9.14.2006

Best. Show. Ever.

Time for my annual post about how goddam good The Wire is. And damn, is it good. I mean great. Better than ever. Better than anything else on television, maybe ever. But since America doesn't seem to believe me (bastards), here's Slate's Jacob Weisberg:

The Wire, which has just begun its fourth season on HBO, is surely the best TV show ever broadcast in America. This claim isn't based on my having seen all the possible rivals for the title, but on the premise that no other program has ever done anything remotely like what this one does, namely to portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature.
Click here to read the entire article, which describes in much greater detail and more eloquently than I can, just how wonderful and important The Wire is.

And yeah, although I feel kind of like a "very special" jackass for saying it, I don't think its an overstatement to call The Wire important. The series has always been an unflinching portrayal of life in the inner city, with a huge, diverse cast and characters that ran the gamut from drug dealers and users to cops and congressmen and the people who are stuck in between these groups, just trying to make it from day to day. But this season moves away from the police work and into a new arena: the public schools.

It should be said now that The Wire's credibility in these areas extends directly from its creators. David Simon spent a year shadowing Baltimore homicide detectives for his book Homicide. One of those detectives was a man named Ed Burns, a former Vietnam infantry officer who was then a Baltimore cop. Following Homicide (which was the basis of the series), Burns and Simon then spent a year on a Baltimore street corner, following drug dealers and addicts and chronicling their lives in the book The Corner (made into the HBO miniseries). Turns out that following his career on the police force, Ed Burns became a teacher in one of Baltimore's inner city schools, and this season of the Wire builds off his experiences there.

So when these guys talk, they know what the fuck they're talking about.

It doesn't hurt that they've got an incredible cast to help them out -- of the 20 or 30 regular characters, there is literally not a dud in the bunch, and the new actors (the four young African American boys who are really the focus of this season), as Weisberg points out in his article, seem not to be acting so much as inhabiting their characters.

Simon and Burns are also helped out by a murderers row of modern literary crime authors: Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, and Richard Price all work as writers on the show (the only person missing, far as I can tell, is Walter Mosley).

But all this important business makes the show sound less entertaining than it is (if that's what you're looking for, check out The Corner, which is available on on-demand right now and is so "unflinching" as to be difficult but rewarding viewing). Like any great drama, or great piece of literature, The Wire keeps you coming back because you care about the characters. Whether they're a striving young politician, a down and out cop, a drug kingpin, an ex-con trying to make right by opening a boxing gym, a young kid trying to stay on the straight and narrow, a...see, I could go on and on (yes, there are a lot of characters, and yes, it takes awhile to figure out what's going on, and yes, if you're not in right now, you might want to do some serious netflix research).

But that's the thing about The Wire: like any great work of fiction, it presents people that seem real, in real situations, making difficult decisions every single day. There's no other show on television that you could really call "Shakespearen" and get away with it. I will tell you now: The Wire is downright shakespearean. Like any truly great work of fiction, it's not easy, but damn, you'll be glad you put the work in.

1 comment:

aaron said...

A guy I know said he attended a Wire confab where one of the main producers/writers described the world of the Wire as Euripidean. He set up that contrast in order to argue that the Wire does not permit the "Christian" world in (does Shakespeare? how much or how little? an interesting question that maybe reading Measure for Measure could answer).

I would only add that life itself usually mitigates against the admittance of the Christian; Allan Bloom said (or quoted someone saying) that Jesus declared all equal yet left the world's inequality in place. Christianity mostly exists in people's minds and hopes--therein lies its great power and its great weakness.