Monday, January 07, 2008

End of the Road

The bigger the lie, the more they believe. -- Bunk

The Wire, perhaps the most complete narrative vision ever committed to the small screen, enters its homestretch with characteristic ambition. I had to wait until tonight to catch the premiere, because of the power outage, and it was well worth the wait. Absolutely riveting stuff -- or as Paul Gilbert once said about Tony MacAlpine, "blazing, amazing phrasing". There has probably not been a bigger booster of the show in the professional critics' demimonde than Tim Goodman, and he returns to his riffing decos without missing a beat.

What continues to amaze me about the show -- and not only has this held up under watching the previous seasons, it has actually become more apparent -- is how the sprawling narrative manages to operate with such precise, coherent economy. Everything has meaning; there are no stray bits of dialogue, no dick-yanking excursions down rabbit-holes or histrionic showpieces, like so many crumbs propelled out of Tony Soprano's cruel maw in a moment of pique. (I loved The Sopranos, but let's face it, quite a few episodes were diverted or taken up by this weird need to fuck with the audience over their expectations, and it became too meta at times. How many years did fans obsess on fuckin' Pine Barrens?)

Anyway, The Wire is an ever-rarer gem. One thing the writers' strike has shown, as bad as some of the hackery was out there, without them most of the networks might as well show test patterns or wall-to-wall commercials. I mean, what the fuck is a Dance War, is that like Deney Terrio in fuckin' stripper fatigues and a gamy headband threatening to break out his "bazooka" or something? Why is that liver-lipped comb-forward motherfucker Trump on the teevee again, does someone think it's going to be different with Big Pussy and Gene Simmons? Why not just have a three-hour, eat up the entire prime-time bloc cheezefest called What Fucking Wrong Turn Did You Take in Life That You Can Sit Through This, Hunh? (Or, as it was called in the underrated Idiocracy, Ow! My Balls!)

Ahem. The Wire. It's a sad state of affairs that the people who would love it are already watching it, and that the people who would like it if they gave it the chance are happy with Howie Mandel and his fuckin' suitcases. And if you are one of those folks that just missed out on it the first time around, I absolutely urge you to Netflix the earlier seasons and check it out from the start. It is nothing short of spectacular in its thematic scope, and an impossibly great ensemble, where even the bit characters are flawless. I doubt we'll see anything close to it for a very long time, if ever.


Marius said...

I don't have HBO, so I'll have to wait until it comes out on disc. I had to take a break from watching it anyway--it's too addictive, and some of us have a dissertation to finish.

When the last season started, a few days ago, the mayor, Sheila Dixon, showed up at the movie theatre where the local premiere was, to assure us all, in front of flashing cameras, that it's just fiction, and it doesn't represent "the real Baltimore"--thereby confirming everyone's suspicions that the series really gets Baltimore right. Gosh, are politicians that stupid?

Outside the theatre, about a dozen African-Americans were demonstrating, bearing placards and chanting that The Wire exploits black people. Another ironic thing. When you talk to most of the locals, they take a good deal of pride in what they call their city's "gritty charm" (it's a delusional euphemism for inexplicable patches of filth, entrenched corruption, senseless violence, and a general wallowing in self-satisfied mediocrity). Yet when one of their own puts that on TV, they cry exploitation. Go figure.

Wade Laycook said...

Paul Gilbert used "blazing, amazing, phrasing" to describe Shawn Lane, not MacAlpine. Just thought I'd point that out!