21 July 2010

A Landmark in TV Crime Drama: HBO's "The Wire" (Season One)

I've discussed music, film and books here, but never television. Though I watch my share, this blog is simply not about TV. But HBO's The Wire is not television as we know it. Just Season One alone, of the 5 season series, with it's long story arcs and "visual novel" style creates a 13 hour film that reinvents the television crime series.

Former Baltimore crime reporter David Simon created, produced, and wrote much of the series. It vividly portrays the Baltimore City police department and the drug gangsters ruling the city's high and low rise housing projects in the 1980s. We also see the people in the middle, the pawns caught in "the game" as these rival institutions work to control the ghetto streets of a decayed urban world.

Though I lived in Baltimore in the 80s, The Wire showed me worlds the outsider never sees: the inner workings of both the police and the gangs. One of the many great aspects of the show is its portrayal of the dysfunctional nature of these institutions. The institution I worked in, the state attorney general's office, was dysfunctional in many of the same ways. The show is giving me a chance to work through many of the frustrations I had trying to make my little piece of the system work better. It's good to know I wasn't the only one dealing with this frustration.

The Wire demands of the viewer a commitment of time, concentration and emotional involvement, but that commitment is well rewarded. Season 1 is 13 hours of riveting television that, at the end of episode 10 yesterday, had me crying.

This is not feel good drama, but rather a hard look at real life in a modern American city. There's a lot to learn here, not the least of which is just how good television can be. In terms of realistic crime drama and innovative television, The Wire ranks with the best there is.


whiteray said...

I'm still catching up on HBO stuff. I'm in Season Five of "The Sopranos" and about to close out "Carnevale." "The Wire" is next on my list, and I'm looking forward to it.

Paco Malo said...

whiteray, a little music teaser for "The Wire". The theme song for the series is a Tom Waits composition you can't help but love, "Way Down in the Hole". Each season uses a different version of the song -- in order, a cover by The Blind Boys of Alabama, Waits' original for season two, then covers by The Neville Brothers, DoMaJe, and rounding things out with Steve Earle's version.