Friday, March 7, 2008

Last Walk in the Garden

This Sunday, we bid farewell to The Wire (or what I affectionately like to refer to as The Greatest Television Show in History). We here at GITW are all big fans and Liz and I wanted to say goodbye in our own ways:


Until I started watching The Wire, I always thought a “shorty” was an NBA groupie. Maybe it still is, but it’s also a nickname for a really young – and therefore short - drug dealer. And there are some really, really young drug dealers out there.

Oh, and also, urban America is totally fucked.

There have been a hundred theories as to why The Wire hasn’t caught on like other premium cable shows like The Sopranos or Dexter. The accents are too thick; the slang is too confusing; the story lines are too complex; the cast is too black; the heroes and villains are too hard to decipher. Maybe it’s none of these; maybe it’s all of them. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure it matters.

The creators of this show have presented an intensely realistic view of that “other America” so many books and stump speeches have been about: a world completely devoid of hope and opportunity. Something tells me they didn’t go into this thinking Sonja Sohn would be the next Jennifer Aniston.

According to the writers themselves, what they really wanted to do was humanize the war on drugs, from the sides of both the dealers and the cops. And they have. Without embellishment, without swelling music that signifies drama or some star-crossed romance to tug at the heartstrings, they have presented why the inner cities of the world’s most powerful nation have thoroughly - and perhaps irreversibly - crumbled.

What the show doesn’t offer are any real answers. There were a few episodes where an enterprising police captain basically legalized the drug trade so long as it stayed within one abandoned block of Baltimore. Crime in the rest of the neighborhood The Wire focuses on practically disappeared. But that scheme was found out, shut down, and everything went back to normal. That’s kind of a recurring theme on the show: a kingpin gets shot or sent to prison, a major stash is confiscated, a fresh and exciting politician comes along, but nothing really changes.

The truth is, it’s not the show’s job to present us with any answers. It’s the show's job to make us care. That’s really the only reason it’s too bad that no one watched. But hey, if a helplessly white girl from Southern California can come to appreciate the many meanings of the word “shorty,” maybe it’s a start.


The Wire
never spoon feeds you. Episode 1 plunges you into the world of the Baltimore streets, without back story; without exposition. You have to figure things (characters, stories, situations) out for yourself. Just like real life. That's what The Wire does better than any show, well, holds a mirror to your face and says "Don't look away. This is how things are in all their gritty and horrible glory. This is your America. What are you gonna do about it?"

It took me a few episodes to get used to the harsh reality, but 3 episodes in, I was completely hooked, as the story shifted from the streets, to the blue collar workers dealing with urban revitalization at the docks. Then season 3 took us back to the streets and the long, hard journey of Stringer Bell (Oh, what a of the finest heroic villains ever created). Season 4 focused on the public school system and the choices (or lack thereof) facing urban kids today. This 5th, and final, season brings us to the dying newspapers of America...and what the media does and does not cover. It's not all tough and tragic. There have been many, many laughs along the way. Because life is nothing if not painfully funny.

Through it all, we've had Bubbles (the lovable junkie you have to root for or you have no soul), McNulty (the womanizing alcoholic who will literally do anything to ensure real police work gets done in Baltimore), Bunk (the funniest partner a cop could hope for), the Barksdales (a family to rival the Corleones) , Marlo (the scariest gangster ever), the kids (Michael, Dukie, Namond and Randy), Mr. Prezbo, Bunny, Omar, the list goes on. All of them have a special place in my heart. All of them will be sorely missed.

Now do yourself a favor and add season 1 to your queue so you can know what the hell we're talking about...


The Guv'ner said...

You know what, I might have to do this as I've never managed to catch this show and I know I'd love it. I was a huge "Homicide: Life on the Street" fan (talking of B'more crime shows) and the Wire has a lot of common factors with it in terms of writers/producers etc. Isn't Clark Johnson in The Wire? I love that dude. Plus back in the Homicide days he was SMOKIN'.

Garney said...

I remember the first time I watched The Wire, it was already in its third season and I had no idea what the hell was going on but knew that I wanted to. So I rented the DVDs and could watch an entire season in a matter of days.

Having already been absorbed in the HBO miniseries The Corner when it aired several years ago, I already had tremendous respect and high expectations for the creative team behind The Wire. Those expectations were exceeded.

The Wire is like Shakespeare writing Rashomon set in the streets of Baltimore. It's amazing how much plot unfolds in each one hour episode. As soon as one ends, I can't wait to see what happens next... because if I do wait sometimes Red inadvertently tells me what happens next.

With an ensemble unlike any of its predecessors, The Wire is like The Godfather Parts I and II for television crime drama. It's the only reason I subscribe to HBO (seriously I'm going to cancel after this weekend).

The Wire will be missed. Mos def.

Liz said...

Hi Guv'ner. I'm Liz. We've never been properly introduced. I was also a huge fan of Homicide and its got a lot in common with the Wire. They were actually created by the same guy. If you liked Homicide, I can guarentee you'll like The Wire.

The Guv'ner said...

Hey Liz! Thanks, that's what I thought. I have the Homicide DVD box sets - there aren't many shows I like enough to go the DVD route with but that was one for sure! :) I love a show that can go for realism and manage to be humorous at the same time. I will definitely check out The Wire.

After all this I'll be terrified to set foot in Baltimore ever again.

Liz said...

Haha, yeah Baltimore seems to be the place to go these days for "gritty realism." These things come in stages - Harlem, then South Central LA, now Baltimore and to a lesser extent New Orleans and Detroit. It never bodes well for you chamber of commerce when Hollywood makes all its "realistic" stuff there.

Falwless said...

Wow. This makes me want to go grab Season 1 and start the journey. Which, really, there couldn't be a better compliment to a review! Thanks, both of you!

Red said...

Guv: Clark Johnson is in season 5. Still pretty smokin' hot.

Gargamel: I still feel bad about that.

Garney said...

And yet I still leave you a voice mail with my version of Thom Yorke singing Way Down in the Hole