January 14, 2009

HBO's The Wire: TV's greatest accomplishment

In my last post, I indicated that I was going to begin a series on "things that I love".  My first choice was an obvious one - this is a television series that has consumed me the past few months.  I have obsessed over each episode, pored over the internet for more information on each character, and mourned the sad fact that now that the series is over, my beloved characters are gone.  Granted, many of my favorites were killed off during the course of the 5 seasons, but that's beside the point.  The Wire remains television's most intelligent show; it is a stinging social critique that is so relevant to the issues facing many urban areas in North America, not just Baltimore, Maryland.  And so, my praise will begin here - however, I do reserve the right to create "The Wire: Part Two" blog entry.  I just have so much to say... 

A lot of the time I watch television, I come away feeling as though I've been wasting my time.  I don't have PVR or any of that fancy business, and so I dread flicking through every commercial break, every re-run of Friends, and every reality show featuring 'has-been' celebrities that are flooding the market.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the 30 Rock, I love watching hockey, and I have been known to have an obsession with Law and Order.  It's not that I hate TV - it's that I wish that there was more good quality television shows. 

And then along came HBO's The Wire.  I'm just going to throw it out there.  This the most entertaining TV series that I've ever seen - and I do declare that it's television's greatest masterpiece.  Brilliant dialogue, captivating characters, and risky plot lines come together to create a social critique that surpasses all other 'cop shows' that have come before it.  This series elicits a level of integrity, depth, and compassion that goes beyond the superficial levels what one would expect from TV, allowing us to connect with characters that we would never dream of.  There are no 'good guys' and 'bad guys' on the Wire.  There are simply people, many of whom who possess strengths, weaknesses, and fatal flaws that resonate with the viewers.  It is a raw, real depiction of street life, the underside of trade and ports, the dark corrupt nature of politics and media, and the cruel realities of the No Child Left Behind educational policy.  While you may close your eyes during some of the scenes (at least I did..), you can't deny the messages being dealt by the creators and actors of this show - they are demanding that people recognize that the messages and services being put forward by our media and institutions are inadequate. 

If you spent some time researching reviews and the perspectives of television critics regarding the Wire, the very first thing that you will notice is that there is full-hearted approval across the board.  Yes, it is violent.. yes, it is depressing - but it is a depiction of a segment of Baltimore life that is absolutely captivating.  When reading interviews from the actors, they are so quick to explain how much they loved working in Baltimore, and how proud they were to be a part of this show.  Many politicians, police officers, teachers, and locals living in Baltimore have come forward in full support, acknowledging the fact that the show is indeed an honest, realistic depiction of life.  

Part of the attraction and success of the Wire comes from the fact that it wasn't a product of Hollywood, but rather that of a Baltimore policeman and journalist who decided to use their wealth of experience and create a television show.  Series creator David Simon spend 13 years as a writer for the Baltimore Sun, and many of the characters on the show were inspired by real-life people that he and fellow writer Ed Burns encountered.  They had no intention of making some dramatic soap opera - but rather a show that demands patience from its audience, in order to build each plot line with detail and integrity, and give depth to each character that crosses the screen.  Each episode was built from the foundation of the previous, and each season expanded the plot lines from the one before - adding complexity to the problems of the drug trade, corruption and organized crime that are plaguing the city, and in the eyes of the creators, that of contemporary America.  One of the series' greatest strengths is that you cannot watch one episode in isolation from the others - however, it probably also became its fallibility, as it suffered from undeservedly low ratings throughout its time on television.  This despite the fact that it received bountiful praise for its wonderful complex characters like Omar Little (Michael Kenneth Williams), "Stringer" Bell (Idris Elba), and Michael Lee (Tristan Wilds), and its outstanding dialogue.  If Barack Obama claims that Omar Little is his favorite character on the Wire, there's got to be something to it.  

David Simon and Ed Burns co-authored the book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, which spawned an Emmy-award winning HBO miniseries the Corner, while Simon was also responsible for the book and inspired mini-series "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets." Look for Simon's newest mini-series is called "Generation Kill," focusing on the U.S. invasion of Iraq, beginning in July 2008.

So that's my first editorial rant.  It's not the usual blog style, with lots of witticisms and pictures, but it'll do for now.  Now I'm off to do a little online research (stalking!) of Tristan Wilds - season four, it got to me! -  I know he's a bit young for me, but i don't think too many people will actually read this online confession....

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