Posts Tagged 'The Wire'

Please watch The Wire. Thanks.

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I stumbled over this show a few years back, rented the first disc of the first season, watched two episodes, got bored, took it back. And even now, after becoming one of the show’s biggest fans, when I go back to start the saga over once again, it takes a little work on my part to plow through the first few episodes. This isn’t your average cop drama (viewership doesn’t increase when a fat man shows his ass or somebody says “shit”) or your average television drama for that matter. Season after season, the Wire has consistently offered something fresh, something important, and, above all else, for better or worse, something difficult.

Difficult things you may not want to see, things you may not want to think about, like how many kids are shot dead in the streets, or even in their own homes, every day; how much damage the “war on drugs” inflicts upon our cities, what it costs in terms of lives and tax dollars, without ever improving. The Wire is even difficult to invest yourself in, which was my problem the first time around. One of the show’s veteran writers, Rafael Alvarez, compares each season to a Russian novel, which tend to require readers to “do the work” for a hundred pages or more before momentum carries the story. But the payoff is huge, and remains constant through all five seasons, each more rewarding than the last.

In general terms, two things make this show great.

First, the show’s creator, David Simon, is both a passionate Baltimore native and an incredibly pissed off ex-reporter for the city’s own Baltimore Sun, which is to say his heart for the city is as big as the chip on his shoulder. Massive. He knows Baltimore, he loves Baltimore, and he knows everything that has gone wrong and remains wrong in Baltimore today. Every season the show focuses on one of the city’s pressing social issues, everything from the dying dockworkers unions to the miserable and failing public school system, and all of it ties in with Baltimore’s perennial good guys and bad guys: the city police and the drug crews.

This is what elevates the show to greatness. While Simon pumps the Wire full of social commentary and protest, the show never loses its footing in terms of action, character or pure, effective storytelling. Characters like Omar Little or Marlo Stanfield are borderline mythic, while Det. Jimmy McNulty and Sgt. Ellis Carver are as flawed and compelling as any characters found in the best work of Charles Dickens*. This is due, no doubt, to the stable of thoroughbred writers at the helm, such as George Pelecanos (Hard Revolution, The Night Gardener) , Richard Price (Clockers, Freedomland) and Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone), as well as superlative** acting talent. Dominic West, Clarke Peters, Michael Kenneth Williams and the rest of the cast consistently deliver some of the finest performances on television, maybe ever.

I won’t spoil any specific scenes or moments. Just know the best (and maybe some of the worst) are better than anything you’ve probably seen anywhere else. The action sequences rival those of John Woo or Sergio Leone at the top of their game. Note: for all it’s social and artistic merit, the show is damned entertaining.

If you aren’t watching now, you have to start from the beginning. There’s no way around it. Each episode feeds into the next, through each season, first to last. This might explain, at least in part, why the show has struggled to find an audience. Work and television don’t mix well, and this is a show that takes some effort. But if you’re tired of the recent influx of reality shows, and crave some substance, then here’s what you do:

A) Log onto Amazon.com or roll up to Best Buy and purchase seasons 1-4. Watch them, and pay attention. Call your cable provider and subscribe to HBO, preferably with OnDemand, so you can catch up with season 5

 Or, if you’re cheap, or just broke:

B) Subscribe to netflix, load your que up with the Wire, and wait a few months for season 5 to come out on DVD (you can probably put it on your que now, pending release)

The Wire may be the most important television show ever created, and could remain as such for a long, long time. Nothing has capitalized on our freedom of speech so effectively or, in many ways, so mercilessly. And that’s the truth, Ruth. Give it a shot. You’ll be glad you did.

Juno still blows.

*A New York Times commentary on the show compared it to the work of Dickens way before I did.

**I’ve used “superlative” on this blog a few times now, and I’m loving it. Great word.

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