Armed with a slew of terrific reviews, a surprise Emmy Award for star Michael Chiklis and a Golden Globe nomination for best dramatic series, FX's gritty cop series, "The Shield," enters its second season Tuesday confronting the benefits -- and challenges -- of a much higher profile than when it premiered in March.
"When we were making the first season, we felt we had a very good pilot," says creator and executive producer Shawn Ryan. "A lot of people in the industry had seen tapes of it and said good things, but one episode is a drop in the bucket."
Ryan admits that the series went through growing pains last year. "Frankly, we were young and inexperienced. I think we did some good episodes early on .... I felt at the middle of the season we had turned a corner somewhere, and I really like how the season ended, as far as last year."
This season, he says, there are a lot of expectations and pressure. "It has been a different experience," Ryan says. "It hasn't been better or worse, but it has been a different experience. I have been very proud that everyone has kept their heads in check."
During their summer hiatus, the cast and crew of "The Shield" met to talk about the second season of the show.
"We felt very good about season one," says Chiklis, who dominates the series with his pit bull of a performance as Det. Vic Mackey, the ruthless leader of the elite Strike Team Unit of the Los Angeles Police Department.
"It was a magical experience. We discussed first what we didn't want to do. That is the glorious thing about this gig. Everyone on the cast and crew has all been of a mind about the show and the direction of the show. One of the things we immediately said was, next year we can't play the 'let's try to outdo this' game. What we have to do is remain true to the characters and tell the best stories."
And they were determined to avoid the trap that befalls many provocative rule-bending series: the sophomore curse. "We were very aware of that," says Chiklis. "We don't want to do shock for shock value. The mandate of the show has been to pose questions through storytelling and never answer them so we can sort of be an open forum for the really complex issues that face our society right now. Not only with regard to law enforcement but just urban life in America as we know it."
And at least in the first two episodes, "The Shield" hits the ground running with tough, violent and inspired shows revolving around Mackey's relentless search for his missing wife and children and the appearance of a hard-nosed independent auditor at the squad searching for evidence of misdeeds and misconduct among the officers.
Actress CCH Pounder, who plays the by-the-book veteran detective Claud-ette Wyms, has been impressed with the scripts for the second season. "As they say, this baby's got back. Sometimes you think your first season on a little network you have got to throw everything at them. But they [producers and the writers] have got a plan. It's wonderful."
This Tuesday, Fox Video is also releasing all 13 episodes of the series on DVD. "My goal was to make the best DVD of a TV show," says Ryan. "We sure tried to pack in as much as we could. We have done commentaries on all 13 episodes. All the actors on our show actually auditioned for the roles, and we put on the DVD all the audition tapes of our actors, including Michael Chiklis."
"The Shield" can be seen at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on FX. The network has rated the episode TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children younger than 17).
Cover photograph by Albert Watson.