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The Wire (2002-2008)

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#41 Jason Panella

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Posted 03 October 2008 - 06:26 PM

QUOTE (Russ @ Oct 3 2008, 05:44 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Nick, I can understand your hesitancy, but the show really stands apart from the other HBO/cable shows with regard to that sort of thing. There's none of that nudity-as-set-dressing that people came to expect from THE SOPRANOS, and somewhere in the third season the show's sporadic nude scenes pretty much go away altogether. As far as violence goes, there are way, way more violent acts, and more graphically depicted, in a typical episode of those forensic shows. Yes, there's quite a bit of profanity, but I honestly don't feel that any of it is soul-deadening. And I think people talk like that. Before I was able to get the DVDs from my local library, I tried to catch a few episodes on BET, too. While I'm grateful they tried to syndicate the show, it was absolutely awful in that format, so I'm not surprised you hated it. One of the aesthetic and narrative upsides to the show running on HBO as I see it is the ability to avoid the choppy act-structure breaks necessitated by commercials and the unnecessary establishing shot throat-clearing coming out of commercial breaks, so the show isn't built to be hacked up like that. And apart from Simon and Burns, the show has employed people to read the scripts to make sure the black characters aren't speaking middle-aged white guy.

Give it another shot on DVD.


The only season that suffers from the "Hey, we're on HBO!" syndrome is the first, and only when they're in Orlando's strip club, and maybe one other spot. ("Hey, look! Lesbians!")

In a weird way, the second season is the most shocking with nudity, but it fits into the plot without being set-dressing-ish. (I'm thinking of Ziggy's, um, wild impulses.)

Listen to Russ. You still may not like it, but it works.

#42 Nick Alexander

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Posted 03 October 2008 - 10:11 PM

QUOTE (Russ @ Oct 3 2008, 05:44 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Nick, I can understand your hesitancy, but the show really stands apart from the other HBO/cable shows with regard to that sort of thing. There's none of that nudity-as-set-dressing that people came to expect from THE SOPRANOS, and somewhere in the third season the show's sporadic nude scenes pretty much go away altogether.
But the interesting thing is, I actually LIKE the Sopranos in its format on A&E. Believe me, I hate the commercial breaks as much as anybody, but when a script is solid, it manages to be funny and shocking and touching and profound despite its use of the word "freakin'" and perhaps moreso when the nudity (almost always a distraction) is blurred. I checked my favorites with the favorites on imdb, and it is clear that most fans of the Sopranos and I are in sync.

QUOTE
As far as violence goes, there are way, way more violent acts, and more graphically depicted, in a typical episode of those forensic shows. Yes, there's quite a bit of profanity, but I honestly don't feel that any of it is soul-deadening. And I think people talk like that.

I didn't mean to sound like "people didn't cuss" in the inner cities. I meant that colloquial double-meanings while teaching each other how to play chess is most definitely how people do NOT talk in real life. Sorry. I know. I went to a high school in the inner city, and I was a part of the chess club there. Never did the posse-members and the chess geeks meet.

Some things are just so fictitious, it strains credibility, even as the writers strive for resonance, or character depth.

BTW, I am not unnerved by violence or gore. I'm not even unnerved by language, provided that it works. But as a married man, I just don't want my eyes wandering... and I find that these cable-ready shows that have a fixed locale in one of these seedy "Gentlemen's clubs"--I simply have no time for that. Like I wrote above, it's almost as if the writers sensed they may be losing their audience, so they threw in a scene or two just to wake them up.

In fact, in this past issue of Rolling Stone magazine, (the comedy issue), Gary Schandling shared that the HBO execs were telling him that there was too LITTLE raunch on his Larry Sanders Show, and demanded that they step it up. It's stories like this that confirm the conservative viewer's worst nightmare--that story is clearly taking a back seat for exploitive detours. Rave reviews notwithstanding, no thanks.

I suspect that it won't be long for Entourage to be syndicated. I enjoyed season 1, but save for language, I noticed that the raunch factor seemed to grow exponentially as the second half of that season commenced. I wait with bated breath.

But if season 2 heads away from the seedy strip clubs of Baltimore, and I can catch up on the story from there, I will give it a try. It will only be a few more weeks until it begins...

