What You Should Have Watched: The WireMay 8, 2009
Let’s all cleanse our palate from Sarah’s horrid cartoon porn with something I like to call What You Should Have Watched.
In this recurring whatever-you-would-call-this-kind-of-thing, I will attempt to show you, the reader, that there are shining examples of television that legitimize not only the box’s capacity as a format and institution, but as an invention. More importantly, though, the purpose of these posts will be to chide you for not watching these shows and to get you to start watching or immediately purchase them on DVD because it is important that you watch these things because they are art you big ‘tard.
My first subject will be HBO’s David Simon’s David Hollingsworth’s Favorite Show Ever The Wire, which is maybe a bad idea because it will make all other shows I’ll attempt to defend look like big old garbage shits (shits from eating garbage).
Let me start by saying shut up. I know that everyone talks about how great The Wire is. I know it’s kind of a bourgey, faux-intellectual trend to be all into The Wire right now, but shut up. You don’t know anything. The Wire is not just the best series put on television, it’s not even just the best thing ever created, it is the best singular item, imagined or real, transcending Creation. It is a shining herald of truth-as-beauty on this otherwise awful and false Earth. It deserves not only your attention but your trust and love. Stop whatever you’re doing, shun whoever you are talking to or caring for, and watch this fucking show.
Not really. I actually haven’t even finished the fifth season, but from what I’ve seen, it’s really well done. For those of you who aren’t aware, the show is superficially a cop drama about the war on drugs in the famously shitty town of Baltimore, where they eat crab chips instead of Doritos and everyone is plagued with devastating poverty and crime, probably because they eat crab chips. The twist lies in the fact that the show isn’t a Law & Order good versus evil struggle, or even a Law & Order SVU getting-too-close-to-the-edge stupidfest. The story essentially lies in the concept that the relationship between police and drug traffickers isn’t a moral one: it’s pragmatic at best, and brutally bureaucratic and inhumane at worst. Essentially, one of the show’s main theses is the Watchmen-like claim that there are no heroes. David Simon’s “I Went to College” pitch to HBO is worth a read if you want to get into the real analytical bullshit angles of the show.
While its main story arcs ostensibly center around the drug trade and the use of surveillance tactics in apprehending members of the more organized criminal groups (hence the title), the show’s real beauty is in the detours it takes to explain the processes and INSTITUTIONS (which might as well have been the show’s title) that are actively responsible for creating the hellish conditions of Baltimore, and the Dying American City in general. After season 1, each season takes on its own little cause to explore — the second season ponders the death of unions and the reason behind growing influences of crime in union politics (both real and perceived); the third struggles to answer why reform is so hard to bring about by taking a look at the bureaucracy of Baltimore’s administrative machines; the fourth deals with the failing education system; and the fifth the media, with a special focus on the city’s newspaper. Show creator David Simon gives a lot of assurances that the show doesn’t actually try to answer any of these societal problems, but his nerdy-leftist ideals are pretty transparent throughout much the series. This isn’t actually a problem, as far as I’m concerned, because a lot of the grandstanding — particularly in the case of Simon’s Mary Sue insert in season 5 who decries the sensaltionist and corporate nature of modern journalism — just adds to the helpless discontentment that makes it so powerful.
The Wire banks a lot of its artistic credibility on its realism (Simon calls the style of the show “hyperrealism”, which probably sounds kind of stupid to you, because it is a stupid thing to call something), which is fair, for the most part. The cinematography of the show gives it a film-like but altogether authentic look, the dialogue is usually based more in how people talk than in how people think. Even the soundtrack (which, in technical terms, owns) is all ambient, so there’s no score to tell you how to feel about the action onscreen. However, there are certain moments where this sort of breaks down and the show falls back on less believable but perhaps more entertaining methods of storytelling — the confrontation between gay-Robin-Hood Omar (played by the cop from Trapped in the Closet and pictured at the top of the post) and Tarentino-movie-Malcom-X Brother Mouzone comes to mind as a particular offense. But, again, it’s okay, because it’s a good enough show that this nitpicking really doesn’t even serve any purpose.
What really makes the show is the incredible acting and the extent to which the characters and the actors are indistinguishable. Andre Royo as crackhead confidant Bubbles (pictured directly above) gives a performance that is fucking amazing in its depth and humanity. The only unconvincing thing is his “missing” tooth, which is clearly just blacked out with shoe polish or something. The actors are so god damned good that seeing them in other things gets real disconcerting — especially when Dominic West, who portrays the perpetually drunk Jimmy McNulty (pictured in the photo above Royo’s) shows up as the rapey senator in 300, or the cockney photographer in Spice World.
Newcomers to the show will have to watch out for the fact that it requires quite a commitment to really get into — Squelch writer/artist Kyle found the show terribly boring until seeing season 2. Apparently this is sort of the goal of the show, as it’s supposed to be experienced like a novel, in that it’s designed to pay off in the end rather than constantly and immediately reward you as if you were some baby in the Matrix. The show admittedly takes a few episodes to really understand, but it’s well worth it. It just wouldn’t be the treatise on the death of the American dream (which was also never alive) if it didn’t have the huge scope that it does. It’s overwhelming for a reason.
In short, it owns.
HOW MUCH DO I RECCOMEND THIS SHOW? – I actually don’t reccomend it, I coerce it. Viewing The Wire is not a suggestion, it is compulsary. I won’t say this for any other show, I promise.