Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inexplicable TV Review: The Wire (will possess your television and life for a week)

Note: Significant spoilers throughout this entry.

So, I managed to steamroll through five seasons of The Wire over the past week. It's not as sad as it seems, since there are only about 12 to 13 episodes per season, as opposed to LOST, which took me a couple weeks last summer and has sprawling seasons.

However, the shows do have one important thing in common - A large ensemble cast. LOST kind of lost its way (sorry) when it started focusing more on the "stars" of the show, like Matthew Fox (even though I loved him) and Evageline Lilly (meh) and that guy who plays Sawyer (maybe someday, he'll be known by his name as opposed to his character name).

In contrast, The Wire keeps the focus spread out, and it remains fascinating through five seasons. The quality level varies from a low of "really good" (the first half of season two, most of season five) and downright incredible (all of seasons one, three and four). Because of the show's focus on a large ensemble cast, it allows for multiple interwoven stories each episode. There are always some long, multi-episode arcs, mixed up with shorter arcs that are resolved in one episode.

The large ensemble also allows for different personalities to shine through. Touching on my favorites, Lester Freamon is quite possibly one of the coolest detectives ever. All he does is solve crimes, convince a stripper to drop that lifestyle and marry him, and carve miniatures that sell for hundreds of dollars. Lucky bastard. "Cuddy" goes from drug muscle to a boxing trainer - dude looks so much like Kimbo Slice that I looked him up on IMDB to make sure it wasn't him.

If the show has a "star", it's probably Domenic West as asshole detective Jimmy McNulty. The stress of the job normally has him destroying his personal and professional relationships in order to assert his own superiority. In fact, one of the best scenes of the show's run comes in the otherwise subpar by Wire standards fifth season. McNulty has made up a serial killer in order to get the police department more resources, an outlandish plot point in an otherwise ultra realistic show. However, the FBI does a profile of the serial killer, and it matches McNulty's character 100 percent.

Let's talk about the seasons, or specifically, why two of them are sub-par. Season two takes a bit to get going - The awesome unit from the first season has been disbanded, and it takes the story a couple episodes to get them back together. However, the final half of the season is awesome, as the shipping union tries to cover up its crimes, as Ziggy finally gets thrown in jail for being an asshole, and as we learn more about The Greek and his organization.

Therefore, it's definitely the last season that is the biggest letdown. McNulty going completely insane and fixing a case seems like such an outlandish step for his character to take. Also, seeing him bed random women and what not seemed like a step backwards, into the mess of the first two seasons. I think they should have just had him and Freamon doing an illegal wire without the mess of the homeless killer. Some of the other aspects - like the financial crisis in the department, and Marlo killing at will - also fell flat to me.

However, even a bad season of The Wire is still gripping to watch, and I have to admire the bravery of the show's creators and writers to not pull any punches when it comes to the characters. Just as you're really starting to like someone - Omar, Bodie - they get shot. Marlo Stanfield, the entire reason why McNulty and Freamon become ex-police, is a free man. The show is overwhelmingly cynical, but there are jussttttt enough satisfying moments to keep you interested. You know, like when Slim Charles kills the arrogant Cheddar in the final episode, or when Michael gets the jump on Snoop and kills her. (I totally agree with Steven King's write-up of the fourth season - Snoop and Chris Partlow are terrifying modern villains.)

So yeah. The Wire is definitely the strongest start-to-finish television drama of the past 30 years, with the caveat that I still have to watch through Homicide and The Sopranos. If you haven't seen it, prepare yourself to clear out plenty of free time to watch it, since it is addictive as hell. And tomorrow will be my entry about The Baltimore Sun and its presence on the show.


  1. You are a wealth of handy dandy tips Steve! Yet another show that I want to now check out.

  2. No problem, Empress! It really is worth checking out - it totally lives up to all the hype it gets.


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