|01.06.15||Internet|| HBO remastered The Wire into widescreen HD and put it up just after Christmas. David Simon wrote a solid blog article about the history and process of the remaster and ultimately gave the newly-framed version of the show his blessing. I don't know why they didn't just do an HD remaster of the original 4:3 framing but whatever... this gave me the perfect excuse to watch the show again.|
Of course, the extra stuff on the edges of the screen and the high definition quickly became forgotten as I got absorbed with the characters and story so it didn't really matter, but I will say that the shot compositions never looked clunky or messy and watching in 16:9 gave me the same experience as watching in 4:3 did a few years ago.
I don't think there's a way I can match the length or detail of what I wrote the last time I watched this show, but I do want to say a couple things and reiterate how much I love this series and consider it my favorite TV show of all time.
New things I hadn't noticed before:
-Savino pops up in Season 5. I obviously saw that it was him when Omar pays him a visit but he's out and about with Marlo's crew in the episodes previous as well
-While I still didn't see the reporter from season 3 (who Bunny talks out of writing a story about Hamsterdam), I did notice that one of the Baltimore Sun characters in season 5 had a tiny scene earlier in season 3 so there was a recurrence there which I find awesome.
-I think they might have gotten some sponsorship money from Pepsi in later seasons. There's an inordinate amount of diet pepsi on screen for a while. It's a shame... that and the flashback in the pilot are the only things that break the illusion of reality for me. It's still way better than any other tv show out there and it's just my personal hunch but still... why so much pepsi!?
-I know from the commentaries that they were originally going to make it more explicit that Randy was Cheese's son but this time through I caught Cheese's given name on the board once. It may be visible a few more times but it's cool that astute viewers could still pick up the connection from the last names.
this time around my favorite theme song was season 1 and least favorite was season 4. I think season 3 is my favorite, with the penultimate episode there probably being my favorite single hour of the show. So many things culminate in that one hour that encapsulate the previous three seasons... Stringer and Avon's last scene together is amazing. Bub's last meeting in season 5 might be the best acting in the show. I felt sad as it was coming to an end but you know... it's still out there and looking better than ever... it's not going anywhere and I bet I watch it again in another few years.
|01.27.13||DVD|| Every once in a while people will talk to me about The Wire and I'll feel an urge to watch it again, yet somewhere around 61 hours is a bit too long to just go off and do one night. So I've turned 2 or 3 people onto the show and have ridden the waves of their experience and impressions for several years now. Finally, one random night, I put in Season 1 disc 1 and just started watching. |
Reiterating something from my previous note, this journal was always intended for movies and movies only. I've always had a healthy TV habit and it's gotten a bit larger these past 5 years as I've had less time to schedule theater trips or less mental energy to dive into the depths of my Netflix queue or even really keep up with Hollywood releases. Something about tv feels easier to watch for me than movies so often times, when presented with the choice, I opt for video games or tv over movies these days. I still contend that this is a phase and someday it will balance out and I'll start watching movies again but I'm getting off my topic which is I don't write about tv shows on here. But, as we all know, The Wire is not TV. It's been more than 10 years since The Wire started and I still haven't seen anything that's affected me the way this show has. Breaking Bad and Mad Men are both great shows and I do believe TV is going through a Platinum Age or whatever you call it with some of the current or recent cable and premium channels (along with a network show here or there), but it's all still TV. The Wire doesn't feel like that. You could cut the credits sequences out of every season and present it as one 12-hour piece and not know where one episode ends and the other begins. There's no callback or resets or flashbacks or inane exposition. There's just Baltimore and the people who live in it. Kintell Williamson and Detective Barlow are just as alive as Avon Barksdale and Jimmy McNulty in this world and we only see less of them because they are on the outskirts of this particular story rather than the center.
So I watched the series again, as I will probably continue to do every handful of years, because it's the best thing I've seen on TV to date.
Season One, in which we are introduced to this world and this show, meet the modern-day cops and modern-day robbers that they are chasing, and get a taste of novelistic story structure and the unforgiving bite of chain of command.
