Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Wire: Flat broke and busted

Spoilers for "The Wire" season five premiere coming up just as soon as I park my scooter next to my flatscreen...

So much for a new day in Baltimore, huh?

We already knew things were headed in this direction at the tail end of season four, after Carcetti left the $54 million on the table, but by jumping the story ahead more than a year (there's a reference in episode two, which doesn't take place much after this one, to Bubbs having been clean 15 months), we see just how much Tommy's push for governor has cost this city. Tommy ran on an anti-crime platform, and instead he's so strapped for cash that he's gutting the police department. Even before Major Crimes gets disbanded, we have that hilarious/pathetic sequence at Western roll call, where Carver just barely gets the troops under control, only to hang his head in defeat after reading the announcement about vehicle maintenance. When Mello tells Carver that his men have no morale left, he isn't kidding.

I've already seen some On Demand viewers complain that the pilot wipes out virtually every gain made in season four: MCU is disbanded again, City Hall is in the hands of a hack, the department is in trouble, McNulty is drinking, etc. But, again, we already knew some things were going badly at the tail end of that season with the $54 million dinner check, and we know that the more things change on "The Wire," the more they've always stayed the same.

With McNulty, keep in mind that he's been back in Major Crimes for more than a year. Previous seasons established a very simple equation: McNulty + investigative work = McNulty + booze. Take a serious alcoholic like him, who I'm guessing was white-knuckling it during his time on the Western beat, and put him back into the environment that caused all his drunken bimbohood in the first place, and it doesn't take Lester Freamon's great brain to figure out what's going to happen, does it? There's definitely some storytelling economy coming from the shorter episode order (10 episodes instead of 12 or 13), but we needed to return to the story this far down the road to really see the impact of Carcetti's decision, and there's no way we could come back after so long without Jimmy getting sloppy with The Bunk again.

(Poor Beadie, though. Looks like Elena doesn't have as much to be jealous about anymore, does it? I wonder if she kept the light on as long as Beadie is.)

Keep in mind, too, that it wasn't as though the MCU was making much headway with Marlo even before Burrell and Rawls pulled the plug. As I noted at the end of last year and as Kima noted tonight, "How can you wiretap that?" The MCU's usual electronic surveillance tricks are useless against a guy this cautious and low-tech, no matter what Lester insisted about Marlo getting lazy with the meeting places. It was sad to realize how Marlo, Chris and Snoop were aware of where the MCU was at all times -- and even able to slip away on occasion, as Marlo did with his trip to the co-op meeting -- but you could tell the MCU cops knew they had been made, based on the line about lowering the crime rate simply by sticking so close to these guys.

If Marlo hasn't been able to enact his vengeance as frequently as before, he's still a dangerous individual. He's trying to stir up dissent in Prop Joe's crew by loudly wondering why Slim or Cheese don't have their own territories, and he has Chris looking up Sergei the Russian, after we saw him tailing Vondas at the end of season four. When the irresistible force (Marlo) meets the immovable object (The Greek), exactly what happens?

Further down the Marlo food chain, we catch up with Michael and Dukie (Namond and Randy are no longer regular characters), Michael having taken over Bodie's role as our corner point of view character, Dukie cleaned up (his clothes practically looked stylish) but sad and out of place as ever. (Interesting to see big Spider and little Kenard rounding out Michael's crew. Spider's older and bigger than Michael but clearly subordinate, while Kenard doesn't seem to have a problem working for the guy who slapped him around late last season.)

Speaking of sad and out of place, Bubbs is once again camping out in his sister's basement, as he did when he briefly got clean late in season one. Because we know and love Bubbs and only see his life from his POV, his sister's stern rules -- locking the door to the basement, kicking him out whenever she's not home -- seem unduly harsh, but she's no doubt been burned many times by his failed attempts to sober up. (As she notes, the last time she let him live there, he pawned half her kitchen.) Bubbs (or Reginald, as I think we learn for the first time) may not be using, but he hasn't replaced the position dope took in his life with anything else. When he's in that basement, he just stares off into space; when he's out in the world, all he can do is keep his head down and avoid the many temptations that await him in his old neighborhoods.

Bubbs has one minor distraction in his life with a menial job selling copies of the Baltimore Sun to passing motorists during rush hour, which makes him an extended member of our newest family, the Sun staff.

Simon and Burns have taken different approaches over the years to introducing their new characters. Season two went heavy on the dockworkers from episode one, while Carcetti and Bunny Colvin took on importance more gradually in season three. The kids of season four got a lot of burn, but with so much going on in this premiere (and 2-3 episodes fewer than normal), the newspaper folk take a decided backseat to the familiar faces.

And yet, damn if I didn't feel like Clark Johnson's beleaguered city editor, Gus Haynes, had been on the show all along by the end of the hour. Some of that's a measure of Johnson's underrated acting talent -- I always argued that he was the second-best actor on "Homicide" by a mile, and that there were ways he was better than Andre Braugher -- but it's also a measure of how well Simon knows and loves the newspaper business, even as he's aghast about what's become of it. (No doubt Burns has similar emotions about the Baltimore PD.) The moment where Gus had me was when he scolded two colleagues for not calling anybody about the fire, the kind of obvious but easy misstep that happens when people get too comfortable with their assigned jobs. It reminded me, as so many of the Gus scenes here and elsewhere did, of Bunny. (There's sort of a parallel in the scene where Bunny issues compasses to his two new patrolmen; know the basics before you can know anything else.)

We see that he's not afraid to call out his two pompous bosses. The clash with the editor in chief over the desegregation story is the flashier one, but I got a big smile on my face when the managing editor complained about getting beat on the city bus story, since they have more resources than the other paper, and Gus didn't miss a beat before saying, "But not a transpo reporter." Between those scenes, his catch of the Fat Face Rick detail (and his generous crediting of the catch to the reporter), and his thinly-veiled "Why don't you go out and find a story?" response to social-climbing Scott's request for a story, I think I may have a little man crush on Gus Haynes right now.