Nick

#43 smith_chip

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 08:55 AM

QUOTE (Nick Alexander @ Oct 3 2008, 10:11 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE
As far as violence goes, there are way, way more violent acts, and more graphically depicted, in a typical episode of those forensic shows. Yes, there's quite a bit of profanity, but I honestly don't feel that any of it is soul-deadening. And I think people talk like that.

I didn't mean to sound like "people didn't cuss" in the inner cities. I meant that colloquial double-meanings while teaching each other how to play chess is most definitely how people do NOT talk in real life. Sorry. I know. I went to a high school in the inner city, and I was a part of the chess club there. Never did the posse-members and the chess geeks meet.

That is a great scene, precisely because it sets up the conflict of the thinking man in the drug trade. D is not a normal "posse-member." But the game is not made up of just corner boys. Talented, intelligent men (mostly) get involved, rise to the top, and are required to think strategically about their "business." Part of the tragedy of the game is the way that those corner boys are seen as disposable, both by respectable society and by the Stringer's and the Barksdale's. Kind of like chess.

When I was working in urban Pittsburgh neighborhoods, there was a group of older black men who established a little ministry teaching gang-bangers to play chess. They didn't use the same kind of language that DeAngelo, Bodie, or Poot use in that scene, but when the teens were hanging out together, they certainly did.

QUOTE
BTW, I am not unnerved by violence or gore. I'm not even unnerved by language, provided that it works. But as a married man, I just don't want my eyes wandering... and I find that these cable-ready shows that have a fixed locale in one of these seedy "Gentlemen's clubs"--I simply have no time for that. Like I wrote above, it's almost as if the writers sensed they may be losing their audience, so they threw in a scene or two just to wake them up.


They stop spending time in Orlando's after season 1. The locale that take's Orlando's place is quite a bit different! It definitely feels to me more like "Look, we're on HBO" than "we better throw some nudity on the screen to keep the audience's attention." The whole approach of The Wire is the slow build.

QUOTE
But if season 2 heads away from the seedy strip clubs of Baltimore, and I can catch up on the story from there, I will give it a try. It will only be a few more weeks until it begins...

I'd be the first to say that The Wire is not for everyone. You might want to read some kind of recap of season 1 before jumping into season 2. If you are going to try again, committ to watching at least 5 or 6 episodes before making a judgment on the show. It might not take that many episodes to decide that watching the show would not be beneficial to you, but the only way to understand the story is to give it that much time.

#44 Russ

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Posted 06 October 2008 - 02:42 PM




Since we're talkin' about it, might as well embed it.

Nick, we're on the same page. The first time I saw that scene, I thought it was probably too purple, or too neat a summary of the subtext. It grew on me, though, and now I can't get enough of it. D'Angelo explains to Bodie and Wallace that every piece in chess plays a particular role. That role is preordanied by the piece's shape. This speech has to come from D'Angelo; if it was coming from any of the other hoppers, corner boys or middlemen, I'd readily agree that it's out of place. Without spoiling things, that scene and its larger implications end up being the summation of the series. Metaphorically, this small g game is the referent for the big g game that's talked about throughout. Bodie takes us back to this moment later on near the end of the series, and we realize that it was all laid out for us from the start.

Chip's right that the show demonstrates that surviving the upper echelons of the drug trade requires skill and intelligence and some people skills, much like any other job. It's apt that Stringer Bell studies macroeconomics. But the show is also relentlessly about the determinism that imprisons people whose limitations or circumstances doesn't permit them to be anything other than what they're expected to be. D'Angelo tells those guys about the chess pieces, and it's appropriate that he'd do so because he's built differently than most of the other bangers. He's empathetic, like Wallace, and he has the capacity to look critically at his situation. But he's the heir to an operation that doesn't have any room for those qualities. He's a round peg in a square hole, or a rook that wants to be a knight. And he's not the only one-- Prez, Wallace, Cutty, Dukie-- all of them struggle hard against those pre-established roles and the expectations that accompany them.

That's bigger than anything Wallace or Bodie can take away from that, though, because they're too sobered by the realization that in the game, they're the pawns. They're the soldiers, and they're expendable. And while we're talking about comparative locations, we've got to mention that in the first season of The Wire, apart from the dingy cop squad room (the stock setting for every crime drama ever filmed), the second most commonly-used location in the show is that orange counch in the Pit. Which is pretty great.

