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July 02, 2009

Comments

"But this one you should make time for."

Is there actually anyone left besides you who hasn't seen them all by now?

Next I'd recomend reading some of the hundreds of interviews with, and articles about, David Simon. There's also a fair amount of good video of him talking about important stuff.

Also see The Corner.

And read Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. And Homicide: Life On The Streets was very good, too, although not as good as The Wire.

If you're this behind on tv, next watch Deadwood and come back and tell us how we should all see it.

I also recommend Rome.

Oh, and then you might try the remade Battlestar Galactica. Really.

Stephen King on The Wire, btw. This is the piece where he calls Snoop "perhaps the most terrifying female villain to ever appear in a television series."

Every once in a while, somebody whose taste and judgement I trust tells me I absolutely have to see something like The Wire. And my answer, for some years, has been: I can't afford it; I am already "consuming" all the "media" that a 24-hour day allows. So I have to establish a sort of PAYGO rule, publius: you have to recommend something NOT to watch, too:)

--TP

The Wire was an awesome show. Probably best drama I've ever watched.

The TV critic for the Newark Star Ledger is going back through all 5 seasons of the Wire, with separate posts for newbiew and veterans, with the latter having a section at the end discussing ways that each episode ties into things that happened in later seasons. He's currently about halfway through Season Two. His contemporaneous reviews of Seasons Four and Five were great.

http://sepinwall.blogspot.com

TP- I'm in exactly same boat. I wound up carving out extra time at nightbetween midnight and 3. That sounds bad but you'll find that you immediately want to see the next one. I almost watched thru morning once. And yes it's sort of painful in morning.

Is there actually anyone left besides you who hasn't seen them all by now?

GF: That would be me.

The amazing thing about it is that everyone hypes it endlessly, yet when you actually watch it it still manages to be better than those high expectations. It's just a level of quality you don't ever expect to see on TV.

It was pretty obvious you were watching it, I don't think you've made a post in the last week or so without referencing it, heh.


Oh, and just to start an argument: 1 > 4 > 3 > 5 > 2

4>3>1>2>5

TP: "So I have to establish a sort of PAYGO rule, publius: you have to recommend something NOT to watch, too"

Lester Freamon: "A life, Jimmy, you know what that is? It's the sh*t that happens while you're waiting for moments that never come."

So give us a list of the stuff you're watching, so we'll be able to pass a proper veto in favor of The Wire. You got to. This is America, man.

But, really, probably anything will pass that test. I certainly can't think of anything on current tv that doesn't.

[Clay Davis' favorite phrase goes here.]

Gary is also right about reading up on Simon and looking at some of the stuff behind the show, its pretty interesting. A few points:

- Felecia Pearson's portrayal of Snoop is damn close to autobiographical

- The scene in season 4 where a girl gets slashed with a razor in the middle of class actually happened in a class/school that one of the show's creators taught at in Baltimore.

I was a latecomer too - my brother bought me Season 1 last Christmas and I ended up watching the whole series in about 3 nights and immediately ordering all the other seasons. By the time I got round to seeing it I'd obviously heard all the hype - there's a TV critic in the UK called Charlie Brooker who can barely write ten words without mentioning it, various friends, acquaintances and piano pupils had raved about it, I'd heard the Barack Obama quote, etc. - but I never dreamed it would be half as good, half as uncompromisingly intelligent, half as unashamedly complex, half as demanding, half as fearless as it actually was.

Oh, and...

3 (can't beat the denouement of the Barksdale saga) < 1 < 4 < 5 < 2

"A life, Jimmy, you know what that is? It's the sh*t that happens while you're waiting for moments that never come."

And here I thought life is what happens in between watching TV shows -- or reading blogs, for that matter:)

--TP


Wait, I reversed my inequalities....

3 (can't beat the denouement of the Barksdale saga) > 1 > 4 > 5 > 2

fix'd

I'm trying to trudge through season 1 as part of my exercise regimen, I'm enjoying but not more than I'd prefer to find things to do other than peddle my bike. :)

Although there are a few good Wire blogs, your essential companion is Heaven & Here, which picks up at the beginning of season 4.

http://heavenandhere.wordpress.com/

I watched season one, and it's cool, but I tend to hate cop shows. I'll see the whole thing, but I already know I won't like it as much as most people.

Now Mad Men. That's a TV show I tell ya. Gold, Jerry. Gold!

Easily the best television show I've ever seen.

One really thing I remember was one of the bonus features on the last disc of the last season, where a bunch of the actors describe auditioning, and in particular auditioning for parts other than the ones they wound up playing. After getting completely sucked into the thing for the months and months it took me to watch it, the whole concept of the actors playing each others' parts was completely trippy.

"Felecia Pearson's portrayal of Snoop is damn close to autobiographical"

Curiously enough, I posted a link to this article on this blog only about three days ago.

For that matter, I posted a link to this just a couple of days ago, too, but that's at least the fourth, if not fifth, at least, time I've posted that link just in ObW comments.

A man got to have a code!

Although probably the most appropriate Wire quote about ObWi is: "How you expect to run wit the wolves at night when you spend all day sparring wit the puppies?"

Beyond the overall qualities of the show, the Wire, imo pulled off something that almost no other show has ever done. It had an ending that fit the show, perfectly and completely. I kinda agree that season 5 overall felt kinda weak compared to the rest, but the ending itself was perfect.

you have to recommend something NOT to watch, too:)

You have my permission to skip The Corner. It's brilliant, but way too depressing. (And, even made up to look drugged out, Khandi Alexander is way too gorgeous to be a convincing junkie.)

Also, 4>1>3>2>5. 5 for the preachiness, 2 for the totally unconvincing way the team got reassembled.

Last, for commentary, I like Alan Sepinwall.

to who you only watched all or part of season 1...

It's cool, but the true greatness of the show only becomes apparent later. Season 1 starts out more traditionally "cops show". (I mean, not really, but it's more in that direction).