In many ways, Season One is my favorite season. I feel like the heart of the show, and really the one thread that runs through every episode, is the cops vs. the drug dealers and Season One is the most undiluted in that respect. It's also the most procedurally detailed. Shit, it takes half the season just to get the detail put together with decent talent and get the case going. I've never seen that amount of attention paid to detail before. Furthermore, I've never seen characters like Polk and Mahon on a police show before. I feel like a lot of the drug organization is kind of familiar (although never more nuanced and filled with character) but the cop stuff really blew me away. That and the pace. A common perception of the show is that it's slow. Or at least everything leading up to the last two episodes of each season are slow. That's not it; it's really because viewers are not used to such longform pacing. Every scene in every episode presents crucial information that drives the entire season and in Season One's case the entire show. Episode One in fact is unbelievable in its foundation-laying. Not only every scene but really ever line of dialogue and every camera angle means something. Watching that first episode while knowing how the next 59 play out makes for a really great experience.
And at the end, you get your first taste of bittersweet. They bring in a huge albeit compromised case, everyone gets patted on the back, then half the characters effectively lose. Stringer walks, McNulty rides the boat, Bubbles is back on dope, Daniels burns any hope of making Major. And people are still buying drugs on the corners. What a great mix of emotions to see it all play out. In many ways it's a perfect season and if they show stopped there I would've been satisfied. In many ways I couldn't see how the show could continue. I mean, the details breaks up, people go their separate ways. In a network show, all the stars need their screen time so how does that work? Little did I know...
Season Two, in which we learn about Baltimore's colorful histories stevadores, the intracicies of shipping drugs chemicals and women, prison life for a kingpin, and the perils of Polack stained glass. Also a duck drinking whiskey.
While the show was running, this season was my favorite. I was on my ass at the direction the show took and pictured The Wire as a completely different story and mostly-different cast each season (much like how American Horry Story is doing things I think). The dock workers, The Greek, White Mike, Frog, South Baltimore... couldn't be more different from the towers and pit of West Baltimore. As I watch it again I'm struck by how much connective tissue - following Avon and Stringer and D'Angelo, screen time given to McNulty and Freamon and Bunk, Daniels comes out of the basement relatively quickly - there is. It's much less a departure than Season Four, but still this is the first time the show establishes a different mini-protagonist for each season following that season's "message" or theme. In this case it's Frank Sabotka, Nicky and Ziggy: struggling dock workers who turn to the easy money of letting smuggled cargo slip through their port. It doesn't really end well for any of them. Whereas the first season could be described as a police procedural done very very well, this season really exposes the ambition and scale that Simon and Burns are targeting. It raises the show to be about more than McNulty vs. Stringer. We get our first real glimpses of the east side crew, Prop Joe's crew. Brother Muzone comes on the scene. We also get comfortable with the fact that Omar is a recurring character and our favorite dude in the show.
Watching it again, I noticed that the actual case comes together much faster this season. Once it gets going, it seems like the actual timeline is just a few weeks. They're ready to hit the main stash relatively quickly. I also noticed that all the white guys on the show flip and give up information while all the black dudes stand tall. It could've been a hell of a case if all that dope wasn't washed down the drain the night before. Plus how great was the moment where they get Nicky in and ask him to identify the guy who Vondas met with and they found out that they inadvertently have a photo of The Greek without even knowing it!? I was so taken with this season that I remember being initially let down in that season three returned to Stringer and the west side. I wanted to see another facet of the city as different as the docks were to the pit.
Season Three, in which we learn the dangers of attempting reform against big bad institutions manifested in a cop who legalizes drugs, a drug dealer who civilizes the game, and a tiny glimmer of hope in an ex-con who trades his whistle in for a lawn mower.
Season three is my favorite season. When it aired I was a bit disappointed at coming back to Barksdale & Bell but in the context of the completed series it's the highlight for me. Mostly because of two of my favorite characters: Dennis "Cutty" Wise and my main man Bunny Colvin. It also has my favorite rendition of the theme song.