Predictably, I've seen some grousing in the press about the newspaper scenes. Some of it's from people who know the real editors that Simon based Gus' bosses on, and feel he's being unfair. More of it, though, is just from fellow newspaper people who know the business well enough to either point out the minor inaccuracies and exaggerations or to assume this stuff is too inside baseball for non-journos to understand or care about. Admittedly, I'm an insider myself, as well as an unabashed "Wire" fan, but I don't see the newspaper stuff as any more inside or inaccurate than the police stuff, or the street stuff. I'm sure there are police contemporaries of Ed Burns who feel he's being rough with people they both worked with, or that he stretches a detail to make his point, but that's the nature of dramatic storytelling, even great drama like this. (My wife works in hospital administration and nitpicks every minute of "House," "ER," etc. for the mistakes.) Not to speak ill of any fellow critics -- I always hate reviews whose fundamental purpose is to show how much smarter the reviewer is than his or her counterparts -- but I wonder if there's really a problem here, or if there just seems to be one because, for the first time, the subject matter is one that the reviewers know as well as Simon.

Lots of set up here, lots of follow-up to follow in the coming weeks. Some other thoughts on "More With Less":
  • It's taken me a while to get used to Steve Earle's version of "Way Down in the Hole," but that's an experience I go through each season. (Oddly, the original Tom Waits version from season two took me the longest to accept.) The main titles themselves, though, may be my favorite of the five. There's such precision to the editing and the way the images flow right into each other -- in one shot, we see newspapers at the plant simultaneously going up and down on different tracks, and in the next we see a newspaper vendor holding up his arms in position to match the plant shot; and the shot of Omar blowing up an SUV is immediately followed by a black cloud of smoke over the city skyline -- in a way that says "everything's connected."

  • The credits also feature that kaleidoscope of targets from season's past -- Wallace dead, D'Angelo on the phone, Avon's mug shot, Sobotka's union card photo (or was that his mug shot, too?), surveillance of Bodie, and Wee-Bey's mug shot -- one of many reminders of all that's come before. Between that, the various lines that echo previous lines, the upcoming cameos by former characters, and even the scenes that echo stuff from Simon's "Homicide" book (and the series) like the lie detector/copy machine gag (which Munch and Bolander did in season one of the NBC show), there's a sense that Simon is saying goodbye to his fictional Baltimore once and for all.

  • Since, at this writing, HBO.com hasn't gotten around to expanding the cast and crew list to add all the newspaper people, here's a quick rundown, with actor names where I have them for IMDb purposes: besides Gus, Tom Klebanow (David Costabile, aka Mel's husband from "Flight of the Conchords") is the managing editor with the rolled up shirtsleeves who first throws out the "more with less" concept; James Whiting (Sam Freed) is the patrician editor-in-chief who shoots down the desegregation story at his buddy's request; Alma Guitierrez (Michelle Paress) is the junior crime reporter who gets sent to Fat Face Rick's club; Scott Templeton (Tom McCarthy) is the general assignment reporter looking to move on up to the Times or Post; Jeff Price is the goateed City Hall reporter who didn't catch the Fat Face Rick thing in the Council minutes; Roger Twigg is the senior police reporter, the guy who says he wants to know what it's like to work at a real newspaper; Jay Spry is the bearded rewrite guy who explains the exact meaning of "evacuate"; and Bill Zorzi ("Wire" writer Zorzi, playing himself) is the federal court reporter, who asks Alma how the Fat Face Rick story broke. As with the kids last year, or Marlo's crew in season three, or the dockworkers in season two, give it a few episodes, and eventually you'll know 'em all about as well as I do.

  • One other cool Gus moment, and something I didn't fully understand until the second time I watched the episode: while on the phone with the lovely and detestable Neresse Campbell, he uses an old trick of quoting a higher dollar figure than they had in hand, and her non-denial told him there were more contributions to be tracked down.

  • For me, the biggest laugh of the episode was the revelation that Herc was now employed by Maury Levy, the sleazy but effective ex-lawyer of the Barksdale/Bell crew. Of course that's where Herc would land. (That scene also finally got around to explaining Herc's Noo Yawk accent on a show where everybody else at least makes an effort -- even if it's a doomed one, like Dominic West's unconvincing Bawlmer accent -- to seem local.)

  • Bad as Tommy has turned out to be -- and State's Attorney Bond, for that matter, who doesn't care about the bodies investigation so long as he gets his Clay Davis trophy -- the one I truly hate is Tommy's chief of staff, Michael Steintorf, the one who's been pushing the governor's race the entire time. If Norman were the first voice whispering in Tommy's ear before he went to bed and when he woke up, instead of just the token "truth to power" employee who's there to make Tommy feel better about himself, do you think the city would be in as sorry a state as it is? Then again, Steintorf wasn't in the room when Tommy burned bridges with the U.S. Attorney, so maybe he really is the bad guy. Maybe Shakespeare had it slightly wrong; the first thing we should do is kill all the politicians.

  • There have been some complaints that neither Ronnie nor Daniels recognized Chris -- the chief suspect in the very investigation they were discussing with Bond -- when he asked for directions. It's a bit of a stretch, in that I'm sure one or both of them has seen his picture up on the MCU cork board, but I can buy it in that context. If you're Pearlman or Daniels, caught up in a heated, dire exchange about the fate of your biggest investigation, would you even notice that the soft-spoken man asking for directions was your chief suspect, or would he blur into any random citizen who's a little lost?

  • Another "It's all connected" moment: Monell, the suspect from the opening scene who got to eat the McDonald's food, was one of the two boys who bribed Randy to stand watch at the boy's room while they had some fun with a girl, one of the first links in the long chain that led to Randy's sad fate. I don't want to say more about that scene just yet because I know what's coming, but know that, like all the previous season openers, it tells you all you need to know about what this year is about.

  • Carver's line, "In the real world, they pay professionals; that's why they call them 'pros'" reminded me a lot of his line from the pilot about how the drug war is misnamed, because "Wars end."

