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TeeVee Awards '02: Best Hour Actor

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then Vic Mackey's tearing down the highway of misplaced morals at 80 mph in a gas-guzzling SUV. Mackey, the central figure in the FX's breakout hit The Shield, is a tough-as-nails cop with a gruesomely Machiavellian approach to his job and a family whom he loves deeply and blindly. Mackey's a tricky character on the switchblade's edge of cliche, but as Best Actor winner Michael Chiklis plays him, Mackey transcends his formulaic origins and turns into a one-man microcosm of hands-on social reform.

In Chiklis's hands, Mackey's complexity is entirely believable. The character switches through more roles in one hour than the cast of Saturday Night Live does in a season, among them: morally certain father figure to a group of overgrown bullies with badges; untouchable bulldog of the precinct; the fist at the end of the long arm of the law; the one man watching out for people without safety nets; loving husband and father. Chiklis switches among all these roles and their different required body languages effortlessly while maintaining an undercurrent of tension in each; he plays Mackey as someone who knows he's juggling a lot of balls in the air, and he doesn't have the luxury of dropping any of them.

Within the first few episodes, we learned that Mackey's success at work is due to treating his chosen favorites as family, and taking their triumphs and betrayals personally -- so personally, in fact, that he shoots the one member of the team who's working for Internal Affairs. The charisma Chiklis summons to persuade his troops that the execution was entirely justified is breathtaking; within minutes, everyone is convinced that the killing was necessary, and goes along with covering up their crime before resuming fighting Mackey's definition of the same.

The personal touch is what makes him so successful on the streets. Mackey is a guy with little patience for paperwork, and even less for due process: his solution for resolving a feud between two rappers was to lock the two of them in a derelict railroad car one night. When only one walks out the next morning, Mackey is shaken for a minute as he realizes that he has effectively condemned one man to death -- but recovers enough to offer the survivor breakfast. Chiklis' blink-and-you'll-miss-it snapshot of someone shocked into personal reckoning before regaining his faculty for self-deception brought home the idea of someone fighting for his life in a locked room with much more impact than actually filming the fight would have done.

However personal Mackey makes his job, the threat of the job affecting his personal life is his fatal weakness. Over the last few episodes of the show's first season, old friend Ben Gilroy asks Mackey for a favor, the results of which lead to Gilroy planting evidence in Mackey's house and obliquely threatening his family. Mackey's response, as played by Chiklis -- his usual persuasive manipulation and tightly coiled rage borne along on a undercurrent of fear for his family -- ratcheted up the tension for viewers too, and made us actually care about whether or not an unrepentant bad cop was going to escape unscathed from a mess of his own doing.

Ultimately, that's what makes Chiklis our choice for Best Hour Actor. He takes a character whom we should despise and makes him frighteningly relatable. If Mackey's driving down the highway to hell, we're in the passenger seat, watching him intently for the moment when he finally sees where he's going.

Additional contributions to this article by: Lisa Schmeiser.


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