A note about the opening titles. They are amazing. Little distilled visions of each season often told with iconic or representative images that only make sense on second viewing. The fact that the montage changes from season to season along with the song is innovative. Other shows like Weeds have since done the same thing with less effect (not to say the Weeds titles weren't interesting). I also like how there's some representative of a wire as the second shot each season. For the songs, all variants of Tom Waits' "Way Down in the Hole," give great tone to each season. We start with Simon's and exec producer Bob Colesberry's favorite version performed by Blind Boys of Alabama in the first season (which is also reprised in Season 5's end montage). Season 2 uses Waits' original recording. Season 3 was The Neville Brothers (who have since appeared in some fashion on Treme). Season 4 was by a group credited as DoMaJe who were all Baltimore teenagers, and the show finishes off with a version done by Steve Earle who plays Walon in The Wire and Harley in Treme. I get that Season 4's version being recorded by students resonates and it's not bad by any means but it's still my least favorite. To my personal taste, I'd rank them in this order:
1. The Neville Brothers (Season Three)
2. Tom Waits (Season Two)
3. Steve Earle (Season Five)
4. Blind Boys of Alabama (Season One)
5. DoMaJe (Season Four)
Truthfully they're all great, and it's pretty close to a 3- or 4-way tie for first, but something about the layered rhythms and knee-shaking horn hits sticks in my head longer than the other versions and for that reason alone I have to give it the crown.
Season Three probably has more going on than any other season. We see the return of Barksdale, the rise of Marlo, Cutty on the outside, Carcetti at the starting line, The Major Crimes unit at their most productive, Bubbles separating from Johnny, Clarence Royce being mayoral as a motherfucker, and the two big ones: Hamsterdam and Stringer's downfall. The end of the season felt like the end of the show to many. Still a major upset point I think although to me no less upsetting than D'Angelo's departure in Season 2. Plus we finally got to see Omar and Brother Muzone get on the same wavelength. For me this is the pinnacle.
Let's spend a few minutes talking about how great Cutty Wise and Bunny Colvin are. Both of their arcs are tremendous.
There's really no question that Bunny's Hamsterdam experiment would fail. That it raised interesting questions and was portrayed in a way that looked like, given another 12 months of resource allocation and development, it would be considered a real success all but demanded that the bosses kill it. And bunny knew it all right at the beginning, but still he tried it. Robert Wisdom's performance of these great scenes like the brown paper bag and telling Carver what real policework is and his interplay with Deacon or officer Mello is really something to see. When he sees "Bushy Top" McNulty at Major Crimes, his happiness mixed with a resigned knowledge that he's as big an asshole as his is good police is all conveyed with just a few lines but you get it. Really great stuff. It's really hard to pick a single favorite character in the show (and not have it be Omar), but Bunny's up there at the top.
Dennis Cutty Wise isn't especially noble or good like Bunny, but he's honest about himself which is utterly charming. I feel like Cutty is the most clearly Pelecanos-ian influence on the show. To me he shares a marked resemblance to the main character in his book Drama City (which I liked quite a lot). His journey through the show, having no patience for the straight life, finding that the game's no longer in him, trying to do something productive, and ultimately maturing into a responsible positive influence on the community is one of the show's few unabashed successes. He stands with Bubbles and maybe Freamon as having a clear happy ending. All of these are valid reasons to love this guy, but it's Chad Coleman's portrayal that really gives him life.
Unfortunately, Season Three also introduces one of the very few misfires in the show for me in the form of political campaign whatever Theresa D'Agostino. The part called for a hot girl who could also play smart. This is crass and I'm kind of ashamed to say it but she just wasn't hot enough for the role. She plays like she has McNulty eating out of her ass but really the waitress with the pierced lip and colored hair that offers him "whatever he wants" after he crashes his car twice was hotter than she was. Plus her character acts pretty ugly so she needs to be that much hotter to counter-balance that and she just wasn't. I feel like everyone else was cast 100% perfectly from the assistant principle to Horseface on the docks to Polk and Mahone to Old Face Andre. Really some of the best casting in any tv show or hell any movie ever. So that really makes D'Agostino stand out to me. I can't stand her. Mostly because her character's crap (which is cool because that's intended) but also because... well anyway. I mean Council President Nerese who butted heads with Carcetti because he jumped the Mayoral "line" pulled off the same dynamic flawlessly.
Anyway, so much to love in the whole show but Season Three specifically.
Season Four, in which McNulty cleans up his act and gets left off the call sheets, Prez starts a new career, Chris and Snoop take up home improvement, Carcetti brings in a new day, Marlo aims for the crown, and four little boys become very different men.