It's not until Season 2 where (to me) Simon starts getting more political -- and more intellectual -- by examining institutional failures more explicitly. He begins this direction in Season 2 with the unions, but he really hits his stride in 3 and 4 as politics and schools get introduced.

4 is the white album if you will.

i haven't seen 5 yet, but:

4>3>1>2. And I actually really like 2 -- it's all relative.

my favorite scene thus far is when stringer bell introduces roberts rules of order to the drug gang meeting

"GF: That would be me."

Get thee hither to Netflix!

Just trust me on this. I could give you a million sound reasons why, about how it's the most insightful program ever done about politics, let alone urban America, or, for that matter, Baltimore, or in the fourth season, on American schools, or in the fifth season, on American journalism, or some of the best characterization and writing ever done on American tv, if not the very best, and on and on and on, but: just trust me on this.

It's also as funny as all get-out, and sad as hell.

"3 (can't beat the denouement of the Barksdale saga) > 1 > 4 > 5 > 2"

Everyone, it seems, was thrown by the change-up of the docks (in and particularly in the beginning of, the second season), but I think the knock upside people's heads of letting them know that this story -- and this to say, the story of what's wrong with America, and how we treat our cities and our people -- is far far larger than just the story of poor black folk striving to get rich, or at least survive, via the urban drug trade. And that's a damned important, completely crucial, part of the whole story.

Each season expanded the radius of looking into What's Wrong And Why. And the second season, while not at all neglecting the ongoing saga of Avon Barksdale, D'Angelo, Omar, Prop Joe, Stringer Bell, Bubbles, or, hey, those cops, took a look at the fact that behind the obvious crooks and would-be survivors are the guys who really profit. And it looked at the fact that the decline of unions had ripped the heart out of American labor and blue collar workers getting ahead in that good old "American Dream."

And, frankly, if it hadn't done that, the show would have been just a great drama about the urban drug trade and the cops who deal with it; and that show would have been kinda racist.

But it did throw people who understandably saw the first few episodes of the second season, and said "wha? This isn't just like the first season! What's all this dockworker/union stuff?"

But if you stuck with it, you saw that it was just enlarging the story, and that it did get back to the folks we'd been following in the first story; it just made their story larger, and therefore truer.

The Corner is indeed very depressing (slightly relieved by the epilogue in which the real people whose lives were adapted talk about how they, at least, have actually survived), and I suspect it's all a bit too clean and too happy, but it is incredibly well done.

It's a very near thing, but:
4>2>3>1>5
I love Season 2. I'm a labor activist and middle-class urban white boy, so it kind of struck a chord. Agreed on the contrivance of getting the team back together, though.

"the whole concept of the actors playing each others' parts was completely trippy."

Not to mention the first time I heard Dominic West talking in his native acccent.

Publius: "It's not until Season 2 where (to me) Simon starts getting more political -- and more intellectual -- by examining institutional failures more explicitly. He begins this direction in Season 2 with the unions, but he really hits his stride in 3 and 4 as politics and schools get introduced."

Saw this after I posted my previous, and: yes.

And Mike, yes, The Corner is immensely depressing. But, jeebus, that's the frigging life of an urban junkie. Throwing in something uplifting would just be false.

The arc of Bubbles in The Wire worked because it had a far larger context, and it also wasn't hardly an uplifting story of someone who went on to a life of cheery wonderfulness. The Corner is a far narrower story, but so far as I can tell -- being neither African-American or having ever been a junkie -- immensely honest.

But I'd regard it as more of a supplement to The Wire and certainly amn't recommending it as a replacement.

I have a practice of getting disks from Netflix, and making single copies purely for my own personal use, and thus I have a lot of accumulated disks at this point I haven't yet gotten to; these include Generation Kill. Anyone who has seen it have any comment on it?

I mentioned there being a ton of David Simon video interview and panel material, btw: here are buckets full.

"my favorite scene thus far is when stringer bell introduces roberts rules of order to the drug gang meeting"

I'd like to discuss this, and this sort of thing, further, but I think we need a spoilers-for-all-seasons thread to be able to do that.

And I do think you'll like the last ep of Season 5, publius. Hope so, anyway.

I'm surprised someone got the order so right on the first try.

1, 4, 3, 5, 2. Sublime.

Although probably the most appropriate Wire quote about ObWi is: "How you expect to run wit the wolves at night when you spend all day sparring wit the puppies?"

Personally, I'd go with "There you go again, always givin a fnck when it ain't your turn to give a fnck."

Season 1 gets a high spot on my list for three reasons. First, it never sacrificed realism for understandability when it came to the language, politics and heirarchy of law enforcement. It was certainly a bit confusing at first, but it didn't do the usual cop show route of basically having a chief and then a bunch of officers/detectives as the only real chain of command.

(Possible SPOILERS for anyone who hasn't finished season 1 yet)

Second, Wallace. I don't think I have to say much more about that one. And finally, it had the audacity to close the season without the "good guys" getting their man and the "bad guys" behind bars, with everything wrapped up in a neat little package.

these include Generation Kill. Anyone who has seen it have any comment on it?

It is outstanding. Very entertaining and insightful. For a piece that focuses entirely on one unit's experience of the first week of the war, It manages to show off a surprising number of major problems that later bedeviled the conflict without coming across as forced. On later reflection, the hilarious absurdist elements were depressing in their frequency, but that's a plus. I think.

I find it a little hard to compare directly with the Wire since it is more of a docu-drama and less fictional. I recently did a presentation at my church about the effect of the Iraq War on Iraqis and clips from the Generation Kill featured heavily.

Gary - when I do post more substantively on the Wire, I'll probably put the entire thing after the intro paragraph below the fold. So spoilers will be welcome there.

