“The Wire is dissent. It is perhaps the only storytelling on television that overtly suggests that our political and economic and social constructs are no longer viable, that our leadership has failed us relentlessly, and that no, we are not going to be all right.” —Series creator David Simon
In the last few months, I’ve managed to rope two of my closest friends into one of my personal obsessions, HBO’s The Wire. It has become the standard by which I judge everything in popular culture that tries to deal with crime and race and class. (I recently read a review of American Gangster that almost perfectly echoed what I’d told a friend about how The Wire, improbably, ruined that movie for me.)
I’m pretty sure my incessant lobbying on the show’s behalf was annoying as hell, but I’m just glad my friends started watching. With the DVD of its incredible fourth season out today and the show’s fifth and final season premiering next month, I have a perfectly flimsy news peg around which to further spread the gospel, so here goes: The Wire is almost certainly the best show on TV, and arguably the greatest show ever.
In it’s first two seasons, it was an exceptionally smart study of a criminal organization in Baltimore and the police charged with taking it down. The drug dealers weren’t incompetent and short-sighted as they’re so often portrayed; there was real savvy and intelligence mixed in with their brutality, and many of them doing the only things they knew how to make money or have standing among the people who matter to them. The police, for their part, weren’t selfless and heroic, but clock-punchers who just want to keep their heads down, get through their shifts, and retire. It’s a show about workplaces, albeit workplaces in which all the employees carry heat. And no show has ever given this much screen time to such a dizzying array of black principal characters. Detectives, corner boys, lawyers, teachers, ex-cons, hitmen, store owners, doctors, reporters, politicians, stick-up artists. There’s no way this show would have worked on network TV.
Somewhere in the third season — I personally think it was the introduction of Police Major Bunny Colvin — the show went morphed from simply being gripping and engrossing to something much angrier. Bunny is essentially a stand-in for show creator David Simon (many of his lines are taken verbatim from Simon’s excellent book, The Corner), and thus gets license to pose some very interesting and troubling questions about the war on drugs.
The show is a damning indictment of the tired platitudes and clichés we use when discussing the problems of inner-cities. And it doesn’t offer easy rewards to anyone’s idealism — not Bunny’s or the viewers’. The fourth season, which focuses on four young boys who live and go to school in the neighborhood where the cops and dealers ply their respective trades, is relentlessly heartbreaking. The kids are old enough to sell packages, but young enough to still believe in zombies; you root for the quartet even as the neighborhood they live and chill in exerts its cruel, indiscriminate gravity.
Because of all that, it’s a hard show to watch. But if you give it a chance, you won’t be able not to. So come holler at this Kool-Aid right quick.
- “Some of my best friends are black.” A fascinating post over at Racialicious about how the minefield that is race plays out in interracial friendships. “Race was not a precious topic between Mona and I. We discussed it openly. I explained the black women and hair thing. She talked about what it was like as a white woman to date black men. Then something changed.”
- Glamour magazine editor-in-chief: “Some of my best friends have nappy hair.” Glamour magazine issued a mea culpa in response to that much-publicized story in American Lawyer magazine wherein one of the magazine’s staffers told workers at a seminar on workplace fashion that black women rocking natural hair was a fashion don’t. Said Glamour editor in chief Cindy Leive, “Glamour did not, does not, and would never endorse the comments made; we are a magazine that believes in the beauty of all women. This incident was treated very seriously by Glamour management, and the staffer has since resigned. We’ve extended a full apology to the law firm she addressed, and I extend the same apology to all of you.”
- Imus: “Cheney is still a war criminal and Hillary is still Satan.” Don Imus returned to radio yesterday, saying that he wanted a fresh start and had been chastened by his experience eight months ago when he was kicked off the air for calling the Rutgers basketball team “nappy-headed hos.”
- Drink shit and die. Would you drink water that was recycled from sewage? Millions of folks in drought-stricken California are about to.