Saturday, March 29, 2008

Remembering The Wire

Five seasons, 60 episodes, and at least a dozen distinct storylines later, the grungy, truthful, uncannily real series is retired from HBO. It just gave me a reason to pay for cable, and I hope carved a path for more shows that will redefine their genres the way The Wire redefined the police drama.
One interesting aspect is the way it not only illuminated the world the detectives and their quarry, the druglords, create and inhabit, but it also illuminates other professions: dockworker, teacher, newspaper writer and editor, coach, priest. Compare this with the insulting two dimensional portrayal created by a lesser TV writer for, say, CSI. They may have read a little about someone like Cutty the boxing coach, or the Sobotka family of the Baltimore Stevedores union, or Gus the overly ambitious cub reporter. They may have read about a Detective Jim McNulty too, or Omar The Terrible (the only openly gay gangster I've ever seen, and a character for whom the word 'sissy' is quite inappropriate), or Stringer Bell. This show, however, is written by people who were these people, or neighbors or best friends or even family of these people. And David Simon and Ed Burns, leading a crew of superb writers (including star novelists like Dennis Lehane and Richard Price) were in a rare position to not have anything held back in telling their stories.
Not to mention the cast. Clarke Peters as The black Sherlock Holmes, Lester Freamon. John Doman as the cruel and conniving Major, then Deputy Commissioner Rawls. Wendell Pierce as the dapper Bunk. There's a whole lot of characters here, a guide to which can be found here: And lots of changes are made in the finale "30", which may feel disappointing but is entirely appropriate to what the show means. The Wire is about the world, and specifically urban America, the way it really is: good guys don't triumph, underdogs don't win, and power doesn't ever fail. It's not pretty or heartwarming, but it's true.