When a show finally ends, it is hit or miss whether it goes out with a bang or a painful whimper. Sometimes shows get a warning when their time is coming to an end and other times they find out too late to wrap everything up with a nice big bow. In this TV Knockout, I am looking at two of those shows, one that was allowed to play out and conclude on a satisfying note and the other which was cold cocked and left for dead. In this review, the two shows will go face-to-face to determine which show shined brighter at the end of its run.
The Shield: For seven seasons, Vic Mackey and the Strike Team ran rampant over the Farmington District in Los Angeles. From the first episode, I was hooked as Vic Mackey, the leader of the team, shot and killed an undercover police officer sent in to expose wrongdoing from inside the team. From that moment on, anything was game. The Strike Team (Vic, Lem, Shane and Ronnie) stole drugs, protected criminals for their own well being, stole money from the Armenian mob and killed anyone who stepped in their way. But along the way, they also kept the streets clean and, despite their actions, seemed to work for “The Greater Good.”
The final season allowed creator Shawn Ryan to close the chapter on his tragic tale in the most satisfying way possible. The Strike Team was splintered. Shane had killed Lem to protect himself, stepping over the only line the Team seemed to have. Vic and Ronnie were left alone, setting their sights on Shane while fighting to keep their jobs and stay out of jail. There was only one way for this show to end and Ryan pulled it off spectacularly.
From the first season, The Shield has had one of the best casts on television. Michael Chiklis, best known prior to this as The Commish, completely transformed into Vic Mackey throughout the series. The best actors know their characters better than most of the writers hired to tell the stories, and from all the behind the scenes features, Chiklis is one of these actors. He delivered such a great performance on the show, week in and week out, I found myself watching a man committing unspeakable evil acts, still following him to the end. The only other character I have felt that way about was Tony Soprano.
The supporting crew is just as good. Walton Goggins should have at least been nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as Shane in this final season. The man brought the goods and made a character I grew to despise into one I felt sorry for by the end of the series. He completely turned his character around from a man loathed for killing Lem, maybe the only good guy on the team, and made him sympathetic. Even in his last hours, as he commits an unspeakable crime, you feel for him at the end. CCH Pounder and Jay Karnes are as brilliant as always. Jay Karnes might be the unspoken hero of this cast from the start and deserves any and all the credit he receives. Through all the guest stars that have graced the show, from Glenn Close to Forrest Whitaker, Karnes has always stood with the best of them.
The season played out as most previous seasons did. The Barn continued to operate as usual, solving crimes, stopping criminals and trying to keep the streets safe. Just as with every other season, Vic was always trying to stay one step ahead of his superiors while trying to keep the streets clean. However, the new dynamic was set up to explode at any minute. The law was closing in on Vic and he only had one friend left to turn to. By the end of the season, Vic sat alone, friendless, and was punished in the best way possible for his crimes. It was a perfect end to a flawless show.
Reaper: This genre show can best be compared to episodic television like Chuck. It is a show with a lot of action but keeps its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. During the first season of the show, Sam Oliver found out his parents sold the soul of their firstborn to the Devil to save his father’s life. They never planned to have a child, to trick the Devil but Sam was born anyway and now he must work for the Devil, capturing escaped souls and returning them to Hell.
Sam fights these escaped souls (and various demons) with his best friends Sock and Ben and his girlfriend Andi. We also found out at the end of the first season that Sam’s father might be the Devil, and not the man who raised him, the man who sold his soul. Season Two starts out after Sam and his friends take a road trip and return home to continue living their lives and serving the Devil.
The cast of Reaper is completely different than The Shield, but is solid in its own right. The leader of the pack is clearly Ray Wise as the Devil. Wise brings a suave, cocky demeanor to the Devil that is a joy to watch. In an interview, he said he was interested in figuring out how the Devil would react to something and then doing the exact opposite. He is all smiles, with is pearly whites glistening, and is always ready with a quip or insult. There are few times that he is outwardly violent but he is such a calm, collected individual you know how dangerous he could be.
The supporting cast is hit or miss and the lead actor, Bret Harrison, is unfortunately the weakest link. His friends are played by Tyler Labine, milking the fat, obnoxious freeloader to perfection, and Rick Gonzalez (Old School) and both upstage him every time they share the screen. I believe this is because Harrison is forced to play the straight man while everyone else has fun. Rounding out the cast is Missy Peregrym (Stick It) as the girlfriend, Ted Gallagher as their boss at the “Work Bench” hardware store, Jenny Wade as a demon that is way to similar to Anya from Buffy and Armie Hammer as The Devil’s arrogant, yet lazy son. There are also a ton of great minor roles for actors including Ken Marino, Michael Ian Black and Sean Patrick Thomas.
Unlike The Shield, Reaper was cancelled without warning meaning the way Season Two ended was the finale of the series. That is tragic because the end was not what the creators were planning. It ended on a downer, a loss by Sam with the guiding words: “Have Faith.” Without spoiling Season Two, I am going to let you know how it was supposed to end. Sam was not the son of the Devil, he was the son of the man who raised him, a demon sent to Earth to trick his mother. Sam was supposed to have a victorious end but we were never allowed to see it. The last image from this great show was a cheesy CGI angel ascending to Heaven, telling Sam to carry on. That is not how a show as great as this was should have ended.
The Shield: “Last Call: The Final Episode” (29:45) is a wonderful goodbye to the cast and crew from their own mouths. It follows them on the shooting of the last episode and allows them to say goodbye on their own terms. Walton Goggins goodbye was incredibly touching. It is also really cool to see Michael Chiklis as the host of the ceremonies, giving everyone their due. They also go into great detail about the tragic finale. This is a perfect feature.
“Nobody Expects to Lose, Nobody Expects to Die: The Shield’s Final Season” (25:58) is another feature that displays the dissolving of the Strike Force and the disintegration of the friendship of the members we have grown to love over the years. They also talk about the shows place in history.
There are commentaries on every episode, making this great set even better. Included in the commentary tracks are Shawn Ryan along with most of the actors, directors and writers involved in this season. There are anywhere from two to eight people on each commentary track so things never get old, you always have fresh voices to listen to and you hear everything from different points of view. Also included are deleted scenes with optional commentaries on all the episodes as well. This is how television shows should be presented on DVDs.
Reaper: “The Devil Made Me Do It: A Look Back at the Making of Reaper” (15:14) – This is a short feature that goes into detail the construction of the show. What is puzzling is this is a look at the first season and includes nothing about the second season at all.
There are four deleted scenes (05:11). The first scene shows why they didn’t move back into Sam’s mom’s house and is the only scene of the season with his mom. The second scene is when the boys reveal to Ben that Sam’s dad is back, as a zombie. The third scene is where telling Sock that Nina kissed him. The fourth scene shows The Devil blackmailing Sam to do his bidding and make a fool of himself by threatening to buy Sam’s grandmother’s soul.
Finally, there is a gag reel (08:17). While The Shield possesses riches beyond belief, the extras on Reaper are a huge disappointment.