the c & b diaspora

The Wire.

Posted on: November 26, 2008

You should have heard of this show before now.

wireIn what is some kind of critical snowballing-cum-avalanche effect, the world is now finally starting to take notice of what clever audiences have been aware of for years. Although it has been receiving critical praise from US based journalists since its first season in 2002, it only received considerable attention overseas after it ended its five season run and made its way to DVD.

I do recall seeing this shown on television in New Zealand once, a couple of years ago, in the middle of the night, sometime during the week. Obviously a pretty inconvenient time for any audience to regularly watch without much effort.

Much like 2006’s passing of Dame Te Atairangikaahu, where TV News journalists basically fought and scrambled to have more prominent coverage of her Tangi, and January’s passing of Sir Edmund Hilary in which all media were awash with Hilary-related items, such as the “steady tribute of tributes” that was mentioned during a news broadcast, it is now The Wire‘s turn. Even the horrible tabloid newspapers that I deem unworthy to be even used as toilet paper (but why would you use newsprint anyway?) are taking their turns at naming The Wire “The best TV show ever made”. But by far the worst unadulterated praise goes to the publication who went a step further: instead of just writing ‘The best TV show ever made’ they reduced it down to an acronym. So throughout the article were mentions of TBTSEM (or something similar). Retarded. Way to devalue the acclaim you place upon something. Even President-Elect Barack Obama has had his say on The Wire, calling it his favourite TV show. (Las Vegas Sun, January 2008)

But despite all the critical acclaim the show has received, it has been relatively ignored in regard to winning prominent awards. Although it has received many nominations and several awards,from slightly lesser known organisations, to date it has only garnered two Primetime Emmy nominations for writing.

Just as we mourn the loss of the life of a person, so too do we mourn the passing of a television show (to a degree). Something that you have sat down and spent time with for years is now over, characters you knew are now gone, all you have are the DVDs of episodes past. Claims will always be made after a show finishes its run that it was ‘the greatest’ . It happened with The Sopranos in 2007, it happened with The Wire. It will happen again. ER will receive a lot of attention when its final episode airs in the US in February next year, ending a run of fifteen seasons.

Hell, if you had asked me about three weeks ago, I would have said Six Feet Under was one of the best shows ever made. If you ask me around the end of March next year, I will say the Re-imagined Battlestar Galactica is the best show ever made. After Lost completes its sixth and final season in 2010, myself and people like me will say that it was the best show ever made. See what I’m saying? Things change. People change. But the shows are still great, if not brilliant, masterful and epic.

But the question on your mind: is The Wire actually any good? My response: Probably.

The Wire is a very complex show. Sure, its a cop show. But not the kind that you are used to. Its not like CSI/CSI Miami/New York/Bangladesh/Antarctica where there is a ‘crime of the week’ situation, nor is the particular crime solved at the last minute thanks to some character’s epiphany- the entire season is devoted to a single, large scale investigation, with each season focusing its attention on a different aspect of the city of Baltimore: The drug trade, the port, the city bureaucracy, the school system, and the print news media. The Wire was created by David Simon, a former police reporter and the author of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, the non-fiction book that formed the basis for the television series Homicide: Life on the Street. Drawing from both his book and the life experiences of writing partner/former homicide detective Ed Burns, he was able to give the show a distinct tone of realism, rather than the often outrageous and unreal tone of most modern shows.

Being created for a subscription based channel, HBO, The Wire contains more adult oriented content than similar free to air shows. Violence is more direct and brutal, but not to the point of exaggeration, language is quite profane and the use of esoteric slang is quite frequent (especially in the case of African-American characters). But all this just adds to the realism, people do have foul mouths, and gangsters do tend to talk like gangsters, no matter where in the world you are.

The Wire is full to the brim with diverse and interesting characters. The use of relatively unknown character actors was a very wise choice, as they seem effortlessly natural in the roles that they play. English actor Dominic West will have you believing that he was born and raised on the streets of Baltimore as Jimmy McNulty, an Irish American (alcoholic) detective with an authority problem, much like Hugh Laurie fooled director Bryan Singer with his faux-American accent for his audition for House, MD. The Wire’s most interesting character however, is Omar, who is almost the series’ equivalent of a Robin Hood, only sticking up the criminals who are involved in Baltimore’s drug trade, and often using the gains from these crimes to help innocent citizens of the city. Many of the actors who have worked on The Wire have now found themselves making their way into the more mainstream shows, with two already having found small roles in NBC’s Heroes this year. West will be appearing as the lead villain in the film Punisher: War Zone in 2009.

The ever increasing popularity of DVD Box-sets has only aided the popularity of The Wire. Because of its novelistic structure, ad breaks, and week-long gaps between episodes breaks the level of viewer immersion somewhat. This is where the season box-set comes in very handy; giving the viewer the ability to sit and watch an entire season at their own leisure, much like a book, in this case each episode could represent a single chapter. But this also presents a problem- well it did for me anyway. After watching the entire first season in a couple of days, I took it upon myself to begin watching the second season. I found myself in what could be described as ‘Wire Overload’, where I longed for a slightly ridiculous storyline, and characters that were a bit unreal.  It is not that I didn’t find it compelling, I’d just had enough for the time being. I took a break, and have yet to return for more so far. It has also become known to me that the second season, is possibly the weakest of the five, which does not help my anticipation.

Would I recommend this show to people? In a word, absolutely. Its delicious and fun and intriguing, but its not for everyone, I watched the first episode with Briony, who didn’t really like it at all. But if you can give it your undivided attention and are prepared for a cop show that is definitely not run-of-the-mill, then you will certainly be in for a wondrous experience.

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