  • Lots of echoes of lines even within the episode. Both Rawls and Templeton dismiss the bodies as last year's news. Both Twigg and McNulty wonder what it would be like to work in a real version of their chosen profession. Last year, there were a lot of cop/teacher parallels. Look for more reporter/cop parallels to come.
Finally, I want to be clear about the spoiler policy, especially since once again, some tool went and leaked the first seven episodes online. This post is to discuss episode 1 and only episode 1. There will be a separate post up tomorrow morning for people who see episode 2 early with On Demand, and my post on that episode will be up a week from tonight. Any comments I see with spoilers for episodes beyond the appropriate one for that post will get deleted immediately.

So, with all of that having been said, what did everybody else think?

67 comments:

bill komissaroff said...

Wire Back!

I loved that the opening was an homage to Homicide especially as Bunk asked Norris, "how many years you figure we been doing this same shit?" "Twenty at least," Norris answers while through the whole scene every dectective is whereing their placards with word HOMICIDE plastered around their necks.

Good stuff!

Anonymous said...

I felt like this episode spent a lot of time laying groundwork, but that's probably necessary -- and it definitely got me stoked for the rest of the season. For me, most Wire seasons start a little slow (great, but slow), then build and build until they become almost unbearably intense in the last few episodes.

Anyway, I can't WAIT to see a possible Marlo/Greek face-off, if that's where they're going with this...

Anonymous said...

Alan -- thanks for the summary, and congratulations on being included in the season 5 DVD special features (which I'm guessing will include the promo piece that ran just before the episode).

I'm overwhelmed like I always am after the first episode of a new season. It seems like not much has happened, and I know when I watch it for the third time everything will make sense. My recipe for watching The Wire: I watch every episode the day it first airs, then watch it again on-demand the next week just before the next episode is about to air to get the continuity. Then I watch everything again from the start just before the penultimate episode is about to air.

I'm trying to figure out what this season will be about, besides the obvious budget shortages in the city and rumored buyouts or layoffs at the paper. In terms of the police procedural backbone of the series, the Clay Davis case is the only major active investigation going on right now. And has Lester Freamon pointed out as early as season 1, when you start following the money, you have no idea where you'll end up. It was clear all along that some of the drug money went into real estate and downtown redevelopment. Whatever happened to Orlando's strip club from season 1? I'm wondering if it's new owner happens to be one Fat Face Rick.

Bubbles definitely needs a hobby. We've seen in season 3 how Cutty (is he back?) turned his life around by being passionate about working with kids. Bubbles needs something similar going on, or else he'll fall off the wagon sooner or later.

Herc has landed safely, but is headed for trouble. Everything needs to be explained to him, including how a corporate expense account really works. The problem is, every time he gains a little bit of knowledge or power or, in this season, money, he's using it to shoot himself in the foot. He has demonstrated over and over that he cannot be in any position with responsibility, and giving him an expense accounts seems as bad or worse as making him a sergeant (where he basically pulled an Eric Cartman last season and went around telling everyone to respect his authoritah).

Alan's predictions about the story and character arcs from the end of last season have all been borne out so far. Prez, Colvin, Randy, Namond, etc. didn't make an appearance, and the schools are only mentioned as the black hole in the budget that's sucking the money and life out of the police force. Omar's story is still open, and Michael K. Williams appears in the main credits, so it's safe to say he'll be back. There's also the story of the murder Omar was framed for, which, if solved, would get Chris Partlow off the street.

Another way to get at Marlo would be to hope that someone two rungs below him slips up and can be convinced to talk. But other than that it seems unlikely that anyone - MCU or FBI - is going to get Marlo through a regular wiretap, especially now that he is fully aware of who's watching him and when. Perhaps because of the budget crunch, since they can't do round-the-clock surveillance, the MCU is still clueless about even the existence of the New Day Co-op (outside of the kingpins, only Omar knows). McNulty observed a meeting between Prop Joe and Westside dealers in season 3, and he saw Chris Partlow looking at Sergei's file this episode, but nobody in the MCU has any clue how the Baltimore drug trade works at a high level, and it looks increasingly unlikely that they'll find out, or even that they'll be able to tie anything to Marlo.

Mr. Kima said...

The previews for next week showed that Marlo would have to get through at least one more worthy adversay before he gets to "Boris" or the Greek. It's a familiar adversary, and one that I'm giddy is coming back.

arrabbiata said...

Great to see Clark Johnson back on the screen. Never realized how much I'd miss seeing Meldrick each week until Homicide was gone. And I enjoyed seeing the return of the old lie detector bit.

I thought I also saw a parallel early in the episode in Carver and Marlo (in this scene reminding me just a little of DeNiro as young Vito Corleone) both giving people bad news about how they were not going to be making as much money as they were expecting.

Looking forward to a great final season.

Mr. Kima said...

I forgot to mention this: thanks again for the great review(s), Alan. I'm new to this blog, but I've been a big fan of your work since the NYPD Blue days.

JP said...

After a fourth viewing (while I wait for the new episode to hit on demand at midnight), I have decided that I dislike Carcetti again, much as I did during season 3 but didn't so much during season 4. The whole reason the city's budget is a mess is because of his ego: he ran on an anti-crime platform, so the police need to do more with less; he wants to run for governor, so he turned down the money from Annapolis for the sake of saving face. When and if he makes his agenda less about himself and more about the city, the fiscal woes will begin to mend.

dez said...

Fave line of tonight: "There's a 'b' in 'subtle'?"

I'm so glad this show is back.

JGM said...

I loved the visual quote of "CSI" playing on television screen in the background while Michael, Bug, and Namond are playing their board game.
It really reminds of the stuff on television that "The Sopranos" would do such as "Paths of Glory" when Junior shot Tony or the "MC Karl Rove dance routine at the White House correspondents dinner" in the series finale.