Or, you can just write spoiler alert at beginning of comment here - i htink that works. for people who haven't seen anything, none of these names mean anything so they won't remember anyway

Yeah, we never watched it until recently. One day some months ago we looked at each other and said "Hey, we never watch TV; let's get rid of the cable", and since then we've been watching entire seasons of shows that we take out from the library.

I have really enjoyed the Wire. Maybe the first season most, but then again, maybe that's because it was my introduction to it. Season 4, which concentrates on kids and schools, was a big hit with me because I've raised a lot of kids, and I've taught school.

Other series we've been watching (as they become available) are Babylon Five, Smallville, and we've just started with Deadwood. It totally beats watching on TV, where you can miss an episode!! and there are commercials!! And you have to watch it when it's on (we don't have Tivo, and aren't likely to).

But I think the Wire is my favorite so far. The things I've learned! Baltimore is about the same size as the city where I grew up, but the neighborhoods are so different (of course, they are different where I grew up, too). And I trust that what I have learned is real, unlike on some programs. I mean, it's fictional, but I trust it to be not untrue.

And the people! What a gas to learn that the two hot male characters, on either side of the law, who seemed so American, are both Brits! and how funny to hear their commentary in their real accents!

I was most impressed with Season 2, specifically the way poor Frank Sobotka's life fell apart. By the time he died, he had lost everything: his union, his workplace, his son...everything.

That kind of tragedy is rare enough in any kind of entertainment, but especially series television.

Not to mention the first time I heard Dominic West talking in his native accent.

In season 2, I think it was, McNulty goes pretends to be English in a sting. He uses his real voice, which all the other characters insist is the phoniest accent they've ever heard.

The voice transformation I'm amazed by is Idris Elba's. Not only does he lose the Cockney accent, he drops the pitch about an octave.

"Or, you can just write spoiler alert at beginning of comment here - i htink that works."

It doesn't work for people who read like I do. I see blocks of text as a whole. (In most cases; for poetry, and other finely worded text, I have to read more closely, to be sure.) (This is the not-so-secret behind why I, and others who read likewise, can read very fast: because you can grasp, in some cases, a page at a glance, or more commonly, in only 2/3/4 glances.)

So I can't really skip past something with a spoiler warning unless at the very least there's enough blank text for me to not see what's coming simultaneously, and yet somehow I have a clue to know how far to scroll down without -- somehow -- looking at the screen at all.

I know most people don't read this way, but I also know I'm not the only one who does.

And let me also say I've been enraged in some cases when people have given me certain crucial plot/character spoilers on certain pieces of fiction I really care about.

Personally, I'd go with "There you go again, always givin a fnck when it ain't your turn to give a fnck."
Yes, that's very good, too. It certainly describes me. :-)

"And finally, it had the audacity to close the season without the 'good guys' getting their man and the 'bad guys' behind bars, with everything wrapped up in a neat little package."

That's the story of the whole show, as well, of course. Some bad people do go to jail, or wind up dead, but plenty don't, including some of the worst, and for those who do, it clearly isn't remotely the punishment (let alone rehabilitation!) that might theoretically be intended.

Of course, it should be observed that there are certain characters whom we're made to considerably sympathize with whom, according to their acts -- being stone killers -- we really shouldn't. I mean, even if they do have a code about who they kill, or a crap childhood, etc. You know who I mean.

"Other series we've been watching (as they become available) are Babylon Five, Smallville, and we've just started with Deadwood."

Hey, I like all of those! (Though I have a boatload of criticisms of B5, as well as a fair amount of praise. And, to be sure, one can't take Smallville remotely seriously even on its own level: the attention given to things actually making sense does not tend to be high; but, hey, it's a lot of fun for anyone who grew up on DC Comics.)

I now randomly but obligatorily mention also being a big fan of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer and Firefly. (I also like Angel, but not as much as the other two.)

Thank you for the comments on GK, Turbulence.

Mike, I'd never have guessed in a million years, from The Wire, that either West or Elba were English. (West went to Eton!)

Of course, for BSG fans, I mention that it also freaked me out the first time I heard Jamie Bamber talking in his native accent.

Is there actually anyone left besides [publius] who hasn't seen them all by now?

*Raises hand*

I have no idea what network it's on, who's even in it, or what it's even about. I'm guessing it's an HBO show. I don't subscribe. And for reasons even I can't explain, I simply never watch DVDs. If I can't DVR it off of the basic DirecTV package, I'll never see it.

So give us a list of the stuff you're watching, so we'll be able to pass a proper veto in favor of The Wire.

Not directed at me, I know, but here's the list of stuff that I watch with any regularity:

*The Daily Show
*The Colbert Report
The News Hour (I often skim)
*Nova ScienceNOW
*Mythbusters
*Psych
+Nova
+Frontline

* = Every new episode, without fail
+ = Only when the subject matter interests me, which is generally a little less than half the time.

TDS and Colbert are non-negotiable, for me, and most of the other stuff is on so infrequently that I don't spend all that much time watching it. Still, I'm open to suggestions. I had been watching BSG, but now that that's over, I've returned that time to things like remembering that I have a wife, and a life.

And for reasons even I can't explain, I simply never watch DVDs.
Well, whatever makes you happy. I hope they're good reasons for you, though, because a perfectly serviceable DVD player is incredibly cheap and DVDs are by far the best way to watch television series - the cheapest way, too, if you replace cable with Netflix or especially if you can get DVDs from the library.

It occurs to me, in looking at my list, that my taste in TV has veered eerily close to my taste in reading, which is drastically away from fiction. Years ago, I would ONLY read fiction, and ONLY watch serial television. Now I have only one TV show on my regular list that constitutes fiction (and then only barely), and I can't even remember the last fiction novel I've read. This is an unexpected turn, and I'm not sure what it says about me.

tgirsch: Watch. It. Now.

Seriously. Drop everything. You can always skim the NewsHour online later.

You will not regret it.

"I have no idea what network it's on, who's even in it, or what it's even about."

It's on DVD. There are sixty episodes, the last of which was on HBO on March 9, 2008.