This seems to be the season that most people point to as their favorite of the series. I've read that Pelecanos called it perfect television that he couldn't imagine how to make any better. If I thought Season Two was a departure, you'd think I would've been absolutely blown away by Season Four. All this stuff about the schools, McNulty's barely in the show now and Major Crimes in shambles thanks to one Lt. Marrimow; yet by this time I kind of expected as much from the show so to me it seems like business as usual. The targeting of education and the school systems, while unique and authentic and everything else, kind of hammers home the point of yet another institution is broken and trying to fix it will result in merciless defeat. However, the finale offers the brightest ray of hope and proves to be the closest to a "happy ending" that the show ever gets.
I really like this season but it's the first that's not in contention for my favorite. The vacuum left by Bell and Barksdale can't really be ignored even though Marlo's group steps up to try and fill the space. I feel like Marlo's day really comes in Season Five so this is kind of a season in transition for me. The school stuff is great though, and seeing Bunny Colvin interact with the kids is amazing. They also did a remarkable job casting the young leads and coaching them into their performances. Too often, especially in TV, child actors come off as just that. These kids felt 100% real. I feel like maybe Randy's the weakest link but still he does fine work and in the final two episodes proves that he has real chops.
I remember when this season aired it was almost like HBO was fed up with its viewers. The promos used Ball of Confusion by The Temptations with a kind of aggressive soul as if to say "Come on! Why are you fuckers not watching this show!!" I think they also played the first episode at the Alamo (it was either this season or three, I can't really remember which) when they were first trying out their "free admission but buy a $15 food voucher to secure your seat!" thing. I guess it worked out way better for shows like Lost because only about a dozen people showed up for this. All Henri could say in his intro was "I'm glad to see this in a theater so I can tell everybody around me to shut up" like this is usually some huge party show or something that people love to tell stories during. Anyway, I don't think that may people watched this season just like every other. It's really a shame. Not that I think the show had 14 more seasons in it but I feel like if it had just a bit more viewers to match the critical response, we would've gotten a full-length fifth season and who knows maybe one more.
In any case, this is a great season. It's really largely buld-up for season five though. Certainly with Freamon taking all season just to find Marlo's bodies and McNulty deciding to come back off the beat and work a meaty case and Carcetti promising a brighter tomorrow. I don't think the full impact of the school's devastating amount of debt really sank in until Season Five aired.
Season Five, in which McNulty is drinking again, serial killers are preying on the homeless, familiar faces are glimpsed and loose ends are tied, Bubs finally gets invited upstairs, and we find out that the newspapers are just as fucked as the police, docks, poltics, and schools.
The last season is kind of everybody's least favorite season. Three main reasons make it so: One is that the show is ending so that sucks, Two is that it's only ten episodes long rather than twelve or thirteen like every other season, and Three is that McNulty's whole fake serial killer thing seems too radical or unbelievable. I am personally only bothered by one of those factors given that the show has to end sometime but the serial killer storyline most likely would've played more realistically if they had just a few more hours to play with pacing. Evaluating the idea on paper, it seems a perfect end to the series in that it's the ultimate stat juke; McNulty uses the various institutions like a computer hacker exploits security holes. It just seems to come about too suddenly.
When the season aired, the first half or so leaked online and I couldn't resist watching the episodes that I could find (which happened to not be consecutive). That screwed up my initial impression a little bit, but I also had to spend some time going "WTF!? What happened to all the great stuff that was promised at the end of season four!" McNulty's drinking again, the police are more underfunded and devoid of morale than ever, there's this other institution of newspapers which by this point is preordained to be broken. Gus, by virtue of showing any integrity at all in the first episode is all but guaranteed an unhappy ending.
Yet so many moments shine through. Omar on the balcony, "How my hair look, Mike?" and "My name IS MY NAME!" Goodnight popo, goodnight dope fiends; Dickensian, Bubbles opening up in group, and a bunch of others that I've forgotten because it's taken me too damn long to write this. It's really a surprising amount of great scenes given everybody's agreement on this season's shortcomings.