One, playing "CSI" on the television shows that in David Simon's universe "The Wire" IS REALITY while "CSI" is Fantasy.
Two, it is pretty wicked foreshadowing of what is to come. (I cannot comment any more deeply because it would be too much spoiler info)
Three, the fact that the young kid and the teenagers in the scene are not watching "CSI" but are much more absorbed with the board game and running the drug corner, it illustrates the fact that CSI even on its best days is something that does not fully absorb your entire being as a viewer as "The Wire" does.

This should be not looked as a criticism of "CSI" because I actually feel that it has been the best of all of the network procedurals as far as creativity. I would even put in my Top 10 this past year for really maybe its best season. But, as I say to my friends, there is "The Wire" and then everything else.

Alexander said...

Highly enjoyable but it seemed like a lot of scenes and moments were too on the nose for Simon and Co. The one thing I loved about The Wire and The Corner were the silences, moments where a lesser writer would force the issue but Simon never did. I'm not saying that The Wire loses all the verisimilitude its developed and earned as a result but it feels like they're cheapening their product in some ways. How can you criticize other television programming for pandering to the masses and fall victim to it yourself?

Wet Nail Gun said...

Hi all -

This is the first Wire season I've seen as it's aired so I'm very glad to be able to discuss it with you all.

Two things...

1) Alan did a great job of explaining the Sun folk we met in the first episode but could anyone point me to where I can understand the chain-of-command and the roles of the different positions?

2) I still am thinking this through but I feel like Carcetti's comment to Norman about the person that's supposed to speak "truth to power" is another parallel to this season's media theme. The public all thinks they want truth to power in media coverage but what they really want is fluff and stuff to make themselves better (Carcetti's chief of staff).

Thanks for reading!

HonestTea said...

Two sad moments, both concerning the new budget crush on the poh-leece.

The first was Carver's personal victory being undermined by orders from up top. When he quieted the angry roll-call room I thought to myself "oh ho, Carve is showing some real leadership here!" Then when that one particularly upset officer made to leave, I knew I was watching the sink-or-swim test for Carver as a Commander. And by getting that officer to come back and sit down, Carver passed that test, which made me very happy as a viewer, just knowing how far he's come since Season 1.

Having quieted the crowd, he looks down at the morning's orders and he is immediately defeated. He knows it before he even tell shis troops the bad news. And sure enough, as soon as he tells his boys that cars can't go to shop, it undermines all the good leadership he's shown, and that offier walks out just like that.

To see all of Carver's good work and character growth be undercut by a piece of paper from above, it was a very sad moment that really illustrated how Carver, despite his best intentions, is Just A Pawn, being screwed over and betrayed from above.


The other scene that stuck with me was a simple quote, from Carcetti to Burrell and Rawls:

"How's Crime? How are your stats?"

thomas said...

here's all you need to know about chain of command at a newspaper. the guy who uttered the infamous "more with less" line is the rawls of the operation and should be beaten with a sack of doorknobs. clark johnson plays the gung-ho city editor who'll stick to actual news - despite severe cutbacks in staff - not bottom lines, but will only serve to provide great copy that others above him will inevitably take credit for. also, his skepticsm at the photographer who always has a burnt doll in fire shots is one of the show's funniest moments, hands down.

Pete said...

Completely OT here, but Alan, why does it say "Afghanistan" underneath your name at the top of your blog?

Anonymous said...

some tool went and leaked the first seven episodes online.

Yes, only the media elite, not the great unwashed, should see them early?

Andrew said...

Yes, only the media elite, not the great unwashed, should see them early?
One key difference, one group is stealing the episodes, the other one isn't.

Anonymous said...

One key difference, one group is stealing the episodes, the other one isn't.

(Not the original Anonymous Poster)
As an HBO Subscriber, watching the leaked episodes is more like opening my presents early than stealing.

That said, from what I can tell episodes 3 and 4 have not been leaked, so we're in the same boat as all of the other OnDemanders unless you're willing to ruin the experience and skip to episodes 5-7.

Anonymous said...

I'm a former newspaper reporter. I never worked at a place as big as The Sun but here's how some things will work in the newsroom: (PART ONE)

1) There are many "desks" at a newspaper the size of The Sun. They are the same thing as a unit/division in the police department. Or a corner under the Barksdale/Malro chain of command. The City Desk is the desk that covers any and all news in the actual city of Baltimore. This may seem like the most important desk, but over years the years it has been most likely devalued as more and more people move to the county. Other news desks at the Sun are probably a County beat, a Statehouse beat, maybe even a DC-suburb beat depending upon how far they are trying to reach readers. The Sun might even have a DC-based national reporter or two. But all of their BIG news will come off the AP wire.

LINGO:
The newsroom has its own lingo. The lingo is more or less the same in any newsroom, but each one will have its own dialect.

INCHES: Newspaper stories are measured in "column inches." So any discussion about "inch length" means how long a story is. 15-18 inches is more-or-less your average news story. I'd imagine the story we got to see break from City Hall, one with a lot of background, was more in the 30-inch range.

BUDGET: The editor is asking his reporters what they are working on, when to expect it, how long it will be, etc. An editor needs this information fairly quickly to work on layout/design.

DEADLINE: Any of the phrases before a deadline means the schedule of deadline. The word "deadline" can mean a lot of things in a newsroom. There are actually a few different deadlines based upon the story being written.

STAFF RANK --

CUB REPORTERS -- young reporters who just broke in who are trying to rise up the ranks. Alma and Scott are the City Desk's cub reporters. They're also at the bar away from the veterans towards the end. Scott and Alma more-or-less got the shit gig in the story that got broken, the equivalent of Herc and Carver moving a judge's furniture. They also got "contributions by" at the end of a story as opposed to a byline signifying they took part in the actual writing of a story.

BEAT REPORTERS -- established reporters with a bigger beat. These include city hall, police, and not a transportation reporter.

REWRITE DESK -- Copy editor/rewriter. These follks are extremely anal grammar nerds know things like how to properly use the word "evacuate." Most smaller papers don't have a rewrite desk, which is why you'll see a lot of grammar errors at those papers.

