Author Topic: [Television] The Wire  (Read 2944 times)

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Offline GuineaPig

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[Television] The Wire
« on: May 26, 2010, 03:06:36 PM »
How does one begin to quantify what constitutes the greatest television show of all time?  How does humour match against drama, how can one say definitively that an Al Swearengen trumps a Tony Soprano, how do you factor ratings success?  I'm not quite sure.  Ultimately, it will come down to an amalgamation of personal beliefs, which is inherently flawed for many reasons; the principal being that not many people have seen even close to the total amount of material that television history has offered viewers.  In my personal history, I've seen many a great TV show.  Dramas like The Sopranos, Deadwood, and Mad Men have attached themselves to me via great storytelling and acting.  Others, such as Arrested Development, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force have won my admiration by making me laugh.  Some, like Battlestar Galactica and Rome have won me over by being simply enjoyable.  However, one show, in my mind, towers over all television I have previously seen, as well as much of cinema.  I am speaking, as people have likely guessed, about the HBO drama The Wire which ran from 2002 to 2008.

At its heart, the Wire is a cop show.  When you watch season 1, it is undeniably what it is.  An extremely complex and well-written cop show, but a cop show nonetheless.  But, as soon as the first scene of season 2, one realizes that it aspires (and becomes) so much more than that; as more and more plots completely unrelated to the police crop up, one realizes that the ambition of the show is no less than analyzing the entire city of Baltimore, which, more than any one person, is the show's main character.  The scope of the show is far greater than any other I've watched; similar to the "Great American Novels", what's contained with in it applies to a greater America.

As a simplified explanation, The Wire is an analysis of the institutions of the city of Baltimore.  They are, in order of the five seasons, the West Baltimore drug trade, labour unions at the docks, city politics, public education, and the news media.  Though, like I said, this is a simplification; although these are the predominant themes in each season, there are many smaller ones, and besides the second season, most plots between the seasons intersect.

Now, I should note for those who have not seen the show that there will not be spoilers until after I clearly mark them later.  My love for this show is so large that I would not even dare to spoil it for others.  This speaks a lot about the show; the plots are so well constructed, so meticulous, that I would consider it somewhat of a betrayal to ruin it for someone else.

I'm not quite sure where to start reviewing this show.  The Wire is a rather monolithic entity; unlike most shows, it does not break down into smaller parts all that well.  Individual episodes are difficult to pinpoint, as they are all part of larger arcs, and for the most part start and end at arbitrary points; seasons are the smallest you can get when discussing plot.  The plot, the style, the themes, and the characters are all inextricably interlinked.  I suppose this comes from the "Big Picture" approach of the show to the institutions it studies; characters and plots are drawn from the very top to the very bottom, creating a very rich tapestry of interconnected stories as actions reach across profession, class, and race.  For example, in the first season, the show follows what happens to the low-level slingers as closely as it does the kingpins.  It makes for much more engaging television; rather than solely following the "big players" that are responsible for the progression of much of the plot, we observe (and sympathize) with those who have no control over their destiny.  In this sense, and in many others, The Wire is very much a Greek tragedy.  Whereas books, television, and movies in Western civilization traditionally follow the Shakespearean tradition of storytelling,  The Wire follows the Ancient Greek.  

Each season's plot was planned to the detail, often far in advance, resulting in an extremely cohesive and rewarding unfolding of the story.  However, this leads to the biggest criticism of the show; that the show takes too long to get exciting.  I'll be the first to admit that it took me 5 or 6 episodes until I was hooked; the Wire, like a patient fisherman, reels in its watchers carefully, taking his time but also making it impossible for the fish to escape.  After that, knowing how good the show was I could relish the slow build in each subsequent season.  

The attention to detail in the show, both plot-wise and in general, creates a universe, in my mind, without parallel.  Characters and plot points are often introduced far in advance of their purpose; for example, the wonderful character of Clay Davis, who is introduced as a corrupt state senator in season 1 long before he becomes important to the plot in season 3.  Other examples include Stan Valchek, Proposition Joe, and Bunny Colvin.  This creates a sense of a true universe, as involvement of characters or introductions of plot points never seem contrived or forced; they always seem natural because they have been established before.  However, unlike other shows, this universe is undoubtedly our universe.  Unlike other dramas that take place in a fictionalized world, The Wire takes place in the real United States of America.  George W. Bush is president, 9/11 did change everything, and nothing is rose-coloured.  And it's more than just superficial references; everything from clothing to cars to food to music is part of our world, not some place that looks and feels like it.  It is a cultural connection unlike any other fictional show I've seen.

