I wrote this on The Shield's imdb page, (nerdI know) during the final season of 'The Shield'. It is appalling how many people think the show is poorly made. I couldn't take it anymore:
A lot of people have complaints about 'The Shield'. "The camera is too shaky." "It looks too grainy." "There are always things in the way of the shots." "The storyline is difficult to follow." I have heard or read about these complaints multiple times from one-time or casual viewers of the show. Let me first address the cinematography and art direction.
With so much going on in each episode and each season, it is important for the director to help evoke emotion in a subtle manner whenever possible. The contrast in framing does just that. Many times we are looking at the characters from across the street or from outside through a window to give it the feel of a 'Cops' type show, but also to keep us somewhat separated from the decisions made by the characters. It is important to let us have an outsider's perspective on some of the events that transpire. However, it also becomes necessary to put us in the heat of a moment to intensify the emotional impact. This contrast enhances both ends of the spectrum, and it is carried out flawlessly.
The 'graininess' of the show is maintained because it follows with the theme of the show. It has always been shot on super 16mm film. They could easily upgrade to 35mm or a HD format, but it would hurt the overall feel of the show. 'The Shield' takes place in a high-crime, low-income area of Los Angeles called Farmington, and the PD building is called the 'Barn'. It is an older building that used to be a church and the funding of the department matches that of its community. This 'grainy' look enhances this feeling of edginess and basement-style living and is a terrific contrast to the bright and shiny style of such shows as CSI: Miami. Neither is better or worse; both are appropriate for each program, though I have to admit that the cleaner, higher resolution may be more pleasant to look at, but I'll watch 'The Shield' over a cookie cutter episode of CSI any day.
I cannot argue against the fact that the story-lines are hard to follow. They are. Even in season seven, many events are referenced that occurred as early as the first season. Many elements would be lost for anyone just trying to tune in now. This is not to say that it wouldn't be enjoyable; there are new plot developments that occur in every episode, but certainly some of the story points would seem irrelevant. For this reason, this show should be viewed as an 86 part movie. This sounds ridiculous but it is true. Due to this length of time and amount of events that have occurred with the same characters, the dynamic character arcs are unrivaled in their true-to-life tragedy, simplicity, and unpredictability, yet maintaining a sense of believability in every decision each character makes. 'The Shield' challenges standard conceptions of the protagonist and antagonist. It will make you question your own morals. It will make you feel both good and bad about yourself and humanity, but you will appreciate the insightful way everything is presented.
Right now we are just 1 episode away from the end, and I can comfortably say that 'The Shield' will stay with me forever. I also think that it will be under-appreciated forever, but those who will say that it is one of the best programs to ever grace the small screen will be right. It is, in my opinion, the best drama ever written for Television, and the story of Vic Mackey is without a doubt one of the best uses of the tragic hero theme since the writings of Shakespeare. But if the 'graininess' or 'shakiness' still bothers you, by all means, move along to Desperate Housewives.