have the same kind of artistic gravitas as my pet show Breaking Bad, but it's sure fun to watch.
Speaking of BB, I turned to The Shield because it came up a lot in articles about that show, in the context of comments like "best show since The Shield went off the air!" I caught a little of this show back in its early days, it seemed sort of enjoyable, if a bit self-consciously "hardcore" (it is) so I decided to have a more thorough look.
Mostly I enjoyed it, I suppose, but it drags quite a bit over the course of seven seasons, and I'd probably peg it as a tad overrated on the whole. Still, it has merits. The show has an interesting design, in that there is a central, ongoing narrative with a trajectory that lasts through seven seasons, but it's punctuated with season-specific subplots, which are further punctuated with smaller, single-episode cases. It's a clever, ambitious structure, which attempts to provide all the hooks and narrative rewards of: an ongoing soap-opera, a police procedural, a detective show, a political chess-match, and of course, a meditation on the nature of corruption. But, maybe it tries to do a little too much for its own good, because by the third season or so, I found myself losing interest and patience in the various one-off cases and side tangents revolving around the strike team's central narrative. They began to feel like baggage rather than a perk, and almost all of the characters -- particularly the relatively "uncorrupted" ones (Dani, Julian, Claudette, and to some extent Wagenbach -- all of which I probably just spelled wrong) -- grated on my nerves at least as often as not. Although periodically interesting, I just didn't especially like any of these people, and their characterization sometimes seemed arbitrary.
While Mackey and his crew -- the main characters, on the whole -- are pretty engrossing and well-developed in their way, they can't shake a certain cartoonishness somehow, and Chiklis' tough guy persona becomes pretty comical by dint of season-to-season reptition, a kind of parody of itself almost. By the dozenth time Chiklis is kicking a door in to administer an over-the-line beatdown to a gangsta that he's probably going to blatantly plant evidence on to coerce the subject's cooperation in some shady scheme -- which, as it happens, has probably elapsed before even the halfway point of Season 1 -- you've kind of seen enough of it. But you will see that same scenario play out in almost exactly the same way probably another ten to twenty times per season, until the end. Seasons 3-6 I skimmed through much of, to be honest, to get to the good parts, or just to see what exactly happens. Forest Whittaker's weirdly creepy performance slowed me down a little, as did the final season, but the show's a bit overstuffed as a whole, and probably a tad sillier than it wants to believe.
Anyway, I guess I was pretty satisfied by the way they resolve Mackey's central narrative, and the show does a good job of making him the penultimate traitor while still giving you reason to believe that his loyalties were passionate and true -- while they lasted. And the reasons for their dissolution are often somewhat understandable. I can understand the comparisons to Breaking Bad (and certainly THE WIRE took quite a few queues from this). While Mackey is pretty "bad" from the beginning, we rarely doubt that he isn't someone we'd want on our side when the chips were down. He's aggressive, fearless, smart, effective, and seemingly very loyal. Above all, though, he's a survivor: and The Shield allows him to survive, to "win," as is fitting to his nature, while also painting a foreboding picture of how crushingly lonely it can be, to be the last man standing.