But here's what's really genius about the chess vs. checkers scene: it perfectly encapsulates the inescapable, crushing tragedy of The Wire. Bodie and Wallace want to play checkers with a chess board, and D'Angelo laughs at them. Sure, checkers is a simple game-- a kid's game-- while chess is for refined savants. The difference between the two games goes deeper, though. Checkers is a fundamentally egalitarian game. Each piece is worth the same as any other, has the same mission as any other and has the same chance to get kinged-- to become, as Bodie says, top dog. Chess is completely different. Every piece has its role, and is forced to play that role. Sure, D'Angelo allows, any pawn can become a Queen, but we know that's not a realistic outcome. Those pawns are there to die. Everybody serves the King.

Where The Wire breaks my heart is in the way in which it so effectively illustrates this clean and terrible divide: in your life you are either playing the game of checkers, or you are playing the game of chess. That is to say, some of us believe with reason that we are as valuable as any other piece, that we will be treated as such, and as a result can act as such, while others know that they are trapped in their role, and given one limited role to play, and are not expected to do anything other than die. Some know which game or the other they are playing, and some tortured souls know they are in one game and want to be in the other, but can't find the way out. And so Dukie says, "How do you get to the other side of the world?" And Cutty replies, "I wish I knew."

Chip, are you a Mt. Lebo native? I worked with a woman a few years ago whose son had the same name as you, so that's potentially pretty strange.

Jason, do you ever make it into Oakland? I know you're over in Beaver (where I've been spending a good bit of time lately), but if you're ever near Oakland on Sundays, we're running a film discussion group on Sunday nights through the next four weeks at church (First Trinity Lutheran at 535 N. Neville). Last night we did The Night of the Hunter, while in the forthcoming weeks we're doing Au Hasard Balthazar, My Night at Maud's, Ostrov and Stromboli. And we managed to avoid any conflicts with Steeler Holy Days.

Edited by Russ, 06 October 2008 - 02:52 PM.


#45 Nick Alexander

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Posted 06 October 2008 - 03:18 PM

Russ...

Thanks. That was a mouthful, but very eloquently stated. I may begrudgingly have to give the series a second shot.

Nick

#46 Jason Panella

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Posted 06 October 2008 - 04:15 PM

QUOTE (Russ @ Oct 6 2008, 03:42 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Jason, do you ever make it into Oakland? I know you're over in Beaver (where I've been spending a good bit of time lately), but if you're ever near Oakland on Sundays, we're running a film discussion group on Sunday nights through the next four weeks at church (First Trinity Lutheran at 535 N. Neville). Last night we did The Night of the Hunter, while in the forthcoming weeks we're doing Au Hasard Balthazar, My Night at Maud's, Ostrov and Stromboli. And we managed to avoid any conflicts with Steeler Holy Days.


Russ, that chess summation was so well put. Thank you. I know how important that scene is in so many ways, but I feel like you highlighted so many more nuances that slipped past me.

Sunday nights are rough for me (not necessarily because of Steelers, either I'm one of the few western Pennsylvanians that remain apathetic to football! Shock, I know). I usually ended by church's evening service in addition to the morning. But, I'll see if I can make it up sometime. The Night of the Hunter is such a great movie, too! Would've been great to catch that.

If you're ever in Beaver Falls, swing by the Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea Co. I helped so friends start it a few years ago, and while I no longer work there am there almost every day to read or do work. The coffee/tea/beverages/food is out of this world.

#47 smith_chip

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Posted 06 October 2008 - 05:46 PM

Great post, Russ. I also love that scene.

QUOTE (Russ @ Oct 6 2008, 02:42 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Chip, are you a Mt. Lebo native? I worked with a woman a few years ago whose son had the same name as you, so that's potentially pretty strange.

Nope, I moved to Pittsburgh to go to CMU, and then stuck around for 5 years after graduating. The time that I mentioned in the above post was mostly spent in Garfield, but also in East Liberty and Larimer.

#48 Christian

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 01:06 PM

Finished with Season 1, which started fine and ended strong. My favorite character? The guy who makes dollhouse furniture. I'm terrible with names -- I think it's Lester.

The first four discs of Season 2 are waiting for me, but I won't pick them up until later this week.