In the same spirit, the characters feel real.  There are no shining white knights (with the possible exception of Colvin), nor are there pure demons.  Characters are gray through and through, with good qualities being matched by bad.  Take the lead Jimmy McNulty; an alcoholic, full-of-himself asshole with negligible Irish ancestry, who attempts to burn every bridge he crosses in the attempt to constantly maintain his self-perception as the smartest person in the room.  Similar to Mad Men's Don Draper, his social defects are a source of love for the viewer; but even Don Draper doesn't possess the same magnitude of flaws of some of the "heroes" of The Wire.  The only characters that stick out as somewhat larger-than-life are Omar, the gay, shotgun-toting robber who's a fan favourite for so many reasons, and his equally quirky counterpart Brother Mouzone.  However, when either of these two characters show up on screen, all negative thoughts disappear, because they (Omar especially, who was even named by Barack Obama to be his favourite character ever) are just way too awesome.  Otherwise, the realistic approach to characters makes them all the more endearing; and goes far beyond just their traits.  The pure depth of character development is insane; the characters are so rich in this show that it is possible for one to name their top 100 favourite characters.  

In the same vein, the depth of acting talent is phenomenal as well.  I can only think of a couple characters that I wish were casted differently (Old Face Andre, to name one).  And in a show with well over 200 named characters, that is amazing.  Particular stand outs are the smooth-as-hell Idris Elba, Michael K. Williams, Larry Gilliard Jr, Chris Bauer, Wood Harris, Wendell Pierce, Robert Chew, Clarke Peters, Lance Reddick, the four kids (in what is hands-down the best child acting I've ever seen)... the list goes on and on.  The only one I had recognized prior to watching was Amy Ryan; but now I've researched almost all the lead's IMDB pages for whatever other work they've done.

Along with the great actors, there are also a series of phenomenal non-professional actors who have parts in the show.  The obvious standouts are Felicia "Snoop" Pearson who plays a vaguely fictional version of herself, and Melvin Williams as "The Deacon", the ex-kingpin who was the inspiration for Avon Barksdale.  Also included are former mayors, police commissioners, governors... and surprisingly, unless you did some research, you would never have known.

The themes in the show are felt much wider than just in Baltimore, and this resonance is what allows me, a middle class white kid from suburban Canada, to connect with a couple poor black kids in a run-down public school.  I can't do a good enough to job to properly analyze the themes in each season; many of them would merit an essay to be addressed in full.  Multiple, careful viewings are required to get the most of each episode; the show demands attention unlike any other.  Casual viewers should be warned about how much they will miss if they devote any less than their full attention.

I don't know how much more I can go on about this show.  Not in terms of reviewing it, but the post character limit.  :lol  It's a show that has to be watched by anyone who appreciates the art of storytelling in the least.  I can't do justice to its scale, ambition, and excellence.  The best thing I could compare it to in its scope is the Godfather Part I/II, or The Great Gatsby or the Grapes of Wrath.  Yes, it's that good.  And yes, you have to watch it.

10/10

« Last Edit: May 27, 2010, 07:04:40 AM by GuineaPig »
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Offline GuineaPig

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2010, 03:14:49 PM »
Spoilers


Just thought I'd add some thoughts for people who've seen the show.  First off, my ranking of seasons:

Season 2
Season 4
Season 1
Season 3
Season 5

Then, my ranking of each season's theme:

Season 4
Season 2
Season 5
Season 1
Season 3

Then, my ranking of each season's montage:

Season 2
Season 1
Season 4
Season 5
Season 3

Now some thoughts on the fates of plots and characters.  I don't think I've been sadder during a TV show then when Frank Sobotka was being dragged out of the water.  Except for maybe when Carver meets with Randy after the attack on him and his foster mother.  Or Duquan and Michael's parting.  Or Johnny 50, homeless.  And I don't think that I've been happier than Bubble's ascent up the stairs.  Or Bunny and Namond at the AIDs conference.  Or Cutty with the nurse.  Or whenever Lester Freamon or Omar does something.  And I don't think I've seen a better rack than Nick's girlfriend Aimee's.


Favourite characters:
10. Carver
9. Cutty
8. D'Angelo Barksdale
7. Cedric Daniels
6. Clay Davis
5. Lester Freamon
4. Stringer Bell
3. Prop Joe
2. The Bunk
1. Omar


End Spoilers
« Last Edit: May 26, 2010, 03:41:19 PM by GuineaPig »
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Offline In The Wake Of Poseidon

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #2 on: June 03, 2010, 10:27:13 AM »
I started watching the first few episodes of this series, the first few episodes really didn't hold my attention. All I hear about this show is praise so I figure I just need to get a few more episodes into it. Will finish season 1 and see if I can get into from there.

