Tuesday, April 20, 2010

THE WIRE - One Of The Greatest TV Series Of All Time

One of the reviews of THE WIRE stated it very simply. There are two opinions of THE WIRE. There are those that think it is one of the greatest TV series of all time. And, there are those that have never seen it.

I’ve now finished watching the series.

It is indeed one of the greatest TV series of all time. It is easily the greatest of the past decade.

And the thing is, I didn’t expect to feel this way. When I first started watching it, it was only out of obligation. But, I was quickly hooked and didn’t want it to end. I was at times going through four episodes a night, like a great novel.

If you haven’t seen the show, and please believe me, you should see it, I will keep this spoiler free, not even talking about what characters appear after the first season.

Here is a brief overview of the series.

SEASON ONE - The Major Crimes Unit in the Baltimore Police Department is created, made up of a group of unwanted detectives and officers from around the Department. Dominic West plays Jimmy McNulty, Wendell Pierce is Bunk, Sonja Sohn is Kima, Seth Gilliam is Carver, Domenick Lombardozzi is Herc, Clarke Peters is Freamon, Jim True-Frost is Prez and Lance Reddick is Daniels.

Their target is the Barksdale Organization, a drug dealing operation from a set of inner city apartments run by Stringer Bell (Idris Elba).

This is one of the best seasons in that it is the most focused, the smallest. You really get to know the characters, and the locations. The courtyard where the characters congregate becomes a character of its own.

SEASON TWO - This season focuses on the dock workers, and their union, while continuing the storylines from the first.

This is another fabulous season, arguably the best in that it takes an almost Dickensian scope, with all the new characters and storylines. Amy Ryan, who would go on to be nominated for an Oscar for GONE BABY GONE, joined the cast as a cop. Chris Bauer (now on TRUE BLOOD) is fantastic as Frank Sobotka, head of the dock workers union.

SEASON THREE - Here it expands to the political aspect of Baltimore, with the Mayor and City Council playing a big role. Aidan Gillen joins the series as Tommy Carcetti, a politically ambitious city councilman.

Season three may have one of the most interesting segments, as far as the sociological aspects of the show, with a storyline devoted to the attempt at decriminalizing drugs. Season three also introduces “Cutty” (Chad Coleman), who is just released from prison and tries to create a new life. Will he go straight? Get back into the game?

SEASON FOUR - This time, we look at the schools and how the “corner kids” are created. Without giving anything away, one character, who I wish I could write more about because he gives a truly excellent performance, goes into teaching.

Another season candidate for the series best. This time, it is a lot more personal season, focusing on the home lives of the kids and what the influence of family and education is on their decision making.

SEASON FIVE - In the final season, they introduced the media into the series, this time showing the Baltimore Sun and their reporters covering the city.

As much as I hate to say it, I had a lot of problems with this season. The central police storyline involves a character doing something STUPID. Their reasons are right, and many of the characters are opposed to it, that doesn’t stop it from continuing the whole season. Also, the newspaper storyline was a bit too “ripped from today’s headlines” like a LAW AND ORDER episode. Not that it doesn’t work, but it was a bit predictable, something THE WIRE usually isn’t.

That said, this is still a very good season. The secondary characters are again interesting. Clark Johnson is excellent as the newspaper city editor. And I just noticed that Tom McCarthy, who played a reporter, is the same Tom McCarthy who wrote and directed two amazing films, THE STATION AGENT and THE VISITOR.

The good thing about season five, with it being the final season, it does wrap things up well. There isn’t a SOPRANOS like stunt ending. There is closure. Some of the characters get happy endings. Some are tragic. But, there is an ending here, not an annoying cut to black.

The entire series is interesting because it never plays by the regular rules of TV. It expects its audience to be intelligent. While most TV shows will show Scene A which leads to Scene B which leads to Scene C, here, they might eliminate Scene B, maybe even Scene A, and expect that the audience knows what happened just from showing Scene C.

It also doesn’t play things in black or white. Some of the drug dealers are portrayed in very real, human terms. These aren’t just bad people, even though they are at times doing horrible things. We get to understand why they are that way, what society has done to them. They all play by their own rules.

All the secondary characters are fully developed. From Bubblies (Andre Royo), the junkie informant, to the feared Omar (Micheal K. Williams), and the hit man and woman team of Chris (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and Snoop (Felicia Pearson). No less than Stephen King has called Snoop one of the scariest female characters ever. Hard to argue that.

There is also Michael Potts as Brother Mouzone, the bowtied assassin who is more interested in his reading material than anything else around him. And I have to mention Dukie (Jermain Crawford), Poot (Tray Chaney), Proposition Joe (Robert Chew), Clay “Sheeeeeeee-it” Davis (Isiah Whitlcok Jr) and the excellent J.D. WIlliams as Bodie. I could go on and one but I won’t.

THE WIRE demands you pay close attention. Characters from previous seasons appear in little scenes that you might not even pick up on. For example, in Season five, a character, unseen since season two, pops up to yell at a character. Unless you saw season two, and remembered him, you may not know why he was yelling.

In listening to part of the commentary to one episode, I was told that the character on the screen, an ex-junkie in a meeting, had appeared in two previous episodes. I didn’t recognize her without the commentary, but as soon as they mentioned it, I immediately did.

Plus, in one season, you see a character sitting in a gay bar. It is only a less than five second shot, that I actually had to rewind the see if it was really him. No mention of this is ever made again, but it adds to the background and the audience’s understanding of the character.

Honestly, I don’t know how the show worked as a weekly series. It is so rich, with so much going on, it demands to be watched all together. Unlike many hour long series, it holds up as a full story, and doesn’t feel like so many series today that it is being made up as it goes along.

Again, if you have never seen THE WIRE, please do so. I will go so far as to say no film in the past decade is as rich, as socially relevant, than this series.

It is truly one of the greatest TV series of all time.