Wednesday, March 05, 2008

These are the Daves I know: The Wire vs. The Sopranos vs. Deadwood

Over the weekend, I got together with my old partner Matt Zoller Seitz and Andrew Johnston from Time Out-NY to debate -- politely -- about the relative supremacy of "The Wire" (my horse), "The Sopranos" (Andrew's pick) and "Deadwood" (Matt's). It was recorded as a podcast and you can listen to it (and, briefly, download it) over at The House Next Door.

Feel free to discuss anything that comes up in the podcast, or any other arguments about one show vs. the others, but do not attempt to slip in spoilers for "The Wire" series finale. I understand it's already leaked on-line, and if I so much as smell something that's either an obvious spoiler or something that seems like a spoiler but is dressed up as a really clever guess, we're going to comment moderation -- on the entire blog -- from now until Sunday night. You feel me?

UPDATE: Matt has added a transcript for those who were having technical difficulties with the podcast -- or who just hated the sound of clanging dishes in the background.


Jon Weisman said...

Long live Kids in the Hall ...

Anonymous said...

Great, now I have the KITH song stuck in my head. ("...some of them are Davids, but most of us are Daves...")

As for the Sopranos/Deadwood/Wire question: The Sopranos, as much as I adore the other two. Everything the Wire and Deadwood do well, the Sopranos does better.

Anonymous said...

if the finale has leaked on line it very well hidden.

Elwood said...

Argh...I can't get that file to open. Any chance it can get posted as an mp3 or something easier for my Windows Media to run?

Anonymous said...


In a fit of Wire nostalgia I've been reading over Season Three and Four recaps. Here some quotes from your Season Four finale recap:

"To quote William Munny in "Unforgiven," deserve's got nothing to do with it."

"But as I asked last week, how the hell do you get a crew as cautious as Marlo's? They kill anyone who even might be snitching..."

"I can't see Omar's fifth season arc traveling anywhere but in a downward direction."

Pretty good.

Jaydon said...

The Wire is the best show, how ever I liked The Soprano's more. Deadwood was good but it didn't even get to end now did it. Clear last place for that.

BobE said...

The Wire is the best of the three and I would say that it's not even a close race.

Anonymous said...

When Andrew started to talk about the black audience it seemed as if he wanted to give them the Condolezza treatment by saying how surprisingly articulate they were.

I saw a documentary on ON Demand where the Wire cast and crew talked about being largely ignored, especially with regard to awards. They chalked it up to white audiences being uncomfortable watching and or lauding a "black show". This despite the fact the black people (maybe involuntarily due to having few quality black shows) watch "white shows" all the time.

Very good podcast overall and I love all 3 shows.

Anonymous said...

alan were you a fan of carnivale? i loved that show.

Anonymous said...

One things you guys talked about was whether there were other shows as good. One show that I feel was competitive in nature and in content to some of these HBO shows was The West Wing, which did beat The Sopranos for three years straight at the Emmys. Admittedly, the show wasn't consistent but when it was good, it was really great.

Anonymous said...

I have gone back and forth on The Sopranos and The Wire since I started watching them. Tony and Chris were my favorite characters of any film or tv show ever. I just feel that I have to give The Wire a slight edge because of its' topic matter and how it achieved its goals. The Wire has really shown the cyclical nature of the drug game, politics, and police work. Also The Wire forces the viewers to recognize the humanity in Omar, Bubbles. I feel Americans look at the end-result too often, we just see the violent robber or the no will-power havin drug addict, we refuse to do anything about it or just condem them.

I am probably one of the few people who enjoyed both shows final seasons, unless everything falls apart in this Sundays finale. I do have to say that I was disappointed in how David Chase pulled the stunt ending, I liked the finale but why couldnt they just fade to black. I find it very hard to criticize either of these shows, I just find a few more criticisms in The Sopranos. I will still enjoy both on DVD for a long time to come.

As for Deadwood I watched all 3 seasons over 2 or 3 months. I liked the show and as a history buff I enjoyed being taken to that place in time. Still the story is nowhere near as impressive as The Wire/Sopranos. I would like to rewatch the show, still it is not cracking my top 5.

SJ said...

Though I absolutely love The Wire and consider it to be the best show ever, I would have to admit that the final season of The Sopranos was better than the final season of The Wire. Both were short seasons but The Sopranos just handled everything better.

Anonymous said...

It's out there; I've seen it; I'll say nothing except that I am glad Region 2 Season 4 DVDs are out in a few days to fill the sudden gaping void in my life.

Tom Servo said...

If you're still having problems elwood, install this and open the file with it.

Zach said...

His show certainly isn't as good as these three, and it wasn't a drama, but Larry David always ought to be at least mentioned in a list of remarkable Davids employed by HBO.