CITY EDITOR -- Gus. He runs the City Desk. Thing of him as the Daniels of the newspaper office.

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF -- the guy who is in charge of all of the desks at the Sun.

MANAGING EDITOR -- Same kind of deal as the E-I-C, but he'll also be the guy who reports to corporate a lot more.

PUBLISHER -- not sure if The Wire has one, but most papers I worked for, the Publisher was ultimately in charge. All of the departments (news, ad sales, delivery, etc.) all reporter to him.

Anonymous said...

PART 2 --

The newsroom look, pacing, language, etc. was 100% accurate. As you'd expect from someone like David Simon.

One adage in a newsroom is that the more you're at your desk, the less your doing your work. That's why Gus was so dismissive of Scott, who was hanging out at his desk. Reporters DO have to wait for a lot of phone calls, but Scott seemed like a perfect newsroom template: the entitled cub who went to a rich kid J-School program (Columbia) who thinks covering a city desk beat is completely beneath him. He also isn't doing anything looking to develop his own stories and prefers to pick assignments. Reporters do have ot make phone calls but the excuse of "I'm waiting for phone calls" usually means you're watching something on YouTube. A good reporter is rarely at his desk.

(He should try working at a weekly where there is literally NOTHING to write about.)

The City Hall beat was perfect. Agendas for meetings like that are super long, written in legalese and you need to be EXTRA sharp to catch something like what Gus caught. It's really easy to get burnt at a beat like that.

The guys above Gus had the perfect smug smarm of someone who has achieved a position of rank at a big daily newspaper. A lot of the folks I met at those positions tended to have a whole new level of arrogance. They are obsessed with awards.

The editor killing the story on race issues at U of Maryland was a guy killing a story at the behest of a friend. He also probably knows about impending layoffs and is angling for a tenure position at the UMD Journalism program.

One character they are missing: the oldhead columnist who has seniority (I'm guessing The Sun is a guild newspaper) who won't get laid off but hasn't written a decent column since Watergate, probably also has a severe alcohol and chain-smoking problem.

There are many reasons I got out of newspaper reporting. The primary one is that the people we'll see in The Wire will work 60-hour weeks and will make about $40,000 a year. Another reason is because it's next-to-impossible for someone to make a jump from a weekly newspaper to a decent daily. Editors at those places LOVE J-School grads as opposed to people who actually had to write at a crappy beat.

quipu said...

"The devil is in the details."

Thank you so much to Anonymous for his/her helpful notes for all us non-journos who love this show. I think, as with previous seasons of the show, the lingo is something which is gradually picked up, but it was great to have certain scene given a greater deal of context.

Also, thanks Alan for the little bit about Monell. The series shows no signs of cutting back in its depth, and the level of attention it requires from its viewers. I look forward to reading more acutely observed pieces from you in the coming weeks!

Anonymous said...

Is anyone else verging (I stress 'verging'; it's a minor quibble) on being irritated by the constant 'clever' repetition of phrases. Alan pointed out that both McNulty and Twig wonder what it would be like 'to work for a real ...', but the line is also spoken by Sydnor in an earlier season. After a while the device starts to draw attention to itself, especially to seasoned Wire viewers on the hunt. The same applies to the cold open, which I felt was the weakest of the five seasons in being just a little too on the nose, even as I laughed it up and nodded my knowing agreement. It's good to be in on the joke, but the Wire shouldn't have to pat its attentive viewers on the back -- following the show carefully is its own reward.

I've read some of the complaints from newsmen about the journalistic stuff, and pretty much back Alan's line: everyone's just eager to poke holes in the first piece of the Wire world they actually have a real-life handle on. For me, coming from a place of no journalistic experience, everything new rang as true as everything old. I felt -- as I did about the 'hall' material in season three -- like it had always been there.

Also, let's not be too harsh on Internet pirates. If nothing else, they allow Euro-viewers like me to keep up with events as they unfold. To put thing in perspective: season 4 DVDs aren't even due for release here for another few months.

--AH

Alan Sepinwall said...

Yes, only the media elite, not the great unwashed, should see them early?

Well, the media elite ain't the ones who then go onto message boards and post stuff like "BODIE DIES IN THE FINALE!" in their subject lines.

I'm not saying the media is perfect about protecting stuff (several reviews gave away plot points that David Simon explicitly asked to be kept under wraps), but because the episodes are now out there for anyone to see, it's now become far more likely that people who haven't seen them are going to stumble across spoilers they won't want to know.

DogPound said...

Anonymous from 7:46 am said:

"Is anyone else verging (I stress 'verging'; it's a minor quibble) on being irritated by the constant 'clever' repetition of phrases."

YES! I am so glad I'm not the only person who noticed that. "Someday I'm going to work for a real police department," from Season 3, "Someday I want to know what it's like to work for a real newspaper," Season 5, "I wonder what it's like to work for a real police department," Season 5.

Jesus, we get it already!

I feel like Simon is spelling out things unnecessarily in this season and the writing is not up to par with previous seasons. But this is just the first episode; it'll be a great season no matter what flaws it has.

Anonymous said...

'to work for a real ...', but the line is also spoken by Sydnor in an earlier season.

Sydnor said it after McNulty got the Kintell Williamson case shut down by going behind Daniels' back. When McNulty says it in this episode, you can take it both ways: cute echo of when Twig says it, but also ironic statement that the guy who went outside the chain of command to get one case shut down is now complaining about his own case getting shut down.

Anonymous said...

Dear Alan:

I know you're very busy, but if you had the time, do you think you could post something like "how to get into the Wire for newbies?" (newbies...with DVDs and no cable and download capabilities) I want to watch it--I'm intimidated by the fact that it's in it's 5th season. Is it the type of show where you have to buckle in and start with the begining? When am I going to be saying it's "the best show ever/like a NOVEL!"

Rad. Thanks.

Pandyora said...