(There's an expurgated version on BET on occasion; do not watch this version! The Wire with edits and no cursing is like, oh, Jeeves And Wooster with no Jeeves.)

"*The Daily Show
*The Colbert Report
The News Hour (I often skim)
*Nova ScienceNOW
*Mythbusters
*Psych
+Nova
+Frontline"

I've never seen Psych, but I'm entirely familiar with all the rest, and would advocate dropping all of them aside possibly from some episodes of Frontline in favor of The Wire. (I'm assuming you get most of your news via reading, to be sure, and that the Newshour is not your sole source of news.) Nova isn't seriously time-bound, and waiting to catch up to the better ones a few weeks or months won't hurt you. Read New Scientist's and Nature's news websites for vastly quicker and more in depth science than Nova ScienceNOW, or also wait. Mythbusters: fun, but trivial, and also not at all something you need to see the same week or month, or even year, they come out.

"TDS and Colbert are non-negotiable"

Well, we all have our preferences; I find them fun, but entirely dispensible, myself, but I almost certainly have a lot more free reading and YouTubing time on my hands than you do. As well as a heck of a lot more impatience with sitting through news/interviews in video, rather than written form. And, yes, they're funny, but that's also ultimately not of earth-shaking importance.

"And for reasons even I can't explain, I simply never watch DVDs."

Well, I have absolutely no idea what to say to that, since without explanation, it's inexplicable. Personally, I can hardly stand to watch tv that isn't on DVD. Waiting through commercials, or slow parts, and not having extras, subtitles available, or commentaries? Having to wait for broadcast times? Why would anyone want that? Hell, just get out a super-8 projector, why doncha? :-)

Oh, I see you DVR. Ok, what's the possible advantage to that over DVDs?

"Now I have only one TV show on my regular list that constitutes fiction"

I'd contend that you're apt to learn more from watching The Wire than from Frontline and Nova -- and I like F and N quite a lot -- but I don't want to over-sell; I'm not trying, after all, to say that The Wire will OMG, Change Your Life. Just that it's very very very good.

Of course, now nothing can live up to all the hype we've delivered, so you're bound to be disappointed, anyway. :-)

That's the story of the whole show, as well, of course. Some bad people do go to jail, or wind up dead, but plenty don't, including some of the worst, and for those who do, it clearly isn't remotely the punishment (let alone rehabilitation!) that might theoretically be intended.

That's a lot of it, yeah. What I took from the end of the series was less that the good guys didn't win and the bad guys didn't lose, but that for all the efforts almost nothing substantial changed. A few people made it out and changed their lives, but for almost every person that got put in jail or killed there was another in line to take their place. Of course, that all basically goes back to Simon's main argument that the show is less about the individuals and more about how the entire system is irrevocably fucked.


I see someone mentioned Psyched a few posts earlier. I gave it a chance because I liked Dule Hill on The West Wing, but Psych was just annoying and I was never able to get past the illogical basis for the show. "Hey, I have incredibly well-honed detective skills, so obviously the best way for me to put them to use is to ruin my credibility by pretending to figure things out with my psychic powers!"

"Of course, that all basically goes back to Simon's main argument that the show is less about the individuals and more about how the entire system is irrevocably fucked."

Exactly. Or slightly more specifically, what's wrong with our society aren't the individuals, but how the entire system is....

He's expressing the same frustration that so many of us commonly express here, and that so many folks who write or comment on blogs express, which is why it's such an appropriate show to recommend, especially to liberals interested in politics who will also, whether they're looking for it or not, or noticing it or not, appreciate great characterization and writing.

Also, spam alert at 12:33 AM. Now watch this drive.

DVDs are by far the best way to watch television series, says Gary.

Especially completed series, I suppose, if only for Samuel Johnson's famous reason: "I am always glad to hear of a poet dying, for then I can be sure of having all of him on my shelf." Since I gather that The Wire is a finished opus at this point, I will take the urgent advice of publius, Hilzoy, and Gary Farber -- the minute I get around to buying a DVD player.

I can't even remember the last fiction novel I've read, says tgirsch.

I can, but only because it was fairly recently and it was the first novel I read in a couple of years. "The Kite Runner". It was a Christman gift, and I kept putting off starting it because I suspected two things: it would be emotionally taxing, and it would be hard to put down. The latter proved unequivocally true. Even after the plot turned a bit over-contrived for my taste, I could not stop until I had read the whole thing. But then, I read "The DaVinci Code" at one sitting, too, some years ago. Over-contrived plots don't put me off, enough. It seems to be in my character that once I go to the trouble of willingly suspending disbelief, I'm too lazy to stop. I don't remember being like that in my youth; this seems to be a more recent trait I have developed. And it explains, in my case, why my fiction reading has fallen off as I've grown older.

--TP

"Especially completed series, I suppose"

Personally I find that DVDs are the best way to watch single seasons of tv series, as well as specials or movies, as well, myself. Frontline and Nova, also. I keep my disks in albums, so they don't take up much room. I certainly wouldn't pay for cable if I had to pay more than the $3/month I pay because this house has cable, and it's $3/month for another box. (Well, I wouldn't be able, and won't be able, when I move, to afford it, more than it being a choice, but I'd have to be really well off by my standards to fork over for cable.)

"...the minute I get around to buying a DVD player."

Your computer is so old it can't read DVDs?

But if you want a stand-alone, there are plenty at Amazon for all of $30. ($25 if you want to go really cut-rate; you can probably find one on your local Craigslist for $5. They're not exactly high-end items this century. Even Blue-Ray players [which I do not have] are only around $130 or less.)

Of course, you can also find a lot of tv here, but, yeah, I'd say DVDs are ten or twenty times better.

"And it explains, in my case, why my fiction reading has fallen off as I've grown older."

Let me see if I have this right: your fiction reading has fallen off because now you like it too much?

