What, no roughing up bad guys this year? Actually, Det. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis, above right, with director Clark Johnson) and his band of crooked cops decide to play it cool in season 3 of The Shield after stealing a wad of cash from the Armenian Mob last season. ''They are determined not to make mistakes like common criminals,'' says creator Shawn Ryan. ''They don't want to spend the money right away.'' But Mackey pays a price elsewhere: Enduring an ugly separation from his wife, Corrine (Cathy Cahlin Ryan), he's jealous when his autistic son bonds with a male therapist.
There are more daddy issues on Nip/Tuck (inset), FX's other breakout drama. We'll learn whether Matt (John Hensley) is really the son of Dr. Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh), while Dr. Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) plays father figure to his ex's baby even though the tot's not his (clue: The kid's African-American). ''Christian lacked a father himself, so that's what he's grappling with,'' says creator Ryan Murphy. The libidinous surgeon still makes plenty of time for house calls. ''He rebuilds the clitoris of a South African model who had a female circumcision,'' Murphy says. ''So he takes it for a test ride.'' (The Shield, March 9; Nip/Tuck, June)