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Watching: The Wire

Aymar Jean Christian July 24, 2008 uncategorized 3 Comments on Watching: The Wire

The Wire – Wow. W-o-w. Wow. Just finished watching the entire series in about two weeks — maybe a week and a half, I don’t remember. It must be that there’s never been a show about a city as well done as The Wire, and I’m not sure any network will ever have the courage to do it again. In five seasons, The Wire tackled Baltimore’s police department, executive branch, judicial branch, attorney’s office, school system, media, drug trade, ports and I’m certain I’m missing a few.

(While I’m not personally familiar with all the institutions they covered, I am familiar with the newspaper newsroom. And their newsroom is the most believable I’ve seen on TV, which gives me some confidence that the rest is reliable too. Although, I kind of wish they didn’t go all Stephen Glass/Jayson Blair — a typical, sexed up and overly hyped narrative — but the message was good, so I’ll give them a pass).

I can’t say everything. You just have to watch it. But if I took anything away from the show, it’s this: “the game will always be the game” — at least until everyone decides not to play. It was an oft-invoked praise among the drug dealers throughout the show, especially after somebody got shot. But it applies to every institution. If The Wire had one stroke of genius, it was showing how hubris, ambition, cowardess, small-mindedness and politics are at the core of the school system, police department, media, and, yes, even drug operations. People try to cover-their-asses, get ahead, etc. Personalities matter, but, in the end, short-term, narrow-minded politics wins, and politics, The Wire seems to say, is what’s killing everyone except for the few that make it to the top. And even then, sometimes they “get got.” It’s all a game.

Not that the show is all realism and pessimism. Yes, in the final shots of the show, everything is more or less the same. But a drug addict gets clean and wins back the trust of his family. The son of high-end drug player who was set for death or jail goes back to school and becomes a star debater. Two detectives find peace and solve career cases, even if they burn themselves doing it. And a police commissioner finally does what’s right. So there are small glimmers of hope, though dwarfed by the persistence of crap.

The Wire created — and killed — a host of rich, textured characters, from mayors to street level thugs. I’d like to pay my respects.

FAVORITES (because I need to find a way to say goodbye):

Omar Little: Omar. Omar. Omar. Vigilante Robin Hood with a code, and gay to boot. What a great character; his courtroom scene was magic.

Michael Lee: Sucked into dealing to support his family, he never seemed right for it. But he kept his brother well and even managed to remix the American family by asking his (straight) male friend to basically play housewife.

Rhonda Pearlman: Everyone knowsI love a powerful, well-dressed redhead.

Bubbles/Kima: Andre Royo deserves an Emmy for his Bubbles, and Kima’s love for him made me smile each time I saw it.

Bunny Colvin: Hamsterdam!

Bodie Broadus: For most of the show, he was merely a solid presence who seemed likable, but not too likable. But, in the end, the way he went down was pure poetry and gave him the status of martyr.

The Sobotkas: The white people had some privilege, but really, in the end, what made them different from the blacks?

Wallace: This was when I knew the show was not playing. I almost cried for this one.

Stringer Bell: Like so many in the city (media, police), he tried to clean up the game and get ahead at the same time. But if you play in dirt, you’re going to get dirty, no matter how noble your intentions.

Mayor Carcetti: How amazing it was to see him turn from idealist to realist and eat all the shit he could to get to the top.

I’m missing some, so watch the show and see what you’re missing. It’s worth every penny.

Oh, and before I forget, what a damn damn shame it’s been robbed again at the Emmy’s. Screw you, Hollywood, and your short attention span! And kudos HBO for making for your otherwise crap programming by keeping it on for five seasons.

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

3 Comments

  1. derek July 24, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Interesting, what about the show’s ratings? did it have a large viewership, I’m not sure it did. If it’s this good, then what is it that kept the show from blockbuster success?

  2. Daniel August 26, 2008 at 2:32 am

    No Jimmy? Good call on Bubbles though!

  3. Daniel August 28, 2008 at 4:57 am

    It had a pretty big acclaim and was pretty popular.