#49 Jason Panella

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 03:16 PM

Cool Lester Smooth (Lester Freeman) is amazing. Glad you're liking it, Christian. smile.gif

#50 Christian

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Posted 19 January 2009 - 09:00 AM

How does Season 3 rate against the other seasons of this show? How 'bout Season 4?

I'd heard -- maybe I've posted about this already; will have to check if this post is redundant -- that Season 4 was a letdown, but then I heard elsewhere that Season 4 was great. I've heard Season 2 is the best. But based on the three seasons I've seen so far, I think Season 3 is the strongest.

I'm willing to be argued out of this, not having had more than 12 hours to ruminate on this topic since completing Season 3.

If you haven't previously posted your ranking of the different seasons, please do so.

Oh -- is there a Season 5? I saw a single-disc labeled Season 5 and thought to myself, "Didn't The Wire last only four seasons?"

EDIT: I really should read through the previous posts in a thread before spouting off with my amiss theories, shouldn't I? Chip says the show grows progressively better, not worse, and Jason's 5-star ratings of Seasons 3 and 4 seem to agree.

BTW, guess who's appearing at Arlington's Central Library -- the library that I walk to each week to check out The Wire and all my other DVDs (and books and audiobooks and music CDs) -- next Monday night?

George Pelecanos.

I have to be out next Tuesday night, so I'm negotiating with Sarah to be out two nights in a row. I plan to take my copy of Soul Circus along to be signed by the author, and to think up one or two Wire-related questions I might ask.

Edited by Christian, 19 January 2009 - 09:19 AM.


#51 MattP

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Posted 19 January 2009 - 09:17 AM

QUOTE (Christian @ Jan 19 2009, 09:00 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
How does Season 3 rate against the other seasons of this show? How 'bout Season 4?

I'd heard -- maybe I've posted about this already; will have to check if this post is redundant -- that Season 4 was a letdown, but then I heard elsewhere that Season 4 was great. I've heard Season 2 is the best. But based on the three seasons I've seen so far, I think Season 3 is the strongest.

I'm willing to be argued out of this, not having had more than 12 hours to ruminate on this topic since completing Season 3.

If you haven't previously posted your ranking of the different seasons, please do so.

Oh -- is there a Season 5? I saw a single-disc labeled Season 5 and thought to myself, "Didn't The Wire last only four seasons?"

My ranking for the first four seasons (yes, there is a season 5, but I've only just started it because I wanted to re-watch all of the first four seasons first) is either 2, 1, 3, 4 (where 2 is the worse, up to 4 being the best) or 1-4, with all four seasons getting progressively better. I'm a little torn on whether I like 1 or 2 better, but there's not question I liked 3 better than either of those, and 4 the best of all.

Btw, here's the metacritic page for season 4. An AVERAGE of 98 out of 100. If you read through the little review blurbs, it doesn't look like many people shared the "letdown" view of season 4. Enjoy!



#52 Christian

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Posted 19 January 2009 - 09:21 AM

Thanks, popechild. I was just adding an EDIT to my previous post when your post "crossed" in the thread.

#53 Jason Panella

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Posted 19 January 2009 - 09:34 AM

There were five seasons. The show wrapped up last March. 60 episodes total, though the fifth season was only 10 episodes long (compared to the 12 13 of the other four).

I think many folks consider the fifth season to be a let-down, though I don't agree. I thought it was fantastic. Then again, lost of people don't like the second season either. It's one of my favorites (I'm working my way through it currently, actually, with some Wire newbies).

And Christian, listing the seasons in order of preference is really hard. I like ALL of the seasons. Out of the seasons you've watched, the third is probably the strongest I think it was with that season that they really elevated it beyond an incredible crime drama into something mythical.

That said, favorite seasons:

Four (brilliant, and that's not hyperbole it's such a strong season that I get shivers thinking about it. The introduction of the cast of children characters is heartbreaking.)
Two (I think this is the season that makes it feel like it's not just a crime drama; that and, having a large Polish ancestry, the season is personal in some ways. Frank Sobatka is such a fascinating and tragic character).
Three (As I said before, this is where the show really started to gel. They almost ended the show after this season, since it wraps up some major story arcs.)
Five (only suffers because HBO give David Simon ten episodes to tell it in. I think he does an outstanding job regardless.)
One (as classic as many of the episodes are, I feel like it struggles a bit in the beginning. Still great, of course. It just gets better from this point!)