Yeah, our local Craigslist has DVD players available for all of $6. In a bunch of cases they're just tossed in for free with tvs.

For my money, TV makes better, more entertaining and creative product than the film industry, which more than ever is remaking old TV series (which should tell you something about the film industry).

And no outlet does better original programing than HBO.

No outlet.

As Clay Davis would say, "Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet."

Amazing The Wire never won an Emmy.

Amazing the actor who portrayed Clay Davis never won a supporting actor Emmy. Ditto the actor who played Lester Freamon, one of the great low-key performances of a career detective ever.

My favorite "bad" guy was Stringer Bell. When he got gunned down in the parking building, I was dismayed.

While The Wire is more high-brow than The Sopranos, it's hard to beat Tony and his crew for pure violent, double-crossing, pasta-eating, Jersey-accent-spewing entertainment. I am in the distinct minority in actually liking the fade-to-black ending (if anything, I thought The Wire's ending was a little too neatly tied together. For awesome David Simon endings, check out the series finale of Homicide: Life on the Street, a very underrated series).

I share Gary's love for Deadwood. Ian McShane's hardened, murderous, brilliant, there's-a-heart-in-there-somewhere Al Swearingen is right up there with Carrol O'Connor iconic Archie Bunker as my favorite all-time TV characters.

You could do far worse than boys-livin'-the-life Entourage for lighthearted fare. Or Larry David's kooky program.

HBO no longer has the market on good original cable programming, however. The best thing on TV these days is AMC's subversive, grim, funny and dark Breaking Bad featuring Bryan Cranston's gutsy, painful-to-watch, all-in lead performance.

And, of course, there is MadMen, Season 3 starting in August with the stunning and underappreciated January Jones as the suffering, finding-liberation wife of the debonair and duplicitous Don, the amazingly handsome John Hamm, whose guest hosting on Saturday Night Live in February revealed a heady comic side. Did I mention the stunning January Jones?

On AMC over Father's Day weekend I treated myself to the 20th anniversary showing of Lonesome Dove. I came away thinking then what I came away thinking when I first saw it on CBS 20 years ago: Best thing I have ever seen on TV, period; you can have your Wire, you can have your Sopranos.

Nothing tops Lonesome Dove and its quintessential portrait of the singularly American genre of the Western.

Nothing tops the performance of Robert Duvall's performance as the caddish, proud, loyal, profane Augustus McCall -- except Tommy Lee Jones and his quiet, sturdy, confused-with-life's-bigger-questions Woodrow (Gus enjoyed life too much to be bothered with life's Bigger Questions) and the way Mr. Jones carried the final 90 minutes of the eight-hour miniseries with fearless acting after the small (or big) screen's best-ever death-bed scene when Augustus went quietly into the good night, Woodrow by his side, tears slowly emerging on his cheeks, snow falling outside in the cold Nebraska night.

Peace, love and Bobby Sherman.

And God bless, Mr. Karl Malden.


A plug for my all-time favorite TV detective: the great English actor John Thaw's Inspector Morse of the TV series with that titular character's name.

Morse does more with his mind, a pint of beer, a weary look and sometimes pure disgust with the modern world than any other detective you can name who uses a gun.

Of course, it helps that he had Lewis.

Or as Morse would say, exasperatedly, "Lewwwwwwwwwwwwis!"

For my money, TV makes better, more entertaining and creative product than the film industry, which more than ever is remaking old TV series

If not worse.

Is this "The Wire" so highly recommended for non-Americans also?

"... the film industry, which more than ever is remaking old TV series (which should tell you something about the film industry)"

We've had this discussion before; you're confusing pictures with $50 million-plus budgets that get advertised on tv with "the film industry." I pointed you to a long list of fantastic films made in the last year the last time we had this discussion some months ago, and I don't recall that you ever responded to my point, although it's entirely likely you didn't see it, to be sure.

"For awesome David Simon endings, check out the series finale of Homicide: Life on the Street, a very underrated series"

Let me repeat that Simon's original book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which is pure nonfiction (which I happened to read long before the tv series), is even better, and also neat that you can see where the fictionalized characters came from. Simon took a year's leave from the Sun to go to work with the Baltimore homicide detectives every day. (In both series Simon used some of the real homicide detectives in minor roles, btw, as well as some plot elements that came from his nonfiction book.)

As I said, I'm quite a fan of Homicide the tv series, but it also suffered over the years from dumbass network mandates about what some of the characters should do, and too many characters wandered in and out because of that. But it was the first tv series to seriously get across what actual police interrogations are more or less like (NYPD Blue also later did this to some degree, but in less intense fashion than a Frank Pembleton interview.) (And Andre Braugher stands out in what was generally a wonderful ensemble cast; I'm also a big fan of Melissa Leo's work there).

Incidentally, I don't know if you're familiar with this grand site of crossover listings (I mean, the size of it is quite insane), but do you realize that Richard Belzer's "Detective John Munch" character has appeared on more American tv dramas than any other character in history?

Homicide itself had crossovers with:

Homicide and The Beat
Homicide and Chicago Hope
Homicide and Law And Order
Homicide: Life On The Street and Law And Order: Special Victims Unit
Homicide and The Lone Gunmen
Homicide and Oz
Homicide and St. Elsewhere
Homicide and The X-Files
Detective John Munch specifically has appeared on:
The Beat, The X-Files, Arrested Development, The Wire, all the Law & Order shows including Law & Order: Trial by Jury
And probably more.

Of course, you also have to hear that name as pronounced by Ned Beatty: Dee-TEC-tive MUNCH.

"there's-a-heart-in-there-somewhere Al Swearingen"

In a jar on his desk....

"If not worse."

I can't wait to see Candyland, with Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, and Judi Dench.

But, seriously, the films you hear about at the Spirit Awards are just as much part of the "film industry" as the blockbusters are.

"Is this 'The Wire' so highly recommended for non-Americans also?"

