Feb 162015
Via Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia

Woe to them that call evil good and good evil.

–Proposition Joe

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.


  17 Responses to “The Wire Bingewatching: a 6-part series”

  1. I felt they were inconsistent season to season. Seasons 2 and 5 were both on the tedious side, but even so, they were better TV than most. None of it lived up to the grandness of season 1, though. Not many shows take on issues and then proudly wear them on their sleeve, and for that alone, this series was special. Nothing subtle here. Heavy-handed to say the least. They club you over the head and keep doing so for twelve weeks at a time. If you you don’t like preaching, keep walking. If you don’t care for agendas in your TV, keep walking.

  2. I’m The Wire’s biggest fan, and thought it was preechy, but man, the sermon is robust, complex, and downright terrifying.
    The first, and ONLY show that explores the second America, the real one to us who grew up in the bottom 80%.
    The sheer poetry of the writing
    Season 3 Ep 11 Middle Ground is something Shakespeare would’ve been proud to write.
    Season 2 was dull to me, at first glance, then,…………mind blown on the re-watch.
    A staggering collection of absorbing characters, lingo-dialectics, the towering pity of it all.
    Enough superlatives do not exist to cover this.
    David Simon can preech all the hell he wants.

    • Again, I’ll (try to!) break down each season, but “Shakespearean” is how I described it just a handful of episodes into S1. S2 had the classic S2 challenge of 1) not knowing its formula yet but still trying to use it 2) having written itself into a corner at the end of S1, there was a LOT to assemble and that was both off-putting and confusing, and 3) um, while this might not be the classic S2 challenge for all shows–white people. I had to be extra patient with S2 but it definitely paid off.

  3. While I agree with most of tilden’s assessment and love the show, I don’t really think of The Wire as poetic. It’s epic, probably shakespearean, etc, but it’s not really layered or allusive, it doesn’t deal hugely in metaphor or any of the things we normally associate with poetry. MM on the other hand is pretty much defined by this kind of stuff, poetry is its bread and butter, which is why I enjoy it more. I prefer its focus on the internal and the subjective, it makes it weirder, and I like weird. David Simon doesn’t do dreamy basically, which is why Sopranos is clearly MM’s aesthetic antecedent and not The Wire.

    • The life you live, is more poetic, than the dream state that we, wish it can/should be.
      The DOING, is hard, dreaming is, easy. The hard-borne honor of scraping by day-to-day is mundane on the surface, but it’s where you remain a member in good standing, watching on the sidelines, hoping, you become a slave to Whitman’s make dreams your master allegory.
      The streets have an unrelenting poetry, even in their brutality of lost hope. As long as you push forward, the earth can be yours………..someday.

  4. I binge watched it from the beginning several years ago. I had watched several seasons at the beginning of the run, but got pissed off when one of favorite actors got bumped off…but boy am I glad I went back and saw it all again, it is as good as anything in the medium has to offer…..breaks your heart, but boy, did I love that ending…fantastic, and satisfying. Thank you HBO…and of course AMC….Just finished binge watching all of Breaking Bad as they had it all on in order for several months so I could record it…I had never seen it,, MY GOD…the best, the best, the best, and of course I am loving Better Call Saul…..AMC rocks…..Hell, I adored Rubicon. Snort.

    May I suggest you binge watch Six Feet Under while you are in the mood to be totally depressed. It’s up there where the air is rare and very very dead as well.

    • The thing about The Wire and Breaking Bad…The Wire better survives multiple viewings. Breaking Bad falls completely apart at second viewing. When I tried to watch Breaking Bad the second time, I found myself fast-forwarding through most of it. There are, of course, degrees of this, but Breaking Bad is possibly the show with the greatest differential between 1st and 2nd viewings.

      I second the recommendation for Six Feet Under, and I agree with Mark’s post. I thought The Wire was a GREAT series, but it doesn’t speak to me, or keep resonating, like MM does. Then again, nothing does.

      • MM is aesthetic, The Wire is a document.
        Like a documentary, it is imprinted on your forehead, it does not escape. MM, can escape into other parts of your mind. It has room to breath.
        The Wire is unrelenting in its search for truth. MM searches for truth behind lies. John Updike on the small screen.

      • I’ve always felt that Breaking Bad probably won’t age well. Once you know every twist it loses so much of its charge, because it wasn’t really about very much except keeping its viewers excited. Individual episodes have very little stand alone appeal. My partner hates it, she thinks it’s vapid, and it’s not a criticism I’m inclined to argue with.

    • I’ve seen a lot of Six Feet Under. I don’t think I want to take it on wholly, not with so much out there I haven’t seen (Breaking Bad, for one). But I did love it.

      • Breaking Bad has be the least watched great show, ever.
        Can’t tell you how many people I sold on that program.

        Is it the scuzziness of meth, that makes folks reluctant?

        Of the 4 Horseman of the tube (Sopranos, Wire, MM, BB) almost no one caught it at the beginning less than BB.
        I grew up in the hood, so everyone I knew so The Wire from the beginning. Albeit, we were the only ones, probably.

        These 4 are head and shoulders above anything else.
        I never feel I have to watch anything else to get what the pulse of America was in the aughts.

      • Si Feet Under was a lovely piece of chamber music for its first 3 seasons. Then, IMHO, it sorta lost steam, and became complicated, without being complex, if that makes any sense.
        Gorgeous writing, however. Lyrical, almost.
        Michael C.Hall is a treat.

  5. This is what I posted after The Walking Dead ep “The Grove” on facebook, it seamed appropriate to this thread.

    “There is no infrastructure” , what I see with many of the great dramas of the last 15 years; The wire, game of thrones, mad men, walking dead and breaking bad to name a few is about the center not holding and the death of the American dream, and the aftermath of that death. The tearing down of the safety net, and the war of all against all and calling it freedom.

  6. I love The Wire and bought all the seasons as a DVD package. I have been showing Season 1 to my inner city students in community college (I teach English) and they love it. In spite of the “old” technology in the series, they say it is still reality in many of the neighborhoods where they have grown up. Although I think the series often showed police/poor communities as hopeless, I think there is hope in that we can actually see it presented truthfully. My desire is that my students get an education and at least don’t continue to live where they were born. I’ve also read a lot about The Wire and would recommend “The Wire: Urban Decay and American Television” edited by Tiffany Potter and C.W. Marshall for a scholarly look at themes and characterization.

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