Sunday, January 06, 2008

Sepinwall on TV: Down to 'The Wire'

"The Wire" is officially back tonight, and since I've traditionally written about the show in our roomier Sunday section, that's where the final preview goes:
An old saying goes that tragedy plus time equals comedy. David Simon, creator of HBO's "The Wire," believes in a different equation, one where the passage of time is either a negative or a non-factor. In Simon's Baltimore, comedy and tragedy exist side by side, constantly feeding back and forth to each other. If the very contemporary events on "The Wire" - only the greatest drama in TV history - weren't so tragic, they'd be hilarious. And if they weren't so often funny, they'd be intolerably sad.

Over the years, so much critical praise has been lavished on "The Wire" - an unflinching look at the decaying state of American cities, in cop show drag - that the show too often sounds like homework. But the series has always been as much black comedy as bleak drama.
To read the full thing, click here. Meanwhile, as I mentioned in the comments to the Great Moments thread, I realized I couldn't really do such a list justice within the space and language restrictions available to me in the paper, so for the sidebar, I wrote about how David Simon uses the opening scene of each premiere to lay out that season's themes. To read that, click here. Back tonight at 10 with the first episode review.


Anonymous said...

Re: Clark Johnson. Yeah, when I heard he was going to be a regular this season, I thought, "They're bringing him back?" Then I realized he's never been on the show. It just seems like he should have been. He's directed some episodes, though, right?

Anonymous said...

Yup. I think he directed a couple of the very first episodes of the series, and will also direct the last episode of season 5.

It does seem like he should have been on the show. I think Clark Johnson has had a long working relationship with David Simon and Co. He was Meldrick Lewis on Homicide. I remember actually thinking a number of times that there were alot of similarities between the Bunk and Lewis characters.

Anonymous said...

Great piece as always Alan. Watched the first episode on-demand and was blown away as usual. It looks like only having 10 episodes will speed things up.

My only complaint is why does HBO allow so many episodes to get sent out. I was on the imdb page and caught some major spoilers early last week, apparently people have already seen up to episode 7. Last year I had Bodie's death spoiled. I think I remember that you only reviewed 2 episodes of the Sopranos last go around. I realize it would be hard to write a review for a season of the Wire after only 2 episodes, but how many people do they send the episodes out and how do they get out so easily?

SJ said...

Alan that "Dickensian" reference to me was not subtle at all. And that whole scene in was like Simon is directly talking to us and was perhaps showing a bit of arrogance in the accolades the show has received from critics. Clearly Simon presented himself as Gus in the scene (or just in general). Couple that with the detectives talking about how the deaths of black people go unnoticed compared to the white girl who went missing in Aruba and it didn't feel subtle at all unlike previous season.

SJ said...


Yeah I do not suggest going into message boards...something will inevitably get spoiled for you. HBO does not do a good job of keeping track of it's screeners for this show.

Anonymous said...

Liked your recap of the themes dramatized in each season's opening vignette. My reading of the very first one is a bit different, though. I always took the Snotboogie vignette as saying that you can't exclude the underclass from the American Dream just because they tend to grab the money and run: Sure, you catch 'em and beat their ass when they do it, but you don't never go past that. You gotta let 'em in the game--this America, man.

But that's what's so great about The Wire: it's complex enough to allow a number of valid readings.

Andre said...

Speaking of different readings, I saw the party boat in the Season 2 opener as stand-ins for the port workers -- dead in the water with all the good times behind them, yet using whatever means they can to artificially prolong their existence.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Interesting alternative readings to both scenes, anonymous and Andre. As anonymous points out, "The Wire" is deep enough that both interpretations -- and others -- could all apply.

I'm hopefully going to interview David Simon near the end of the season for a post-mortem on the whole series. That may well be one of the subjects covered (along with finally getting him to explain the symbolism behind all the McNulty/Bunk train track scenes.)

Anonymous said...

I'll be looking forward to that interview, Alan.

Actually, the train symbolism occurs elsewhere, too. The backalley showdown between Omar and Brother Mouzone has a train whistle in the background. A train rumbles by after Stringer is killed. "Fast Train (Going Nowhere)" is the closing song for S3.
Trains seem to be connected to fateful encounters and death. Very Tolstoyan.

Re McNulty drinking down at the tracks: I recall one scene in S1 when Jimmy decides to "really do" the case, no matter the personal cost. He's standing on the tracks pissing at an oncoming train and steps away just in time. A reference to Jimmy's slightly suicidal streak?