The Shield (March 12; 10 to 11 p.m.; FX), a new cable series in which Homicide meets Dirty Harry, stars Michael Chiklis as an L.A. cop so corrupt that he guns down a member of his own strike team, CCH Pounder as a detective who’s seen it all and wishes she hadn’t, Walton Goggins, Catherine Dent, Kenneth Johnson, Benito Martinez, nudity, profanity, and pedophilia. Darker than Wambaugh and bluer and meaner than Bochco.
Guilt by Association (March 13; 9 to 11 p.m.; Court TV) is a well-done agitprop TV movie in which jail time for Mercedes Ruehl, whose boyfriend, Alex Carter, was dealing drugs, is used to argue the case against mandatory minimum sentences imposed on everybody in the vicinity of a crime by judges whose discretion was taken away from them in 1986. Also featuring Alberta Watson.
Eugene O’Neill: A Haunted Life (March 16; 8 to 10 p.m.; A&E) talks to Edward Albee, John Guare, Gabriel Byrne, Zoe Caldwell, Sidney Lumet, and Robert Brustein about the playwright as an abusive personality, not to mention his failed father, morphine-addicted mother, alcoholic brother, and other bad news from the nightmare past.
The Believer (March 17; 8 to 10 p.m.; Showtime) is the exceedingly unpleasant true story of a yeshiva student (Ryan Gosling) who becomes a neo-Nazi skinhead for reasons of self-loathing not even his reactionary mentors in the hate biz (Theresa Russell and Billy Zane) can fathom. A Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance 2001, and not for the faint of heart.
The Execution of Wanda Jean (March 17; 10 to 11:30 p.m.; HBO) spends three months among the lawyers, family, and friends of a mentally retarded young black woman who, after twelve years on death row in an Oklahoma prison, is executed by lethal injection. That she had been brain-damaged in a car accident when she was a child never came up at her trial and failed to impress her Pardon and Parole Board, which hasn’t granted clemency in a single criminal case since 1976.