Zach said...

Whoops, didn't mean to post that at this and The House Next Door. I guess I posted it here, thinking it was at The House Next Door, and then not seeing it there figured the posting stuff messed up (as it tends to for me) and reposted.

Anonymous said...

Great commentary Alan (even if some of the eating noises I found disturbing..hehe).

Now, if only you and Matt could move to Chicago, work for the Sun-Times and Tribune respectively, and start a show either on WGN (TV) or WBEZ (NPR) where you discussed weekly television show reviews and topics. Chicago would have a monopolistic trifecta of movies (Ebert and Roeper), music (SoundOpinions) and TV reviews.

C'mon....I've lived in Jersey (Hoboken...the only liveable area as far as I am concerned), but is it as nice as Chicago?

Anonymous said...

All three shows were brilliant, and in my mind the only way to pick between the 3 is just to figure out which one connected with you the most. For me that was (already using past tense) The Wire. Followed by Deadwood and then The Sopranos. Like SJ, I did love the final season of The Sopranos though. But, I'm not sure if I agree that it is better then S5 of The Wire.

Anonymous said...

As far as I'm concerned, The Sopranos, Deadwood and The Wire are the holy trinity of television shows. I started watching The Sopranos first, and I'll never forget the effect it had on me. I hadn't seen anything on television quite like it (although Oz was a useful primer for the show). Deadwood followed, and I remember being suitably impressed with its mixture of profanity and poetry, as well as the unapologetic use of soliloquy. Although both shows were works of art, I had to take The Sopranos over Deadwood, mainly because it felt that both shows seemed to be covering similar territory (although it must be said that later episodes of Deadwood would be able to hold their head up high agains The Sopranos).

I started watching The Wire just after Season 3 had ended, after hearing rapturous praise through various critics. What surprises me now is how slowly the obsession took hold, from being mildly impressed by the first episode, to desperately fiending for my fix once I had blazed through all 3 seasons, and waiting expectantly for the fourth to come.

Whilst The Wire boasts style, snappy dialogue, humour, intriguing characters and great performances, these are attributes which could easily be found in both Deadwood and The Sopranos. What it does better than everyone else is the way it presents the stories and actions of individuals and puts them in context of a much wider picture.

To a certain degree, both The Sopranos and Deadwood too often fall prey to male empowerment fantasies as well. Tony Soprano effectively walks on water, getting away with his crimes, sleeping with any beautiful woman who is thrown at him, and generally getting by on raw testosterone and barely checked aggression. He's like James Bond without the gadgets, and with a gut. The fact that the shows promos were photographed in a variety of symbolic, highly stylized shoots by Annie Liebovitz shows how far the show had glorified its characters, clearly buying into its own mythology, whilst simultaneously trying to show the audience that they were all lowlifes.

Similarly, the men in Deadwood, although to varying degrees, are all subversions of the Western archetypes, there still exists an undoubted machismo in their portrayal. The theory of "might makes right" is more appropriate to a time and a setting where lawlwessness is prevalent, and as a result, it can't help but make heroes out of its leading characters, even if they are as amoral as Al Swearengen, who practically becomes a hero by default as soon as Hearst moves in.

The Wire breaks this mould in that it seems at first to be inviting the audience to glorify in the antics of characters, most notably Omar Little, but in the end it shatters those illusions. We don't have any heroes here, and we have no central protagonist. In a world which is largely run by committee, and shaped by large, faceless systems, this is incredibly appropriate.

Unknown said...

An interesting choice between The Sopranos and The Wire in terms of the buttons they push: the personal vs. the political. (We don't see Stringer Bell going to no shrink)

In a Sopranos episode, David Chase may be holding up a mirror to my vanities and self-delusions, but even if my short term resolutions prove as futile as Tony's, I can always find a reason to be cheerful--at least I'm not as screwed up as Pere Soprano et al.

In a Wire episode, David Simon takes on The System. My corner is safe, my kids go to good schools, but the show is a nagging reminder about those who can't say that. When I'm done watching, I don't just feel bad, but also kinda helpless. When resourceful, committed characters like Bunny Colvin can't get anything done, how exactly am I supposed to fix things?

Bleak and Bleaker perhaps?

Cinemania said...

This is a Micky Mantle vs. Willie Mays argument. While Mantle had greater individual seasons, and a valuable career peak, Mays had the greater career value because he stayed healthy and lasted much, much longer. Deadwood is Mantle, with its fantastic peak performance in s1 and 2, but a drop off in s3, while The Wire and Sopranos are Mays, with their longer runs, slightly lesser peaks of brilliance and, for lack of a better word, accumulated greatness.