Thought the episode was great, if a bit rushed. It had all the things I love about The Wire. There was the novelistic sense of continuity – Bubs sister, Spider and the corner boys, the reappearance of the Russian. There was the scathing humor – the copier polygraph, the burnt dolls, the definition of “evacuate”. And there were the amazing location shots and set design – I can see why the newsroom was the most expensive Wire set ever.

A couple minor observations – in response to anonymous’ great post on the hierarchy of newspapers, I think that one of the characters mentioned that the paper’s ownership was based in Chicago. This may be a thinly veiled reference to the Tribune Company and its purchase of regional papers including the Sun and (more notoriously) the Los Angeles Times.

Also, like anonymous, the repetition of the “real department” line didn’t bother me that much. I also read it as McNulty taking a jab at Daniels. After all, there was that great scene at the end of season four when Daniels was welcoming McNulty back to CID where they essentially repeated lines to one another from season one, only this time with their roles reversed. I get the sense McNulty and Daniels have long memories, and this was just Jimmy being an asshole. The prodigal son returns...

mr gilbert said...

re: the title sequence, i was struck cold the first time i watched it when it cuts to black at the end, the final shot being the brief moment when Carcetti turns around to leave a press conference. if the titles are a distillation of the series as a whole (especially in season 5, with the callbacks to previous seasons & characters who've come to untimely ends), that shot of mayor turning his back on the media/audience/city acts as a stark period to the sentence that is The Wire.

rukrusher said...

First impressions.

I loved the opening credits as well, even stopped and scrolled through the newspaper articles and laughed that it showed Clay Davis indicted and the City Council President in a scandal, plus the homage to past criminals was great.

Least favorite version of Devil in the five seasons.

Herc working for Levy is great.

Too be fair, if they have been working on Marlo for a year and have no progress they need to shut it down and come at it from a new angle. I thought Lester might have been promoted and am glad he is still the one running the detail under the clueless LT.

How does Prop Joe, Cheese, Slim Charles and Marlo all make it to the meetings and not be noticed by surveillance? That has always bothered me. Not to mention the other 8 or 9 guys?

Trying to buy drinks with OT slips, classic

"We even went to McDonalds for him"

I like the newsroom so far, I agree Clark Johnson was always underrated in Homicide.

I have more thoughts but not the time, thank god we have the Wire back.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Re: the repeated lines thing, this has been a motif of the series throughout its run. In the season one finale, Bodie repeats, basically word for word, the hand to hand lesson that D'Angelo taught him. Bunny and Stringer both say the same thing to their respective executioners. Clay Davis and Namond expressing identical sentiments about taking people's money if they're giving it away, etc.

I can see why you might feel that the opening scene spelled things out too blatantly (I could have done without Norris' line about the gullibility of Americans), but the repetition thing is in intrinsic part of the show. We hear different characters say the same thing because it shows how people on every level of society are going through the same conflicts, have to deal with the same idiot bosses, etc.

bill komissaroff said...

Credits Minutiae:

Tom McCarthy makes the Actor's list on both the opening and closing credits. I think this is a first....(an oversight?)

TuckPendleton said...

Glad to see The Wire back, and Alan's columns and comments to go with it.

My question is what does Chris Partlow do in the clerk's office? How can he just walk in off the street and gain access to a file? Is the implication that off-screen he bribed somebody? Or are we to take it as an implication of Baltimore's lax public servants?

Also, to Alan's point about McNulty's lack of a "Bawlmer" accent: personally, I'm just glad he's able to do a credible American accent (a few slips here and there). Besides, as much as I love authenticity, as a Baltimore native, an entire show of accurate Baltimore accents that the city is known for, would drive you absolutely crazy, and probably away from the show. But tanks fer watchin', hon!

TuckPendleton said...

I also wanted to echo Alan's appreciation for Clark Johnson. Even though the man makes his bones these days as a director, when he was an actor, he was certainly in the leading man category I would say. To see him dragging that gut around the newsroom gives me even more respect for him as an actor.

Also, someone above asked the best way to watch the Wire, with no on demand. I think the only answer is to go back to Season 1, and enjoy the ride. (And maybe find a friend to Tivo Season 5 for you, so you don't have to wait for the release.) Of course, S5 has been finished for so long that maybe there won't be as much lag in the DVD release.

Dezmond said...

Bodie repeats, basically word for word, the hand to hand lesson that D'Angelo taught him.

>>>That was Poot.

Wet Nail Gun said...

Thanks Anonymous for that great description of the news room!!

A couple of more thoughts on this episode:

1) Some people have complained that the cold open for the season was too on the nose with the last line about the populace being gullible. But I think that the actual notion in that cold open that will come to typify the season (as Simon has said is true in each season) is that we, as an audience who loves The Bunk & Norris & Landsman, give them a free pass when they coerce the confession from the young murderer. We give them a pass, much like the editor-in-chief gives a pass to his UMD buddy because, hey, he's a friend. I know that this scene was in the 1st ep of Homicide but I wonder if Simon has used it again to show our own hypocrisy (that's a harsher word than I'd ideally like to use here) as an audience that we chuckle at it rather than be perturbed by it.

2) The reason why David Simon is such a better writer than Aaron Sorkin (don't get me wrong, I love the West Wing - well the 1st four seasons): when Simon had the rewrite editor correct the cub reporter on the use of the word "evacuate", it was done to illuminate both the rewrite guy's role at the paper as well as show the professionalism of the old guard. When Toby or Sam or Josh went off on some arcane bit of knowledge, it ALWAYS sounded like Sorkin either saying "I'm smarter than you, audience" or "I've spent a little too much time on the can reading Uncle John's Reader."

Jerry said...

Anonymous -
great newsroom briefer, except for one detail:

"One character they are missing: the oldhead columnist who has seniority (I'm guessing The Sun is a guild newspaper) who won't get laid off but hasn't written a decent column since Watergate, probably also has a severe alcohol and chain-smoking problem."

