Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Wire

If you've never watched HBO's The Wire, you are missing out on what may very well be the best dramatic television series ever to hit the air. HBO has a rep for superlative dramatic series in the first place, with Sopranos and Deadwood, both replete with stellar ensemble casts and innovative storylines and dialogue.

Not to take anything away from Tony Soprano's lurid exploits, or the baroque trochaic hexameter blaspheming of Al Swearengen, but The Wire exceeds even those two, partly by not relying on a central character. One major innovation is that the backstory milieu has changed substantially each season, throughout different aspects of Baltimore's law enforcement, administrative, and political structures, but the same core characters are utilized.

Even more innovatively, since the current season takes place in the school system and at the drug corners, many of this season's actors are teenagers or younger, and every one of them comes across as strong and authentic in their demanding roles. People always claim to want something different, something that doesn't condescend to them, something with ambition and passion and meaning. Well, here ya go.

And if you are familiar with the show, you might enjoy SF Chronicle TV columnist Tim Goodman's weekly rundowns of each episode. He's funny and honest, and frequently spots things that might have passed you by on first view.

The show, never that strong of a ratings performer, is committed to one more season, which creator David Simon says will examine the role of the media. Professional scriptwriters would know much better than I would, but I can't imagine that at least some of the current trend toward serialized story arcs hasn't at least seeped a little bit from The Wire.

This is proving not to be such a grand thing on network television, where viewers generally don't have the time to commit to more than one or two extended storylines, which is further mitigated by the networks' reflexive unreliability about mainatining their end of that commitment. But HBO, by its very nature, attracts a somewhat more dedicated audience. Why pay extra if you're not going to watch it?

The Wire is never easy viewing, nor is it family safe. It's funny, sad, vulgar, and violent, sometimes all at once. Much like real life, and real people. It's reality TV with brains and heart, skill and substance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm already going on pilgrimages at some of the first season's locations -- the Towers, the low-rises (not Orlando's "Gentlemen's' Club, tho' -- that area is kinda seedy even during the day). It's really cool. And sort of depressing to realize the two best things to come out of B'more recently are 'Homicide: Life on the Streets' and 'The Wire' -- both about murder, corruption, and drugs. Oh, there's also John Waters' hommages to Bawlmer kitsch chic, but that's really an acquired taste.