September 17, 2010

THE WIRE review

After finishing this series a couple months ago, I've had time to let it all sink in. With that, I feel compelled to inform all of you of its unique style and storytelling greatness. The character development and episode structure is very well thought out and incredibly well executed and definitely worth watching! I find you can only appreciate it's true greatness after watching the series as a whole.

Watching only the first or second season, or to come in halfway through any season won't do it justice. From beginning to end - the entire series, one show at a time. It's not as immediately addictive as some other shows might be, where you HAVE to watch the next one and the next one. This series doesn't lend itself well to a continuous marathon, it needs to be savored and digested slowly for maximum effect.

The Wire was an HBO television drama series set and produced in Baltimore, Maryland, and after seeing the whole series, I feel like I've seen so much of Baltimore that I would know my way around the city if I ever went to visit. Created, produced, and primarily written by author and former police reporter David Simon. It premiered on June 2, 2002 and ended on March 9, 2008. Sixty episodes compose its five seasons. Despite never seeing a large commercial success or winning major television awards, The Wire has been described by many critics as the greatest television series ever made.... to me, Sopranos and Deadwood still rank higher, but this series deserves to be in the top 10 for sure!

The show is recognized for its realistic portrayal of urban life, its literary ambitions, and its uncommonly deep exploration of sociopolitical themes. Each season of The Wire focuses on a different facet of the city of Baltimore: the illegal drug trade, the port system, the city government and bureaucracy, the school system, and the print news media. The large cast consists mainly of character actors who are little known for their other roles.

Creator David Simon has stated that he originally set out to develop a police drama loosely based on the experiences of his writing partner Ed Burns, a former homicide detective. Burns, when working on protracted investigations of violent drug dealers using surveillance technology, had often been frustrated by the bureaucracy of the Baltimore police department; Simon saw similarities with his own ordeals as a police reporter for The Baltimore Sun.

The writers strove to create a realistic vision of an American city based on their own experiences. Central to this aim is the creation of truthful characters. Simon has stated that most of them are composites of real-life Baltimore figures. The show often casts non-professional actors in minor roles, distinguishing itself from other television series by showing the "faces and voices of the real city" it depicts. The writing also uses contemporary slang to enhance the immerse viewing experience.

The directing has been praised for its uncomplicated and subtle style. The show is realistic in depicting the processes of both police work and criminal activity. Many of the plot points were based on the experiences of Simon and Burns. There have even been reports of real-life criminals watching the show to learn how to counter police investigation techniques. The fifth season portrays a working newsroom and has been hailed as the most realistic portrayal of the media in film and television.

Simon was also slyly subversive with certain aspects of the show, such as the portrayal of the ever-popular Omar Little (Michael K. Williams), a self-serving Robin Hood who robbed from the local criminals in skilled and clever ways. Omar also happened to be gay, something he and the show treated very casually, in the process creating a character even the most homophobic of audience members would probably have to admit was incredibly bad ass and cool -- and certainly far different from nearly any other gay character on television.

Then there was the depiction of Bubbles, our gateway into the world of the homeless addict. Sometimes pathetic and often making all the wrong choices, he also was obviously a person in a lot of pain, and it was impossible not to care about him thanks to the writing and a great performance by Andre Royo.

The Wire is often singled out for its incredibly realistic feeling and it's easy to see why after just a few episodes. The series offered a "you are here" feel that nearly no other show could equal, especially others with the similar trappings of a police/crime drama. This was aided in no small part to how three dimensional Simon made his TV version of Baltimore – by the time the series was over, we'd been introduced to so many different characters and situations that it felt like this fictional version of Baltimore was absolutely 100 percent the genuine article and that all of these characters were people you could bump into if you walked down the street.

Directors include Homicide alumnus Clark Johnson, who directed several acclaimed episodes of The Shield, and Tim Van Patten, an Emmy winner who has worked on every season of The Sopranos. Following the death of Colesberry, director Joe Chappelle joined the production staff as a co-executive producer and continued to regularly direct episodes.

The casting of the show has been praised for avoiding big-name stars and providing character actors who appear natural in their roles. The looks of the cast as a whole have been described as defying TV expectations by presenting a true range of humanity on screen.

Many important events occur off-camera and there is no artificial exposition in the form of voice-over or flashbacks, with the sole exception of one flashback at the end of the pilot episode, and even this brief use of the flashback technique is actually replaying a momentary footage clip from earlier in the same episode. Thus, the viewer needs to follow every conversation closely to understand who's who and what's going on. Each season of the show consisted of 10–13 full-hour episodes, which form several multi-layered narratives. Simon chose this structure with an eye towards long story arcs that draw a viewer in and then result in a more satisfying payoff. He uses the metaphor of a visual novel in several interviews, describing each episode as a chapter, and has also commented that this allows a fuller exploration of the show's themes in time not spent on plot development

Seasons 3 and 4 were probably my favourite, season 3 brought in more of a political presence, most notably Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen), a young, wannabe mayor with plenty of promises on how he'd change the city. The show just got more and more powerful as it went into Season 4, which focused on the school system, bringing in four school kids who found themselves in the crosshairs of situations and decisions that were sad and frustrating to behold – such was the impact of The Wire that you wanted to reach into the television set and help these kids out.
Then to say Season 5 was sorta/kinda relatively weak for this series only puts into perspective how amazing The Wire is – 95% of shows on the air would be lucky to ever have material nearly as strong as what this show offered in even its weakest episode.

I loved the show's style, each episode begins with a cold open that seldom contained a dramatic juncture. The screen then fades or cuts to black while the intro music fades in. The show's opening title sequence then plays; a series of shots, mainly close-ups, concerning the show's subject matter that changes from season to season, separated by fast cutting (a technique rarely used in the show itself). The opening credits are superimposed on the sequence, and consist only of actors' names without identifying which actors play which roles. In addition, actors' faces are rarely seen in the title sequence. At the end of the sequence, a quotation is shown on-screen that is spoken by a character during the episode. Progressive story arcs often unfold in different locations at the same time. Episodes rarely end with a cliffhanger, and close with a fade or cut to black with the closing music fading in.

McNulty was definitely my favorite character, consistently an asshole to nearly everyone around him - and even as his character's personality grew and evolved he would find more ways to get himself into so much shit that it was often hard to see play out. But regardless of his many faults he always had good intentions, even with his often self-destructive nature.

I'm hardly the first to compare The Wire to a great novel, but the comparison is fitting. It dared to take the proper time to tell a story, moving at a more subdued pace, while always paying off in huge ways, with a greater depth of writing and plotting than any other crime show.

This was a show telling a broad story involving characters from many walks of life, without favoring one or the other. From the cop, to the dealer, to the addict, to the politician, to the school kid, to the reporter -- these were all tales worth telling, that added up to make an engrossing series that is truly one of the finest television series ever made.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This review was outstanding. I grew up in urban Oakland in the black community, while not being black myself, and can relate to the show's interweaving of different worlds. This show was more than just a show. To me it was anthropolgy, a selfless snapshot of real people in real systems, and some of the biggest social problems that are almost impossible to address. There is a huge demographic that would never watch this show,including several of my co-workers, which is a reality that the show itself touches on. One reason to create "art" is the deep feeling to capture and record something, and thank you so much to the creators and actors for recording this world!