Offline GuineaPig

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #3 on: June 04, 2010, 06:27:18 AM »
I started watching the first few episodes of this series, the first few episodes really didn't hold my attention. All I hear about this show is praise so I figure I just need to get a few more episodes into it. Will finish season 1 and see if I can get into from there.

It didn't click for me until about 6 episodes in.  It's a really slow build, but then pays off like crazy.
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Offline InTheNameOfGod

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #4 on: June 06, 2010, 06:17:36 PM »
Nice review. It's my favourite TV show as well.

You don't need to go out of your way to rank the Seasons, though.

Trust me, when you watch them all again you will change your mind a few times.

5 is definitely the weakest, but still a great Season.
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Offline Xanthul

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2011, 02:51:16 AM »
I finished watching The Wire a couple of days ago... what an incredible show, the best I've ever seen. Favorite characters:

10- Chris (scary as hell)
9- Randy (so jovial and childish, what a sad ending)
8- Lester (just charming)
7- Bill Rawls (some of the best cussing ever... he's always so menacing)
6- Gus (the highlight of season 5 imo, can't say why but I love him)
5- Nick Sobotka (not because his girlfriend's rack... well not just for that)
4- Stringer (fascinating character)
3- The Bunk (love his dry humor)
2- McNulty (what can I say)
1- Dukie (fucking breaks my heart)

Then there's Omar, I have mixed feelings about him. Yeah he's awesome, but sometimes he's a bit too awesome. He's a great character though, no question. Just not one of my favorites.

Honorable mention for Prezbo for his phenomenal yet credible character development.

Offline senecadawg2

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2011, 01:29:26 PM »
Great review, I just recently finished the show and now I suffer from 'Wire Withdrawal'. I feel compelled to start from the beginning again.

I never thought it possible to have such a difficult time ranking my 10 favorite characters.

10. 3 of the four kids (I had trouble sympathizing with Michael)
9. Mr. Prezbo- Loved his transformation from car-shooting maniac to bearded teacher
8. Bunny Colvin- let's legalize drugs
7. Bodie- My favorite among the street-level drug dealers
6. Lester Freamon- Smart and fun to watch
5. Carver- don't know what to say about him... but he was definitely one of the best cops in the city
4. D'Angelo Barksdale- I couldn't stop loving this guy, so sad when he died
3. Stinger Bell- Absolutely fascinating character
2. Bubbles- Although I was annoyed with him 80+% of the time, his redemption was one of the highlights of the show for me.
1. Omar- That court scene was one of the best pieces of television I have and will ever see. 
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Offline Xanthul

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #7 on: July 28, 2011, 02:11:18 PM »
Good calls there. I just recently rewatched the whole series (my wife hadn't ever watched it so it was a great excuse) and I can't believe I didn't include Bubbles in my favorite characters list. Bodie is awesome as well, but then again most of the cast is amazing. I could probably name more than 50 characters in this show without any effort whatsoever, it's truly incredible when you think about it.

Weird mention of Carver there, I never found him too interesting. Just another policeman that climbs the ladder by being mostly mediocre - not too smart for his own good, yet not terribly dumb.

SPOILERS AHEAD
===========

Another thing that I love is how character's have certain parallels without making them too evident or cliche - it's like they are reminding us that yeah, everyone is different but these stories repeat themselves everyday. For example I didn't notice the first time around how similar Bodie and Frank Sobotka are: both do wrong things but are good hearted and loyal towards their people, both question the system/institutions they are involved with (a recurring theme in the series), both end up trying to collaborate with the police but making it clear they won't betray their people, and both are killed before they get the chance to do it. It's amazing that they can show two stories that are so similar, yet so different and make it fresh each time.

Offline senecadawg2

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #8 on: July 28, 2011, 06:43:58 PM »
I just recently rewatched the whole series

I've been thinking about doing the same. I need something new to fill the void in my life now that I am done with the wire. I watched Six Feet Under, I've been into Dexter, and I just started Deadwood. They are all good shows but the Wire still beats them easily (at least in my opinion). Any suggestions?
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Offline Xanthul

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #9 on: July 28, 2011, 11:08:35 PM »
I'm watching Six Feet Under now, just finished the first season and I think it's pretty good so far, but I think The Wire will stay at number 1 for me for the foreseeable future.

Have you watched the Sopranos? It's another amazing series, it used to be my favorite prior to the Wire. Other series I have in my to do list include Oz, Mad Men and Deadwood. From what I've read, pretty much anything HBO does is high quality.

Offline Adami

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #10 on: July 28, 2011, 11:17:31 PM »
I told GP I'd watch the beginning of The Wire once I finish my BSG rewatch, well I'm on the 3rd season of that and soon enough I'll give The Wire a shot.