I suppose you might have to be somewhat interested in such things as what's wrong with America, American ghettos, American schools, and American politics, and I don't want to generalize, but I don't expect that that would be impossible for non-Americans. Have you ever liked any American dramas? You probably want to turn on subtitles for the Baltimore accents, though. Balm'r, that is.

Do you care to say where you're from, antrumf?

On the topic of John Munch and crossovers: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~kwgow/crossovers.html

Kid's got a pretty amazing imagination.

Gary: I was particularly fond of Kyle Secor's offbeat detective and his partner whose name escapes me at this late hour.

"Gary: I was particularly fond of Kyle Secor's offbeat detective and his partner whose name escapes me at this late hour."

Pembleton! Frank Pembleton! Like I just said! Rookie homicide detective (when the series started) Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) was teamed with veteran Frank Pembleton! (Andre Braugher)

If you're forgetful about things, you're actually on the internet, you know.

"On the topic of John Munch and crossovers:"

Oh, yeah, saw that a couple of years ago. It was in the back of my head when I gave previous links; thanks for the reminder.

The Wire is truly addictive. I got hooked on it the last time the whole series went up on HBO's "On Demand" service. I think it's about the best TV series I've ever seen.

As well as Dominic West (McNulty) and Idris Elba (Stringer Bell), Tommy Carcetti is also non-American; he's played by Aidan Gillen, who's Irish.

I'd second the recommendation for non-Americans, but you may have to turn the subtitles on if your first language isn't English (or even if it is), and prepare to work out what a lot of the slang means as you go.

"...but you may have to turn the subtitles on if your first language isn't English (or even if it is)"

Hell, I had to turn on the subtitles some of the time, as I recall, and I've been to Baltimore more than a dozen times.

This is an idiosyncratic reaction, but The Wire is the only difficult television I've ever enjoyed. Normally, if I lose track of what's happening or what it means, I get bored and never get back in. The Wire (which I'm still only halfway through season four of), I'm on the edge of my seat figuring stuff out. (I don't actually have much trouble with the language, which is funny because I have about zero exposure to that class of slang, but I find it's almost all transparent from context.)

(I don't actually have much trouble with the language, which is funny because I have about zero exposure to that class of slang, but I find it's almost all transparent from context.)

True dat!

"Do you care to say where you're from, antrumf?"

Sure, Australia, though I'm living in Europe. But I'll give the show a go, it certainly sounds interesting, and see if subtitles are necessary.

I don't really watch TV. The Sopranos sort of bored me, 24 appalled me, etc. But The Wire is hands down the best TV I've ever seen. It breaks open the category, frankly, because it uses the TV format of episodes and seasons to create entirely new kinds of narrative arcs. On a purely formal, narrative level, The Wire is an incredible advance.

The comparison has been made a lot, but it really is like Dickens: the nature of the institution under examination determines the structure and mood of the story. Also as in Dickens, the characters are start as a collection of tics, or stereotypes, and develop situationally into complex people---except for the singular Omar, who meanders through the narrative as something of a human deus ex machina (which is entirely in keeping with the structure of melodrama).

Finally, The Wire has had a real cultural and even political impact, which makes it worth watching. I'm not talking about an impact like that of 24, which became a something of an artifact of the Bush years; The Wire has opened a lot of people's eyes to a whole complex of sociological problems, from schools to unions to urban blight to drug laws. It will resonate---in that niggling, complicated way that important art does---for years to come.

I wonder whether such an eulogium will have the perverse effect of dissuading people from seeing it....

Jackmormon, you encapulated my reation to the The WIre exactly: I thought the beginning was almost tacky because the characgers were each the personification of one human trait, with the exception of the fascinating Omar. But it got better, and better and better.

I'd like to see the The Wire again because I never did get all the chardcters straight and could only understand the dialog in the way I understand Shakepeare (emotionally and genrally, not word by word).

Warren and Gary:

I honestly have no idea why I never watch DVDs. I just don't. I have a DVD player. It sits atop my TV and collects dust. As for the advantages of DVR, there are a lot of them, the biggest one being I don't have to fumble through DVDs. The next-biggest one being I don't have to sit through increasingly obnoxious title sequences and main menus. (Maybe DVDs have gotten better on this front, but it's been so long I wouldn't know.)

But in truth, there really IS no good reason why I don't. I just don't. When DVDs first came out, my father-in-law bought my wife and me a DVD player and about a half a dozen DVDs. I hooked it up right away, make sure it worked, and then proceeded to almost never use it. The first time we watched any of the DVDs he gave us was when we had a power failure, and we watched it on my laptop, on a 14" screen. :)

Gary:

The Daily Show and Colbert make me laugh. Consistently. You might notice that besides Psych and sometimes Mythbusters, they're the only levity on my list. I'm not willing to give that up. Laughter is too important, especially these days.

Of course, now nothing can live up to all the hype we've delivered, so you're bound to be disappointed, anyway.

Yeah, that's a problem. :)

To reiterate, this is only based on having seen season 1, but the themes of The Wire are all very unsurprising. For a police based show the themes are new, but the number of movies that went down this path is practically infinite. How many gang movies from the 80s and 90s emphasized that nobody wins in this game?

Most police shows are good guys against bad guys and it really takes a lot out of the good guys, messes up their personal lives, but sometimes they actually accomplish something. The Wire is different in that it highlights that it's all a bunch of BS and the world keeps on turning, but from about episode 2, you can see that.

I don't think anything is very surprising in season 1. So to say something like "you learn what it's really like out there" from this show is a bit of a stretch IMO.

[A funny take on this can be found here]

My hope from continuing to watch is the character development improves and the themes become more complex because I find the plot to be generally predictable. There are some amazing films and shows with predictable plots, BTW. That's not necessarily a criticism. But if it's five seasons of "everyone out there is corrupt in some way. Even the 'good guys'" and "no one wins in this game" without some really great character development and dialogue, I'm going to be disappointed.

The WIre is the best television drama ever.