He was represented too, and very well, by Mike Olesker (or a very close look-alike), who in real life fit your achetype-description to a 'T'. He's the lazy-ass guy who Gus derides (and mentions his column) for watching the fire (with the female management-type)as entertainment but not calling anything in about it for the paper's sake.

The opening ep seemed more 'crunched' and eager to set everything up than in seasons past, but its all probably due to the shortened batch - and we'll appreciate it more down the line, when it all seems more 'normally' paced.

I watched it at friends who I am trying to convert, and don't have Tivo or a tape... I totally missed the explanation for Herc's NY accent. Can anyone help?

Anonymous said...

To Tuck Pendleton re: Parlow--

Chris is in The Courthouse. Indictments and court cases are completely legal information to go and find. Prop Joe in Season 4 showed Marlo one of the Barksdale indictments when he was trying to get him to join the Co-Op. This is an extension of that little conversation.

Chris walks in and asks civil or criminal in order to find the right department (civil or criminal.) He then has the guy's last name or whatever and gets information about the hearing. There's probably some clerk sitting there all day with nothing to do. Chris comes in, asks for the information, and the clerk helps him out.

It's also what any good courthouse reporter knows to do when looking up information about folks.

A lot of this information might also be available online. If the Stansfield organization was efficient, they'd have Dukie Google all kinds of information for them.

TuckPendleton said...

Thanks Anon 1:50pm. I guess I knew that about court records and such, but was surprised that something so blatant as an address and a photo would be included in a file given out willy-nilly. Though the more I think about it, maybe that is more a contrivance of television, for the sake of expendiency.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I can't believe I didn't pick up that the columnist was the guy who Gus ripped. He's that archtype to a T.

I also loved the racial diversity in the newsroom. The big newspaper industry groups and J-School programs are OBSESSED with newsroom diversity. So the people in the city desk (the beat covering a city with an overwhelming majority of African-Americans, as we know from Carcetti's campaign) who are minorities include Gus and a cub reporter who is a Latina. That sounds completely right.

I love David Simon (obviously) but I have a little bit of a problem with his view of the world of the newsroom. He is obviously very outspoken about the corporatization of newspapers. The industry is moving a bit in a different direction these days -- the last big newspaper sale was the Philly Inquirer, which went from being owned by the Tribune to being owned by a local group of investors. (Ironically, the new team at the Inky hired the real-life Bill Marrimow as its new managing editor.)

Also, David Simon went right from college to a job at a big-city newspaper. He never had to work at a weekly covering a town of 7,500 people where you're expected to write 7-10 stories a week, do many pages of layout and, on occasion, also deliver the newspaper. Those papers are a lot of times owned by big newspaper conglomerate groups (North Jersey Media Group in Jersey -- The Bergen Record and Herald News -- own about 50 weekly papers in North Jersey) and the reporters at the lowest rungs have a ridiculously hard time of moving up the ranks. People there routinely -- people who actually learn to write on deadline, have to learn to make the absolute most mundane stories interesting -- get passed up for some hot shot kid out of a journalism program who had the ability to land a cushy internship while in college.

I don't know of one weekly paper that is unionized. I would almost guarantee The Sun is a Newspaper Guild shop. There are a lot of old professionals in newsrooms (like the rewrite editor shown in the "evacuate" segment) with great knowledge. There are also an insane amount of oldheads with union jobs who keep non-guild members from getting jobs in newsrooms.

Newspapers have been declining in readership for years. I'm 30 -- no young people are subscribing or reading to newspapers. Simon has talked about how the corporatizing of news has lead to that decline. I would agree with that, but the old guard system has also hurt that as well.

(Case in point: Stu Bykofsky in Philadelphia runs their Guild. He is an ancient columnist who hasn't written anything worth reading since the Ed Muskie campaign. When the new owners took over the Inky, they wanted to make layoffs. One of the things the Guild won was a hiring freeze on new reporters.)

-- Anonymous Reporter (I'll use that handle when I comment from now on.)

Matt said...

Jerry said...

"I totally missed the explanation for Herc's NY accent. Can anyone help?"

Herc at one point is in Levy's office and is reading the paper. He says "THe Orioles won't sign a pitcher. I should have never left the Bronx."

He's a transplanted Yankee fan.

What a great show. Can't believe there are only 9 left!

TuckPendleton said...

It's too bad there can't be a sixth season of the Wire where Simon and Burns detail the incompetence of Peter Angelos and the Orioles front office.

olucy said...

Anonymous Reporter (as you'd like to be called), are you sure about some of those facts? I don't think the Inky was ever owned by the Tribune. And The Tribune, itself, may be the most recent sale--although buyout is probably more accurate--having been bought out by Sam Zell, who assumed control over the holidays. If I'm wrong, please set me straight.

If people in your age bracket aren't subscribing to newspapers, are they at least reading them? If not, where do they get their news? From the equally corporation-controlled television/cable? I'll admit, I haven't purchased a newspaper beyond the Sunday paper in years - but I read it everyday online. It's still the same beast.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Anonymous Reporter got that detail wrong. The two Philly papers were owned by Knight-Ridder, which sold all of its newspaper holdings to McClatchy, which then sold off several of its papers (including the two Philly ones, which went to local investors).

As for the parallels between the Sun people and the cops, he's pretty much nailed it, but to simplify, here's how I'd put it:

Burrell -> editor-in-chief Whiting
Rawls -> managing editor Klebanaw
Bunny -> city editor Gus
Lester, Bunk, Kima (or McNulty) -> senior reporters Twig, Zorzi and Price
Herc and Carver (seasons 1-3 edition) -> junior reporters Scott and Alma

Anonymous said...

Didn't David Simon make a cameo as a Baltimore Sun reporter last season, or the season before?

Will he appear again?

Anonymous said...

The Inky was owned by Knight-Ridder. When McClatchy bought Knight-Ridder, they spun off the paper to a local group. The local group is headed by Brian Tierney, a PR bigwig in Philly who battled a ton w/ the Inky newsroom over the years. One of the backers is also Toll Brothers, a bigtime developer. Got my newspaper chains confused. I'm not so knowledgeable about the Tribune sale, so take any "facts" I say with a big grain of salt since I'm not in the print journalism biz these days.

