Woe to them that call evil good and good evil.
My very best friend Albert watched The Wire from the beginning–either when it originally aired, or as soon as each season became available on DVD–and has been telling me about it ever since. He’s watched many other series since that time, and has stuck to his story that it’s the single best television show in all of life. He’s pretty credible in my book, and I’ve heard others say the same, so it’s been on my list (the list in my head) for all these years.
On-demand surfing on New Year’s Eve, (yes, I live an exciting life), I notice it is up and it is free. There is a posted expiry date of 12/31/15 for the series, so I’m in, with no need to rush. I watch the first 2-3 episodes that night, and I’m loving it. I finish the first season, and two episodes into Season 2, suddenly it’s not free. Apparently this is what Comcast does; after you’re hooked, they start charging, (or it’s free with an HBO subscription) (no thank you), and with no warning. Bastidges. I’m stopped in my tracks.
At some point during my Hanukkah shopping I’d gotten a free 30-day Amazon Prime, and because of an order screw-up, an additional 30-days–taking me to February 15th. So I check in there, but it appears that only Season 1 is free. Boo.
Early last week, I am in bed with a rotten cold, and I check Prime again. This time I dig a little deeper, and there it is; the entire series. The interface was a little misleading, okay???!!! So I’m all, Well damn, I could have been watching for a month, but I’m also, Well yay, because The Wire. And now it’s the perfect storm–I’m sick as a dog, (there’s no fever though, so while extra sleep is lovely, it’s not a need); I have four seasons of this intense series to watch; and I have six days. Honestly, I don’t think I can do it, but I’ma gonna give it the college try.
The basics–Baltimore, post-9/11, a well-organized drug operation, to which we are introduced at the street level (the Projects, specifically), and the cops who try to bring it down because drugs is drugs but there have been a whole lot of murders.
Now, The Wire provides a particular kind of viewing experience that I, with my ADHD, struggle with–a huge ensemble; a sprawling, complicated story, fast, not over-explaining dialogue. I don’t catch names and sometimes I don’t quite know what’s going on–there are nuances to the plots that I just plain miss. I have to be careful because my confusion can turn to frustration and then boredom–how I deal with that is I just give myself permission to be confused, and get what I get–trust that I’ll get the experience. And I so did. Get the experience. But I won’t be your super-details girl.
Because that whole dynamic was exacerbated by my perfect storm–I’m not feeling too well, but more importantly–this is not a show meant to be power-bingewatched. I know people have written about the bingewatching experience and the disservice it can be, and I am feeling it with this one. I cannot distinguish a single episode; it will be challenging enough breaking it down by season. It’s been a hazy week, and I’ll be using online episode guides and probably some other reviews to help me out.
On the other hand, I’ve been immersed in a way that borders on strung out. My dreams are all messed up, and even when I’m awake there is a din of the fast-chatter, n-word-filled dialogue in my background. I’m writing this Sunday night; I just finished the series a few hours ago.
All of that said, this is as fine a television show as I’ve ever seen. I know The Sopranos was considered the game-changer–I was a dabbler but never a devotee–and certainly years later Mad Men comes along and breaks all the rules–but I gotta tell you, The Wire may well be da man. What I realized out of some brief text messages with my friend (Albert lives across the country and has like five jobs/projects/businesses and we don’t get to speak often) is that there are things about The Wire that did not shock me like they might have at one time, because of my Mad Men experience; things I’d thought Mad Men had done first. No disrespect to MM; it doesn’t cheapen it in any way, and it’s not like it’s some kind of ripoff–the two shows are truly not related or connected. It’s just MM has been a point of reference for me for a lot of years. The kinds of things I’m talking about include–the lack of resolve in plots; not being able to count on a happy ending; major characters get killed–the kinds of assumptions we make about a TV show simply cannot be made here. Don Draper and the boys form a new agency; Don gets fired. There’s no safety net here; you just don’t know what’s coming.
The Wire has an elegance you don’t see coming. In the age of the anti-hero, this show blurs the good guys/bad guys right/wrong line like nothing I’ve ever seen. The style is so very hands-off; you’re not blatantly led to love or hate anyone. Anyone. Well, maybe one guy. In five seasons I hate one guy. (And then right at the end I felt a pang of….something. Something resembling compassion, or at least curiosity.)
This show is an exploration of class and culture. It’s about the pervasiveness, shortsightedness, and desperation of institutions–and everyone who interacts with them. It’s about purpose and futility. This is a show about Baltimore, and really American cities, and ultimately America. It’s about family, addiction, heroism, and about utter hopelessness. It’s a show about survival.
So expect five single-season reviews–they will not be entirely spoiler-free, but they will be spoiler-conscious. Coming out of the fog, the arc and themes of each season is already sharpening for me. And in case I haven’t made this clear, see this show.