Sunday, July 7, 2013

TV-DVD REVIEW: The Wire (Season 1)

The Wire is considered by more than a few critics to be the best drama ever produced for television. I sincerely apologize for having watched this show a decade late. For that, I offer the lame excuse that I haven't had HBO at home in forever. If you want to see a truly affecting bit of television, I encourage you to check out The Wire. AND---this is important---do not be put off by the first episode. It is very hard to become involved in the story at the outset, but pushing through will make it all worthwhile in the end. Unlike your usual police procedural where cases are solved in one hour, The Wire takes the entire season to semi-resolve one case in the Baltimore drug-trade.

Forbes listed Baltimore as the seventh most dangerous city in the country. I grew-up in Oakland, which is listed at number three. On 99th avenue, our neighborhood boasted, at the very least, a pedophile, 2 drug dealers, a teenage thief, and a couple of women who tried to shoot and kill their men. I'm sure there was more going on that I didn't even know about. And yet, as far as Oakland goes, my family did not live in the really bad neighborhood. That distinction probably belonged to 'The Projects', which is equivalent to the area featured in The Wire.

During the first episode, I was mostly just confused. Quite honestly, I couldn't even understand half of what was being said. The drug dealers were speaking a language of their own and I couldn't really get a handle on all of the characters. I can easily understand why this show, while critically acclaimed, was not a popular success. It is so much better to watch the episodes in rapid succession. By the fourth or fifth episode I was very interested, and by the end I was fully vested. The show forgoes the quick pay-off, and in so doing, ensures the immensity of the pay-off as a whole.

If I had to state the two primary reasons why The Wire is so affecting, they would be 1) the detail afforded in focusing on a single case over a whole season and 2) a brilliant (and large) cast to whom you become very attached.  Days later, I still think of D'Angelo and Wallace, Bubbles, Omar, Lester, and Lt. Daniels. I think about Oakland and Baltimore and Detroit and all the cities where the cultural result of being both poor and black is entrenched and seemingly endless. And I think about the fact that like most people, I am afraid to live anywhere near there. So, we all just move away.

I think about the police who have an impossible job. I think about the parents and teachers who have an impossible job. I think about the kids who might be saved from this disaster. I think about the media, the politics, the hopelessness. And all that thinking, I suppose, is what is so great about a show like The Wire. It at least forces you to remember what you are running from. It reminds you that hell is a relatively short drive away from your house, and it reminds you that real-live people live and work there.

Boy, that all sounds depressing. So, is this really television entertainment? It is. It's not the shocking and amusing microcosm of, for example, The Sopranos, but it is equally engaging. It is a police procedural of sorts, and we know how beloved those are. It's just also quite a bit more than that.