by BEN KROMER & r & & r &

The Shield

(Tuesdays, 10 pm, FX)

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & very cop show has dirty cops. The Shield is the first to be centered on them. Main man Vic Mackey is the leader of a corrupt gang unit working in L.A., and it turns out that running dirty is a lot more complicated than occasionally snatching goodies from the evidence room. It involves stealing money and drugs, cozying up to scumbags to get to scummier scumbags, beating suspects -- and, if the beatings don't work out, sometimes killing them.

Most shows get tense for a few episodes and then the pendulum swings back toward normalcy. The Shield's pendulum swings 360 degrees at the speed of a clock's minute hand; there's too much going on every hour for characters to achieve much equilibrium. Each episode connects to half a dozen story arcs running through the season, as well as having several self-contained cases. Each season has its own arc, and all the seasons together seem to be heading irrevocably toward Mackey and his team's downfall. The result is that watching a few consecutive episodes is like watching the middle third of a great, convoluted movie trilogy.

Vic is a dirty cop, but he's also a good cop. If the dichotomy bothers you, you probably won't care for the 10,000 "If Vic Mackey Is Wrong, I Don't Want To Be Right" bumper stickers I'm having made. The man is one giant exposed nerve ending crossed with a brick, with fists wrapped in barbed wire. He makes my TV feel safe at night.

Brute force is derided as primitive, and machismo is equated with things like starting fights and being emotionally stunted. That's fair most of the time, but The Shield is a good reminder of why people follow alpha males. They lead. As far as manly men being emotionally stunted, more than a few of them undoubtedly cried at the Season Five finale.

The sixth season finds Vic and his team in worse shape than ever. Internal Affairs, in the form of Forest Whitaker, is investigating Vic's team obsessively, even as their City Councilman ex-boss is smearing them in the media. Mackey still has at least one more season to duck paying for his sins while simultaneously keeping a boot on the throat of every gangbanger in his precinct. There won't be anything better on TV.

Tivo- Worthy

The Office

I was talking to a pal and informed him "Pam told her ex-fianc & eacute; about kissing Jim and he totally wants to kick Jim's ass now!" to which he replied, "Ooooh!" with genuine concern. Then there was a shaky moment when we realized with were gossiping about a sitcom. (Thursdays, 8:30 pm, NBC)

Penn and Teller: Bull!

People like my mom say that using profanity in the course of making an argument detracts from whatever rhetorical point you're trying to make. This show proves that my mom is full of it. Friday's episodes are on breast hysteria and detox, Thursday's is about exorcism. (Fridays, 10 pm; Thursdays, 10 pm, Showtime)

Are You Smarter

Than a 5th Grader?

Doing well in Jeopardy makes us feel smart. Doing well on this show makes us feel like a sixth grader. Thank you FOX, for lowering standards yet again. Hosted by Jeff Fox-Worthy. (Thursdays, 8 pm -- on FOX, of course)

Book and Brew @ Heritage Bar & Kitchen

Thu., Jan. 27, 5:30 p.m.
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