Okay, I just saw the entire series on DVD a few months ago. I'd only heard about it but we never saw it. I have watched it twice now, start to finish, and I truly believe it goes beyond anything I've watched before. It is so well-constructed and so well-acted. I think that when you have a show that takes a hard look at society and shows all the blemishes and the pain without being maudlin or preachy, that's good writing. It's a microcosm of the ills of our society. Yet it's not without hope.

I think the writers and actors are also spot on because the "good" guys and the "bad" guys are all likeable/despicable. I like a lot of the "bad" guys. I dislike a lot of the "good" guys. It's all relative. And that's what makes it so believable to me.

I respect a show that will kill off their main characters. I respect writers who speak frankly and are brutally honest, and I think this show captured that honesty. Season One is my favorite, but Four and Three are right up there. Each season took an unblinking look at society and greed and it isn't pretty.

Bubs is my favorite character. He is the touchstone of the show; we see him at his very worst and at his very best. Some of the best acting in television right there.

I tell everyone about The Wire. It's odd, because I'm not usually that way about television. But in this case, I believe it goes beyond regular broadcast stories and into what life is really like.

Omar and Stringer Bell and D'Angelo are among my favorite characters and they're the Bad Guys!

"It's all relative."

The likeability/dislikeability of each character, I wish to note, is carefully constructed by the writers/producers.

"Bubs is my favorite character."

This isn't an arbitrary opinion. I want to continue to entirely avoid spoilers, but Bubs has one of the most dramatic arcs, and at no time is shown to have any evil in his soul; he's merely a victim of his weaknesses. Unsurprisingly this makes him the most sympathetic of all the characters in the eyes of most people.

"Omar and Stringer Bell and D'Angelo are among my favorite characters and they're the Bad Guys!"

And, again, each of these three characters are very carefully given very sympathetic aspects, even though all three of them are killers. I don't think it's very spoilerish to observe that Omar has his code, and all his observable killings are of people we're given reason, in context, to think arguably have it "coming" to them. Stringer Bell admirably strives to improve himself and his fellows. And D'Angelo is just all around likeable, and trying to be as good a guy as a drug dealing killer can be.

The producers really stack the deck to make Omar far more likeable than he "should" be, you notice if you pay attention. Hey, he may make a living by sticking a shotgun in people's faces, but he only does it to folks who deserve it!

Marlo, on the other hand, would as soon shoot you if he doesn't like the way you look at him. And Chris and Snoop are just hey, another day, another killing, all just another day's work.

The cops are the ostensible "good guys," but of course we see various of them being incompetent, stupid, mean, cruel, cowardly, and so on. To be slightly spoilerish, Herk's arc is a story of how being an all around jerk can consistently get to fail upwards in an effed-up system.

Some characters, to be sure, are given only the most minor of flaws; Lester Freamon is practically a saint, and so is 'Bunny' Colvin. The flaws of Kima, Carver, Daniels, Sydnor, and Rhonda Pearlman, for instance, are all entirely trivial, as presented, if not necessarily how you might judge them in real life. Prez isn't meant to be a cop, but is utterly a good guy once he's off the job.

Even the character who is more of a primary protagonist among the ensemble than any other, Jimmy McNulty, is a highly flawed individual, although he screws himself over more than he screws over other people.

And McNulty's trying to do the right thing as he sees it -- but, then, in their own way, everybody does to the degree they can rationalize it. Herk rationalizes all of his actions as justifiable. So does Stringer Bell. So does Avon Barksdale. So does even Marlo Stanfield, and Chris, and Snoop. These last five characters all do things that go vastly beyond "morally repellent," but in their own eyes, they're all just doing what they've got to do. And even Chris and Snoop are shown to have some collegial affection and respect for each other, as well as for Michael.

As one of the great axioms of fiction-writing goes, nobody is a villain in their own eyes.

Omar says "the game's out there, and it's play or get played. That simple." And that's the rule that most of the dealers follow. The couple we see who try to find their way out of this "ethic" don't, shall we say, always come to happy endings.

Which, in sum, is what I take you to mean by "[i]t's all relative."

Exactly. Or slightly more specifically, what's wrong with our society aren't the individuals, but how the entire system is....

That's too simple: Cutty made a choice. That guy who started working in a shoe store instead of peddling drugs made a choice. And the the guys floating around in black 4x4s made a choice to be lazy drug dealers making easy money. True, the system sucks, but it's not as if there's no room for individual responsibility and change.

The writing doens't fit neatly with a liberal worldview, it's neither liberal, nor conservative. One of the pet peeves of many liberals, the legalization of drugs, is tackled in the Hamsterdam story arc and the message is by no means unequivocal.

"True, the system sucks, but it's not as if there's no room for individual responsibility and change."

I didn't say anything to suggest otherwise. I didn't say individuals don't have crucial choices to make about how they are to live their lives. I simply said that the major wrongs in our societies can't be changed by individuals on their own.

"That guy who started working in a shoe store instead of peddling drugs made a choice."

And that's quite an interesting example, since [CHARACTER SPOILER FOR SEASON FIVE HERE!]

[CHARACTER SPOILER FOR SEASON FIVE HERE!]

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[CHARACTER SPOILER FOR SEASON FIVE HERE!]

[CHARACTER SPOILER FOR SEASON FIVE HERE!]

[CHARACTER SPOILER FOR SEASON FIVE HERE!]

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Poot ends up working in a shoe store, yes, but when Dukie also tries to get out of dealing, he goes from place to place trying to find an alternative, and Poot tells him he can't work in the shoe store until he's 17. Dukie winds up another heroin addict.

"One of the pet peeves of many liberals, the legalization of drugs, is tackled in the Hamsterdam story arc and the message is by no means unequivocal."