Edited by Jason Panella, 19 January 2009 - 09:35 AM.


#54 Christian

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Posted 02 March 2009 - 11:15 AM

David Simon, on the Baltimore police and a press that's far from dogged.

#55 Michael Todd

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Posted 02 March 2009 - 08:14 PM

My rating would be:

(Season 3) - Reformation theme is great! I love it the story arcs of Stringer and Bunny.

(Season 4) - Education, Michael, Namond, Dukie, Randy, Chris, Snoop, Marlo, Prop Joe, the vacants... I can't stop. This is as close to Shakespeare as TV has ever come.

(Season 1) - Where's Wallace? Huh? Where's Wallace, String? String? String? Where's Wallace String?

(Season 2) - Curiously enough, of all the opening versions of the theme song, Waits is the best, but I felt like this season felt more like an HBO show than the others. It felt like the Sopranos as time. McNulty's dumping the bodies on Rawls is hilarious.

(Season 5) - Speaking of hilarious, this is the closest the show comes to comedy. Maybe it is because I have a close friend that reminds me very much of McNulty, and there were too many scenes that cracked me up, simply because there were direct parallels between my friend and Jimmy. I laughed hard at some of Jimmy and Lester's antic. I rank it last, but it is hard to say anything this good is last in anything.


Edited by Michael Todd, 02 March 2009 - 08:14 PM.


#56 Christian

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 01:08 PM

FWIW, Michael, my wife uttered the words "jump the shark" during one of the episodes we watched (we're still only halfway through), because she doesn't believe that McNulty would feed a fake story to the press to get funding. I find it a stretch myself, but I wonder if it's based in fact. Does Simon know that something like this happened in Baltimore? I'm curious.

#57 Jason Panella

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 04:25 PM

QUOTE (Christian @ Mar 3 2009, 01:08 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
FWIW, Michael, my wife uttered the words "jump the shark" during one of the episodes we watched (we're still only halfway through), because she doesn't believe that McNulty would feed a fake story to the press to get funding. I find it a stretch myself, but I wonder if it's based in fact. Does Simon know that something like this happened in Baltimore? I'm curious.


Ah, keep watching. You just fell into Simon's trap, it seems. For what it's worth, Simon made this intentionally unbelievable...I won't say more, but it's in there for a reason.

Edited by Jason Panella, 03 March 2009 - 04:27 PM.


#58 Christian

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 05:26 PM

Ah, cool. I don't have the final discs on hold yet -- Sarah has asked for a break. But I'll chime in once I've finished the series.

#59 MattP

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Posted 05 March 2009 - 12:49 AM

QUOTE (Jason Panella @ Mar 3 2009, 04:25 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE (Christian @ Mar 3 2009, 01:08 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
FWIW, Michael, my wife uttered the words "jump the shark" during one of the episodes we watched (we're still only halfway through), because she doesn't believe that McNulty would feed a fake story to the press to get funding. I find it a stretch myself, but I wonder if it's based in fact. Does Simon know that something like this happened in Baltimore? I'm curious.


Ah, keep watching. You just fell into Simon's trap, it seems. For what it's worth, Simon made this intentionally unbelievable...I won't say more, but it's in there for a reason.

Can you elaborate (hidden if needed)? I also found this to be an issue for me with season 5, and even though I've seen the whole thing I'm not sure what you're referring to. I'd like to be able to justify some of those choices more than I currently can.

#60 Jason Panella

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Posted 05 March 2009 - 01:20 AM

QUOTE (popechild @ Mar 5 2009, 12:49 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Can you elaborate (hidden if needed)? I also found this to be an issue for me with season 5, and even though I've seen the whole thing I'm not sure what you're referring to. I'd like to be able to justify some of those choices more than I currently can.


Well, let me ask several questions: Some people chalk Jimmy's fictitious killer makes the show enter the realm of pure fantasy, but what about Bunny's whole Hampsterdam experiment in season 2? And haven't Simon and Burns been very meticulous with how they put the show together since day one? With that said, why would they suddenly pull a 'jump the shark'? Could McNulty and Lester's scam (and how we react to it) be saying something about how...well, it's a lot bigger than it looks. I think a lot of the AV Club's recaps have lots of good insight.

Edited by Jason Panella, 05 March 2009 - 01:26 AM.






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