The Shield: Season Four

For its first three seasons, The Shield pushed the limits of cable television with violence, corruption and jittery, documentary-style camerawork; for its fourth season, it builds upon the layers — of character, of style and of content — to create the most compelling season of cop drama yet. The biggest change at the Barn — the Farmington, Los Angeles-based cop shop where detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and his cronies have been located — is the arrival of new captain Monica Rawling (played by Glenn Close). Close, who agreed to do the show only if her character would eschew the go-to themes of cop corruption the show has made a meal of, brings an incredible energy to the series. Her no-nonsense approach includes a new policy of seizing property earned through drug trade, including drug dealers' mamas' houses, their cars and bling. It causes an uproar in both the cop house and the community at large that plays out over the whole season. Add to that the layers of character development: Claudette (CCH Pounder) and Dutch (Jay Karnes) suffer the impact of Claudette's impolitic outspokenness; former Captain Aceveda (Benito Martinez) moves to City Council but hasn't slaked his thirst for power; and the pile of shit the Strike Team (including its most corrupt member, Shane Vendrell, played by Walton Goggins) has been trying to hide for a couple of years continues to leave its stink. But while Close is the name player in this newly revamped Barn, it's comedian Anthony Anderson (Barbershop, All About the Andersons) that makes his dramatic impact as gangster/Malcolm X figure Antwon Mitchell. An interrogation room showdown between Close, Chiklis and Anderson in the first episode of season four sparked such chemistry the show's creators orchestrated an entire later episode around such a scenario. By turns compelling, terrifying and sympathetic, Anderson turns Mitchell into a remarkably complex figure in a dance that is rarely black and white. Though its layers make season four a difficult (but not impossible) one to jump into as a newbie, its compelling performances and whip-smart writing mean it's always worth taking the risk. Plus: deleted scenes, featurette, commentaries. (Fox)