And so ends the best show ever. A ~60-hour cinematic novel more than a tv show, The Wire will probably always be my favorite TV show of all time. I didn't read my first set of notes before writing this so hopefully it's not a complete replica and maybe I threw some extra stuff in this thirty five hundred words that I missed the last time but I bet it's pretty similar. I know I loved it as much this time as I ever have before. I do wish Simon and HBO would come to the agreement that you can be just as gritty In HD 4:3 as you can in SD 4:3 and release some damn blu-rays. Maybe that will make the perfect excuse to watch it next time, although I'm sure even on DVD I'll find some reason to revisit in a couple years. I always do.
|12.19.07||DVD|| The Wire. When I started this site I gave myself two rules: I wouldn't create an entry for a movie I didn't see all the way through (or at least sit through. Sleep and multi-tasking are allowed) and I wouldn't include any TV. So why am I putting The Wire on my site? Here are a few reasons (that people who already watch the show invariably know):|
-It's the best show on TV. Maybe ever.
-Each episode (and certainly the show as a whole) is better than most movies
-It's my journal so I do what I want.
Plus I just re-watched seasons 1-4 in anticipation of January's premiere of season 5 so I'm in the mood to talk about it and it also explains why this site has been so inactive lately (hey, close to 50 hours in 9 days isn't too shabby). So if you've heard about the show and wonder what the deal is, or maybe you've seen an episode or two and wonder why people love it so much, keep reading. If you don't like the show get the hell out.
It starts with a solid 12 hours of detail-oriented completely authentic police procedural. Kind of a modern-day take on cops n' robbers with a healthy dose of cynicism thrown in. The first season of The Wire is pretty straight forward. Sure it's harder to follow than the average network hourlong and the urban dialect is easy to lose amongst white suburbia but as you watch hour by hour, the verisimilitude seeps into your blood and you start to follow even if you don't necessarily understand every word. At its heart, it's one case. Good guys vs. Bad. But it's also about the institution. On both sides, people try to buck it and get unceremoniously crushed. I remember watching the first season as it aired and seeing the last episode and having no clue how there even COULD be a second season. I mean even if HBO was crazy enough to bring such a baroque tome of entertainment back to viewers more accustomed to the weekly whacks and psychoanalysis of The Sopranos. The Wire is probably the show most in need of patient and committed viewers. It's a show born for DVD consumption. Watching week-to-week is ultimately frustrating and wildly random. Why the fuck are we watching stevedores drinking in a bar? What's going on here? The Wire is a show my dad doesn't have time for. He thinks that nothing happens because he needs both the context and the attention to see that the little things that go on from scene to scene lead to huge ramifications down the road.
So the first season sees a bunch of cops coming together to do REAL policework against an entrenched drug organization. Some of the cops are smart, others are dumb. Some of the drug people are likable, others are not. In the process we see glimpses of how Homicide works, how Narcotics works, how the Western district of cops in Baltimore handle it. Glimpses of a real world on the outskirts of the show's stated mission, glimpsed for us to ponder or discard depending on how interested we are. In the end, the case almost comes together but still ends up pretty good. Some bad guys go to jail, others don't. Some cops are rewarded, others are punished. The detail that the show was about however was disbanded. Every main character back to their own world. The last episode speaks finality.
For those that have seen the show on DVD, imagine watching HBO and seeing the teaser for seaon two: A body floating in the river and the words "A New Story Begins" flashing on the screen. Imagine watching the first episode and the rest of the season not knowing there are 3 more seasons to come. The Wire's second season is a huge departure. It picks up a completely different set of characters, follows our old favorites like they were supporting players, and deals with a completely different area of Baltimore. Hell, even the theme song is different. And just like other detouring sequels (Super Mario Bros. 2, Castlevania 2, Zelda 2) this is perhaps my favorite season. Seen in the context of seasons 1-4 it seems pretty disconnected but the feeling of watching it on first-run and the ballsy freedom that the showrunners must've had stays with me.
I love both the Sobotkas and the Greeks. Now that I've read George Pelecanos' books a lot of the greek stuff has indirect references to his work which is cool. The big theme of the season is the death of Work in America. Again, it's very cynical and dark, the outcome is not positive, but that's reality. Re-Elect Frank Sobotka.
