Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Why You Might Not Like The Wire

One of Timprov's birthday presents this year was the complete series DVDs for The Wire. We've now watched all but the last episode of the first season, and I'm looking forward to the other four seasons. I really like it. I think it's done extremely well, and I think what it's doing well is worth doing. It also understands some things about writing for TV that I have seen done much worse elsewhere--for example, there are visual touchstones that carry ideas through the season (possibly through the show--couldn't tell you yet) without hammering points home in dialog. There have been moments of absolutely perfect character revelation, and moments of growth when a character becomes more than he or she was before. It's a show with ongoing rather than episodic plot, and it looks to me like at least some of that will continue into later seasons, but there's also enough resolution to it to be satisfying. I love Kima. I love Freamon. I love Wallace. I love Prez, and I thought I was going to hate him. I'm pretty fond of Bubs and Jay and Bunk. Love Omar, and I thought I was going to hate him, too.

And this show: sometimes I have to flinch and look away, because it won't. And that's the problem. I really like this, but I'm not at all sure who else would like it with me. It's got very explicit violence, sex, and drug use. It has people treating each other badly all over the place. Institutional corruption is not universal but pretty bad. It's absolutely full of profanity, vulgarity, and racially charged language. The writers of this show understand that dialog is characterization (among other things), and so when you have a character like Omar who doesn't say a word that would turn a hair on my grandmother's head, you know something about Omar other than that the network wouldn't let him talk differently, because it's HBO, so of course the network would. But I can see why a person wouldn't necessarily want to have their 2-year-old wander out of bed for a glass of water and hear the dialog on this show to repeat later. I can see why a person wouldn't want to immerse themselves in it. The hope that is in this show so far is measured and weighed very carefully. You get to like the teenage drug dealer characters living in the projects. You get to like the heroin addicts. The show gives you hope for them: two of the cops have been revealed to have come from similar circumstances, and there is a former heroin addict character who is mentoring others through NA. But the hope there is not that one of the teenagers--one of the high school dropouts with little opportunity for self-education, children of indifferent or alcoholic or dead parents, steeped in drug culture from their earliest days--will become a legal multimillionaire with a stable family and a long, happy, untroubled life. When you have hope for Bubbles, it's that he will not OD, that he will find a roof over his head, that he will not lose too many of the people that he loves, that he will find little quiet bits of a decent life. That he will manage to get some crab cakes from the place D'Angelo's mom gets them, because those are apparently quite good. When you have hope for McNulty, it's that he'll get his weekends with his kids without interruption from his job or his ex-wife, that he'll manage to put away one or two of the really nasty criminals, that he will get to continue being a cop, that he won't lose too many of the people he loves.

And I can see why a person would want more hope than that in their casual entertainment.

But on the other hand, there is that hope. And there is that idea that the good things in your life that last take a lot of work, and that doing good work and being good to people is worthwhile, and that nobody ever promised that worthwhile and easy would be the same. There is the idea that people can surprise you for the better, whether it's a supposedly hardened criminal or a supposedly idiotic screwup kid. The characters in The Wire don't have a lot of positive expectations for their lives. But they do have moments of grace.

If you have the chance to try The Wire and decide that you'd like to try it, you should know: the second episode is better than the first. The third episode is better than the second. It builds on stuff it's doing from there, but if you don't want to watch it after three episodes, you probably don't want to watch it. It's harsh, and the fact that most of it is not gratuitous is exactly what makes it harder to deal with. But the people who make this show: they know what they're doing. Really they do.
Tags: small screen
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