But, I seriously doubt anything will surpass Deadwood as "greatest show ever" in my personal book.
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Offline senecadawg2

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #11 on: July 29, 2011, 10:52:03 AM »
I'm watching Six Feet Under now, just finished the first season and I think it's pretty good so far, but I think The Wire will stay at number 1 for me for the foreseeable future.

Have you watched the Sopranos? It's another amazing series, it used to be my favorite prior to the Wire. Other series I have in my to do list include Oz, Mad Men and Deadwood. From what I've read, pretty much anything HBO does is high quality.

Six Feet Under was great, and I've also heard great things about Oz, Mad Men, and Sopranos. I will have to check them all out.
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Offline senecadawg2

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #12 on: July 29, 2011, 10:54:26 AM »
I told GP I'd watch the beginning of The Wire once I finish my BSG rewatch, well I'm on the 3rd season of that and soon enough I'll give The Wire a shot.



But, I seriously doubt anything will surpass Deadwood as "greatest show ever" in my personal book.

The problem about Deadwood (at least what I've heard) is that it doesn't provide much closure, as it was canceled after the 3rd season. I'm currently nearing the end of the first season and I think it's great, but I will be disappointed if it doesn't have a proper ending. Did this bother you?
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Offline Adami

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #13 on: July 29, 2011, 11:27:29 PM »
It bothered me when it first aired, because I didn't expect to be cancelled. But now that it HAS been cancelled and I'm aware, the ending didn't bother me much. Plus, it doesn't take away AT ALL from the pure brilliance of the show. The ending provides enough closure so that it's not like leaving off on a huge cliff hanger or anything.
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Offline zxlkho

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #14 on: August 02, 2011, 10:12:05 PM »
I love this show so much. I recently watched seasons 2 and 4 again because they were my favorites. Favorite characters (fuck this was hard):

1. Omar (there was no question about this...)
2. Stringer Bell
3. Bodie
4. McNulty
5. D'Angelo Barksdale
6. Stan Valchek
7. Frank Sobotka
8. Tommy Carcetti
9. Wallace (I really, really liked this guy from season 1)
10. Bubbles

Something like that. This show is beyond amazing.
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Offline senecadawg2

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #15 on: August 03, 2011, 02:53:02 PM »
I love this show so much. I recently watched seasons 2 and 4 again because they were my favorites. Favorite characters (fuck this was hard):

1. Omar (there was no question about this...)
2. Stringer Bell
3. Bodie
4. McNulty
5. D'Angelo Barksdale
6. Stan Valchek
7. Frank Sobotka
8. Tommy Carcetti
9. Wallace (I really, really liked this guy from season 1)
10. Bubbles

Something like that. This show is beyond amazing.
Nice List. I especially like your top 6. Not a lot of love for Frank Sobotka or Carcetti though. Great characters... just not my favorites.
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Offline GuineaPig

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #16 on: August 03, 2011, 05:43:18 PM »
I told GP I'd watch the beginning of The Wire once I finish my BSG rewatch, well I'm on the 3rd season of that and soon enough I'll give The Wire a shot.



But, I seriously doubt anything will surpass Deadwood as "greatest show ever" in my personal book.

Deadwood was tied with The Office (original) for my favourite show before I watched The Wire.

I can definitely understand someone preferring Deadwood.
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Offline Adami

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #17 on: August 03, 2011, 07:09:57 PM »
I told GP I'd watch the beginning of The Wire once I finish my BSG rewatch, well I'm on the 3rd season of that and soon enough I'll give The Wire a shot.



But, I seriously doubt anything will surpass Deadwood as "greatest show ever" in my personal book.

Deadwood was tied with The Office (original) for my favourite show before I watched The Wire.

I can definitely understand someone preferring Deadwood.

The first disk of The Wire is at the top of my Netflix Queue, I'll update you when it finally gets in and so forth.
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Offline jsem

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Re: [Television] The Wire
« Reply #18 on: November 18, 2011, 05:28:50 PM »
[size=20][SPOILERS][/size]


Just finished watching the entire series. Took me two weeks. Must've been the best thing I've ever seen. I can't see anything ever capturing the depth of this show.

Season 5, episode 9. Bug getting dropped off by Michael and Duke. That scene was emotional to the max. The show captured all the good, bad, hurtful and humorous.

Favorite characters:
1. Omar
2. Brother Mouzone
3. Clay Davis
4. Stringer Bell
5. Bunk Moreland
6. Lester Freamon
7. Prop Joe
8. Jimmy McNulty
9. Jay Landsman
10. Stan Valcheck

(hard to make my mind up, top 4 is sealed though - so many great deep characters)

Seasonal rank:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 4
Season 3
Season 5
(I might end up changing my mind eventually)

In the end, the show left a serious impression on me. It touches on something real, and it has certainly made me even more convinced that drug prohibition MUST end.