I've always loved the Mick, but Mays gave us more highlights because he held onto his skills much longer.

My ranking:

1. The Wire
2. Deadwood
3. The Sopranos

Anonymous said...

I liked and respected Deadwood. I love the Sopranos. But The Wire was the deepest, most real and most importantly, most consistent of the three.

There were no Test Dream episodes of The Wire.

If I could erase my memory of all three and enjoy it fresh all over again, I'd choose The Wire.

How lucky we are to live in a time where we can even have this debate. A time when a solid show like The Riches or House has a hard time cracking my list of the ten best dramas on the air.

Anonymous said...

Unless the finale is an absolute stinker, you are correct Alan, the Wire takes it.

The only other show I can see rivaling it in the future is Mad Men.

Mal said...

ested in that comment about McShane's career in England. I must say he's best known here in the UK for his role in the 80s/early 90s as 'Lovejoy' - a pretty awful show it must be said. However, I think the most successful role of his i've seen (not yet caught up on Deadwood) is in the Film 'Sexy Beast'. A wonderful example, Marlo style, of being quiet, polite, and unbelievably threatening.

Anonymous said...

Alan, love reading your thoughts on everything but with this one I have to ask if the article will spoil Deadwood or The Sopranos significantly?

I'm only one season into both and have stumbled into spoilers for The Sopranos so many times I'm avoiding them for Deadwood as best I can!

Thanks! Can't wait for your thoughts on The Wire finale!

Unknown said...

Good list of semi-finalists: Hill Street Blues, Homicide, both groundbreaking in the way that the Sopranos was.

A more recent sleeper: Thief with Andre Braugher on F/X a couple years ago.

Not on DVD, of course, but maybe Itunes eventually.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan, love reading your thoughts on everything but with this one I have to ask if the article will spoil Deadwood or The Sopranos significantly?

We do talk about big moments from late in both series' runs, so you may want to avoid it.

The Burack's said...

The great thing is ho well you guys get the shows and understand their place. I was listening to a podcast on ESPN between Bill Simmons and Jason Whitlock (formerly of ESPN) who are both huge Wire fans. However listening to the podcast i realized they didnt really get the point of what the show means. I've tried to say to many people that the three shows you mentioned plus mad men are modern day literature. Talking about the Dickensian aspect, if Dickens wrote today, it would be on HBO, and you three nail that home. Great listening to the show. Let's hope one the "Daves" can do it again.

Anonymous said...

Sopranos was OK at best. The themes and plots became way too repetitive. And thumbs down for not having one nude scene of Meadow. The finale was great though.
Deadwood was great until the last season. It was just so anti-climatic that it soured my opinion on the series as a whole. I mean come on, you have Hearst with his thugs, the Earp bros and let's not forget about Bullock's skill with the iron, and the only one who shoots a gun in the finale is Trixie? F@ck that. At least we got a glimpse of Calamity Jane's knockers. I love that Robin Weigert! Hopefully, the writers of Life can find a way to get her and that female detective in bed together. Now that would be Must See TV!
And then David Milch goes on to create the abomination that was John From Cincinnati?
The Wire wins hands down for its scope and consistency. Anyone disagree, meet me in the parking lot after work.

Anonymous said...

Alan, eager to listen but I am about two eps behind on the Wire (disgraceful I know but I've a got two year old who's been running me ragged)...will anything be spoiled...I'm all up to date on Sopranos and Deadwood...and without having listened I'd have to go
1: Wire
2: Deadwood
3: Sopranos

While I didn't love all of Deadwood it just had too many amazing performances, Ian McShane...

I'm sorry but nothing comes close to the Wire.

And to the poster trying to lure you to Chicago, back off or else we will have to get all Jersey on you.

Alan Sepinwall said...

K, do not listen (or read the transcript) until you're caught up. We spoil a whole lot of stuff about episodes 8 & 9.

Anonymous said...

When Deadwood and The Wire were on at the same time - one show's season would follow the other - I would alternate between which one I liked best. I wonder if Deadwood was on now, if it might be the more praised show.

I love 'em both but Deadwood is the one that I can watch over and over. Like Matt says the highs are so high and the lows so low.

I also thought the last season of Deadwood was exceptional until the last episode, which has grown on me.

Season 4 and 5 of the Wire - while just amazing and great - are so sad. I've had a harder time re-watching episodes.

The Sopranos is good but seems so finite in subject matter compared to the other two.

Eric said...

By the way, Alan, you were referenced by name in the Bill Simmons/Jason Whitlock podcast mentioned above.

Anonymous said...

the 10th ep leaked earlier today by all accounts.

Anonymous said...

I take it that these three showrunners all have their own hands, but they come from different moms, right?

--bad dad