No, it's quite honest that legalization, or decriminalization, won't magically make the problems of drug addicts disappear, but I'm unaware of anyone who has ever claimed it would. The argument is merely that such changes would be a considerable improvement over our current system, in a number of ways, and I think the season clearly demonstrated that that would be the case. Especially if you actually were able to bring in the ancillary social services of medical treatment, social workers, mental health workers, drug treatment workers, etc., etc.

But let me reemphasize one more time that at no time did I in any way suggest that "there's no room for individual responsibility and change." Absolutely there is in most people's lives. (The exceptions I have in mind are cases of grave mental and/or physical handicaps.)

I successfully avoided the character spoiler for chapter five. One of the better spoiler warnings, I must say. Those one-line warnings never work, you always get a glimpse of what's below.

Generation Kill is frigging awesome. I can't say it's better than the Wire, but I'll put it up there. And as it was a mini-series of only one season ... well, maybe I WILL put Generation Kill on an even par with season 1 of The Wire.

""there's-a-heart-in-there-somewhere Al Swearingen"

In a jar on his desk...."

Wasn't it a box?

Erm, Gary, I hate to quote your own words back to you, but you said:

what's wrong with our society AREN'T the INDIVIDUALS, BUT how the entire SYSTEM is

Apparently that's not what you meant, but it's what you said. If there's nothing fundamentally wrong with certain individuals depicted in The Wire, then I don't know what wrong is supposed to mean, unless you embrace strict sociological determinism.

As much as I love The Wire, if ever there was a time for a new thread to discuss the days events, now is that time!

Novakant, the statement that "what's wrong with our society AREN'T the INDIVIDUALS" (emphasis yours, not mine, mind) is not a statement that there's nothing wrong with any individuals. These are just two completely different claims.

"If there's nothing fundamentally wrong with certain individuals depicted in The Wire"

Again, I said nothing of the kind. Feel perfectly free to quote my own words back at me, because I didn't say that.

It might help you better understand what I said if you put the emphasis in my statement on the what's wrong with our society part, rather than the part you chose to. My assertion was that the most crucial problems in our society comes from systemic wrongs, rather than from the accumulated wrong decisions of individuals. This is not, of course, a claim that individuals do no wrong.

You're free to disagree with my claim, of course, but do please argue with what I'm actually claiming.

"As much as I love The Wire, if ever there was a time for a new thread to discuss the days events, now is that time!"

What, you mean this?

Hey, feel free to comment here, if you like, while all the front-pagers here are apparently busy.

I don't watch television.

"I don't watch television."

We're all very excited by the news.

We're all very excited by the news.

Probably precisely as excited as I am about reading about people writing about watching television.

"Probably precisely as excited as I am about reading about people writing about watching television."

It's very sad that this blog is not written in accord with your preferences. And so sad that it's the only blog in existence, and it's impossible for you to do a blog of your own, where you could actually set topics as you like.

So. Very. Very. Sad.

What's sad is that I can take three seconds, post a four word comment, and someone gets their panties in a bunch about it.

I still don't watch television.

I haven't seen the show--we don't have HBO, so I also haven't seen Deadwood and I've only seen portions of the Sopranos on whatever cable station repeats them. I don't think I'd have been a fan of the Sopranos--I'll watch part of a show, enjoy the comic aspects, and then be shocked by the casual murder of someone and turn it off. I think I like my violence unrealistic, or in some sense justifiable (as in a war movie).

I might watch the Wire, though, given this thread.

The issue of subtitles is interesting. Subtitles won't help you with the slang, you'll have to use context for that. I find the slang easy, but then again I'm a 25 year old black guy that grew up listening to rap... I'd be very disappointed with myself if I didn't know what a g-pack was before i started watching The Wire. But subtitles will definitely help with the accents. The accent is a bit regional and sometimes hard to understand even if you are American.

"Pembleton! Frank Pembleton! Like I just said! Rookie homicide detective (when the series started) Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) was teamed with veteran Frank Pembleton! (Andre Braugher)."

Spurred by a memory that is functioning a bit better, I must note your assertion is not entirely correct (I don't give a flying fnck about the internet being there for bad memories such as mine at 4:35 in the a.m.) -- Braugher left the series halfway into its run, causing Secor's character to team with the easy-going, fedora-wearing, man's man brought to life by Clark Johnson, who directed many Homicide episodes and who appeared in the final season of The Wire as the been-there-done-that, respected-by-his-peers, couldn't-give-a-damn-about-his-corporate-know-nothing-bosses copy editor on the city desk.

I much preferred the Secor-Johnson pairing to the Braugher-Secor duo. Braugher's character may have been brilliant -- but also a little to showy to this viewer.

Best TV drama ever: Lonesome Dove, people.

And while we're at it, I'm putting Jim Rockford into the TV Detective Hall of Fame along with the late, great David Janssen's Harry Orwell (whose sometime girlfriend in that series was none other than Farrah Fawcett).

You're free to disagree with my claim, of course, but do please argue with what I'm actually claiming.

Gary, I've already said that you apparently meant something else and you have since clarified, but don't tell me that my initial reading was in any way imprecise or unfair. It's perfectly fine to elaborate on or retract a claim that might have given rise to an interpretation differing from the speakers intent, it happens all the time in face to face communiction and usually things get cleared up within seconds, so let's not harp on this.

I'll make a comment on your clarified position later, when I've got more time.

Braugher left the series halfway into its run

That is, left after season 6 of 7, and was back as one of the main characters in the concluding TV movie.

By the way, if, (like me) you caught up with Homicide via DVD and got annoyed that the movie is next to unobtainable, fear not: some kind soul has put it up on YouTube in 9 or 10 segments.

I was particularly fond of Kyle Secor's offbeat detective

I enjoyed Bayliss too, and admire how Secor took him from a puppyish rookie to a veteran, never losing his inner sensitivity but learning how to hide it under a hard-boiled shell. But the twists the writers kept piling on his character eventually destroyed the suspension of disbelief.
But if you read the series as a whole, Bayliss is a genuinely tragic figure.

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