Season 3 is probably the best season of the show. It has my favorite theme song and Buny Colvin and the whole Hamsterdam thing is amazing. Meanwhile Bell's also trying to reform the drug trade and, once again, those who truly buck against the (oft-broken) system are crucified. Season three's also great because of Dennis "Cutty" Wise. He's a truly Pelecanosian figure and it's great to see him progress from newly-ex con to getting his life going. All of the actors are great but that guy in particular is really fun to watch. Same goes for Robert Wisdom (Colvin). The scene where he schools Carver on being a police is perhaps the highest peak in the Himalaya mountain range that is The Wire. Of course all the Oz alums are great too (Daniels, Carver, Bodie, Rawls, mayoral assistant cief of staff Norman Wilson, and Cheese were all Oswalt State inmates at one point) not to mention Omar and everyone else. Really, when it comes to craft and behind-the-camera accomplishments of the show, the gushing gets hard to control. Every aspect is designed and executed so well with such a consistent and elaborate sense of focus, continuity, and connectivity that astounds me. Really it's hard to come up with all the compliments to lay down the line; it'd get boring.
Season 4 saw another departure when 4 kids were suddenly the stars of the show. Just like the dock workers in season 2, 4 was in a completely different world. What made it extra interesting was that the show flipped from inner city school children to mayoral candidates - from the absolute smallest aspect of Baltimore to the absolute largest - and the show connects them thematically. Again there's the punishing institution but in the second half of season 4 we finally get a ray of light. A new mayor brings the threat of a changing system. Will it hold? Seasons 1-3 point to "Not Likely" but until january the official answer is "ask again later."
So let's see. After just shy of 50 episodes, what are some of my favorite things about The Wire? Sure I just said that every aspect of the show is superb but come on, there HAS to be highlights right?
-Omar. For sure. Omar's one of the most entertaining and interesting characters of the last decade or so both in TV and film. He's the most explicit manifestation of the show's Western influence: a lone gunman bound only by his code. He IS Ethan Edwards or The Ringo Kid except, you know, gay and living in Baltimore and robbing drug dealers. Again, imagine watching the finale of Season 1 seeing Omar return from his jaunt to NY. For a character that could've only existed in season one to give the cops realistic leverage over the Barksdale people, I'm so glad he's a main character and we get to follow his future adventures throughout the show.
-The Homicide detectives. And not just Bunk. Reading up on the show, one finds out that dearly departed detective Cole is none other than exec producer Robert F. Colesberry. Detective Norris is actually Ed Norris, onetime Police Commissioner of Baltimore and also an ex-convict. There are plenty of real-life connections (like how Lt. Mello is the real Jay Landsman or how the church deacon dude is actually reformed drug kingpin Melvin Little who was the basis for the Avon Barksdale character) but I have love for the fictitious homicide dicks as well. I love how Crutchfield is mentioned in like the first episode but you don't see him until either late season 3 or season 4. I love Vernon Holly's gentle face on such a big body.
-I love seeing the detectives actually detect shit. Like the scene in season 1 where Bunk and McNulty work the scene of the woman shot through the window or the season later on where Freamon and Landsman following the shooters after Greggs' shooting or the scene in season 4 where Greggs closes her first homicide. Nearly all of it's nonverbal, just shot after shot and the logical inferences made in between: what Hitch and Arnheim call pure cinema.
-Bubs is great. I liked The Corner but it was too oppressive for me to really love and watch it over and over again. To me, Bubs reprsents all of that show but in smaller bite-size morsels that I can appreciate without burning out on. I also love whenever he talks to Steve Earle.
there are many more but I'm getting sick of typng. I'd better end this now, considering I could probably go on for hours. I just love the show so much; it's such a swiss clock of American drama. With four novels complete, I only hope that the fifth volume stays on par with the other. From what I've heard it involves a Sun reporter and deals with the media. I hope they bring back the reporter from Season 3 who first hears of Hamsterdam and also tie in more Norman Wilson who mentioned he used to work for the Sun. I also hear that Sergei's on the cast list which is very interesting. Damn Kevin for having the first 5 episodes already and not giving me a copy before I left for the parents for christmas. I could be seeing the first half of the last season of my favorite show right now! Oh well. Sometimes, waiting is better.