Character development is key


Three episodes into the third season of The Shield, it is clear that the show if anything is even slightly better than before.

This comes as a function of character. After a season or two of setting up the parameters of the characters, we're digging in for nuance and angles. The actors and writers have created a whole little world of people and relationships, and they're now figuring out from a couple years of practice and living with the characters the natural logical trajectories of all this.

The same type of thing has happened with many of the other best tv shows historically. They start out with strong premises and characters that make a great show, but then they're only really hitting their creative peak perhaps several seasons in.

All in the Family makes a classic example. Archie Bunker was pretty funny from show #1, but he only became a full fledged character and icon with time. He was always funny ol' Archie, but he gained dimensions and credibility as a dramatic character over time. Edith likewise. It took a couple of years living the character to work up to stuff like the famous scene baptizing the infant grandson.

Even the Simpsons went from funny Tracy Ullman cartoons to multi-dimensional characters. Bart Simpson became a real boy, so to speak. He passed the mundane status of a t-shirt fad into true icon status by becoming a legitimate literary character with more than a couple of broad strokes of personality. He has moments of genuine dramatic conflict, such as the episode where he sold his soul to Milhouse.

Few shows have enough depth about them in the first place to be developed like this. How much character development are you really going to get from some treacly Touched by an Angel or Everybody Loves Raymond? Ain't going to happen.

This is a beautiful and rare process to watch when it's working, though. Every episode of The Shield brings some new dimension to the ongoing characters and their relationships. Having a principle ensemble of eight gives them lots to work with, but only because they created eight highly distinctive and unique characters to start with.

A couple of seasons in, it fascinates me to see the development of Claudette Wymms, the voice of conscience. The voice of conscience has been given a personal history, children, father and ex-husband, becoming a character rather than merely a representative playing the role of "conscience." Now, see how this character of conscience reacts to a bit of power as she smells the captain's job. The writers get to make some rich dramatic material out of her interests and motivations in power, and her political education as Aceveda and even the chief groom her for the job.

Consider also the depth of character emerging from Shane. He's the redneck cop from Georgia with a bad attitude toward minorities. He's become significantly more than that now, though, especially through the relationship with Vic. Watching the politics and love/power relationships being calibrated between them bears close scrutiny. Now Shane has a new and pregnant wife. How's that going to affect his personality?

And that's just a couple of the characters- not even considering Vic Mackey himself.

Did I mention that this is the greatest cop show in the history of television?

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