I don't remember seeing any surveys anywhere about young people's news sources. I would imagine TV, web portals, etc. I do remember fondly though when newspapers were trying to "adapt" to younger readers -- the NY Times had a laughably hilarious Gen-X section a few years ago. Newspapers are trying to get "edgier" with blogs and things like that these days.

-- AR

Pandyora said...

Re: Simon Cameo. If my memory is correct, Simon appeared as a reporter during Sobotka's perp walk at the end of season two.

I doubt we'll see fictional Simon again, however. I heard he left the Sun for the Baltimore Examiner...

Anonymous said...

Other parrallels in the newsroom --

The bearded rewrite guy has an unglamourous job that is completely essential to the function of the newspaper. He catches the mistakes, the grammar, etc. We have no idea of how he is as a reporter, but he's pretty much the equivalent of what Prez became in Season One and Two.

The old columnist watching the fire is like the old drunks who do nothing.

I know I posted a lot today. But I am completely excited to see my favorite show of all time capturing the world that I actually know.

-AR

olucy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Sepinwall said...

I got to the bottom of the apparent double-billing of Tom McCarthy: there are two of them.

HBO.com finally added the Sun people to the cast list page, and you can see that there's both Tom McCarthy as Scott the junior reporter, and Thomas McCarthy as the paper's State editor, Tim Phelps.

Andrew said...

Huh, I always thought there was some sort of SAG rule that prevented actors from having the same name; like one of them would have to use their middle initial or something. Such a rule would certainly clear up matters such as this.

lungfish said...

It will be interesting to see if Lester is right about Marlo starting to get sloppy. It doesn't seem that's happening with Marlo going to lengths to make sure to make his attendance at the co-op meeting seem like a booty call.

One thing I didn't follow was what Marlo ended up telling the underling (who was complaining about not having enough money) to do with the package... the whole 60/40 thing.

Thanks in advance. Great comments- very enlightening!

drake leLane said...

BTW: NY Mag points out that the original use of 'evacuated' was right and not in need of correction.

I guess we can expect a lot more of this in the future.

dez said...

I know that this scene was in the 1st ep of Homicide but I wonder if Simon has used it again to show our own hypocrisy (that's a harsher word than I'd ideally like to use here) as an audience that we chuckle at it rather than be perturbed by it.

"Crime makes you stupid." Watching stupid criminals make stupid mistakes is funny :-)

dez said...

Oops, forgot to ask: What is a transpo reporter?

Dave S said...

"Last thing on my sched"

"Were you on my schedule? Do we do it quick or resched?"

I hate shortening words, especially verbally. What's the motif here? It's Rhonda and Carcetti using it, and I didn't catch any other shortenings, other than police slang.

Also, David Simon responded to that NYT piece.

olucy said...

Oops, forgot to ask: What is a transpo reporter?
A transportation reporter.

OT a little, but I still can't believe Prop Joe was allowed to live after pulling that little stunt in S4. Glad he's with us, though.

Ted said...

Dez, I believe it is short for Transportation reporter

The Burack's said...

Lungfish-

Marlo told Chris that the guy has no heart when he took the 60/40 split. He should've fought fought for a better price for him and his people.

rukrusher said...

I don't know, the offer form Marlo was take the 60-40 or be prepared to become Marlo's enemy. His move at that time no matter what his feeling is to accept the 60-40 and then knowing Marlo will not negotiate find out a way to move out from under Marlo, i.e. see if Prop Joe or one of the other co-op guys will supply and protect you when Marlo fights for what he believes is his territory. Clearly Marlo has always been positioned as a man who wants to be the only player in town. He has come aboard the coop to get the details on prop Joes connections, something they hinted to at the end of last year and now with his going after Sergei. Plus he is trying to get Slim or Cheese to come to his side against Prop Joe. Once the bodies start falling the Major Crimes should be back in swing.

Question

Any idea if the Hopkins buying up land on the East side is true life or just a narrative device?

Anonymous said...

More sneaky cameos: the "the female management-type" that Jerry mentioned is none other than Laura Lippman, David Simon's wife.

rukrusher, there are big plans for a biotech park on the east side, so yes, it's true to life. Hopkins buying up land in various parts of the city is a continuing endeavor usually lamented by the natives.

Paul B. said...

The big, wealthy university (which doesn't pay property taxes, by the way) buying up surrounding neighborhoods is a real-life controversy that is taking place in many cities.
Boston is currently dealing with at least 5 big schools doing the same throughout the city.

vinnyb said...

My fav line of the episode:

Herc: "I put the 'b' in subtle."

Brilliant!

Anonymous said...

Don't know if anyone is still reading this thread, but my DVR cut off the end of this episode on DirecTV. It cut off right after Herc's line about the Orioles in Levy's office. Was there anything more after that?

Ahmedkhan said...

Anonymous - right after his remark about the Orioles, Herc mentions that he should never have left the Bronx, explaining his plain-as-the-nose-in-your-face Bronx accent. Herc is another New York transplant in Simon's Baltimore stories, the other one being Frank Pembleton in Homicide.

kg said...

Why is is a problem that Ronnie or Daniels didn't recognize Chris?
Even if they did recognize him as their chief murder suspect, what were they to do?
Were they going to tell him: "No, Mr Partlow, you are a bad man and we can't give you directions?"

Anonymous said...

Daniels did turn around and look at Chris as if he knew him. He is a cop so it is more expected of him to notice.

Anonymous said...

This is my third time through THE WIRE, and Herc's line about being from the Bronx still flew past me. Yet more proof of thinking more highly of myself than I should. Thanks for the clarification.

Anonymous said...

hey, i've never commented on a blog in my life but yours seems worth it. i got into the wire late and am watching it for the second time around. one questions—is bub's sister the same nurse that disses then kisses cutty at the end of season 4?
cheers, h