When I was laid up with my broken leg, I did a lot of video game playing, a lot of writing, and a lot of TV watching. One of the shows I discovered laying in bed those many weeks, was HBO's The Wire. It's a fantastic show and, in my opinion, as brilliant and well-done in its way as The Sopranos. It was into its third season when I found it, and I got really sucked into it. It's hard not to. Does anyone remember the short-lived ABC series written by Stephen King called Kingdom Hospital? In doing the press for that show, Stephen King talked about wanting to do a "novel made for television". Well, Kingdom Hospital wasn't that, it turned out to be just more bad TV, but The Wire is the real deal -- TV with the breadth and depth of great, sweeping novels. Not creaky, "classic" literature, but the good stuff you don't mind reading. A while back, Peggy got the first season of The Wire from a colleague and for all that time, it's been sitting on my bookshelf in the cellophane, just sitting there. I unwrapped it a couple weeks ago and have been watching episode after episode ever since. Addictive stuff. I'm on episode 9 now, and I'm starting to think that as good as that third season was, and it was fantastic, the first season is even better.
The first season of The Wire follows a unit of detectives assigned to bring down Baltimore's newest drug lord, a kingpin from the projects named Avon Barksdale. Det. McNulty is the homicide detective who's most driven to bust Barksdale and put a crimp in the drug trade in the projects of Baltimore. At least for a while. The show is from the same guys who did the NBC show, Homicide, which was also brilliant and groundbreaking for its time. But when your show's on HBO, you can go all the way with the realism. On HBO, the writers (like David Simon, the exec. producer of the show) can put real (read: profanity-laced) street dialogue in the mouths of their street characters, and real (read: same) cop dialogue in the mouths of their cop characters, and if there's a show that needs that level of authenticity, it's this one. Far from the glamourized, cartoonish world of CSI where titillating violence is perpetrated and investigated by beautiful people, where clues appear magically, and suspects confess about 50% of the time, the writers' aim with The Wire is much bigger -- this show's intent is to depict the inner workings of law enforcement in a big, drug-corrupted city with a realism and a seriousness of purpose never before attempted on TV. With airtime divided equally between the cops and the criminals, this show is about the on-the-ground reality of the so-called "War on Drugs", and it's pretty clear we're not winning.
The Wire shows how law enforcement works in the real world. We watch cops building, methodically, step-by-tedious-step, a case the DA's can prosecute and win. We go through the procedure to tap pay phones, clone pagers, the hours of sitting around and watching nothing much going on, the lies they tell to cover each other's ass. Though it's the nitty gritty of police work we're seeing, not a second of it is boring. The Baltimore of The Wire is a place where homicide detectives call each other "murder police", where their superiors are happy with them if they solve just eight murders in a year, and where, if a suspect gets too mouthy in an interrogation room, he will be beaten by cops.
And in great news, HBO's bringing The Wire back for a fourth season. Should start filming soon, and airing later this year. Oh, HBO. How I wish you were free.
Anyway, it's great, great stuff, and I reccomend ya'll check it out if you have the time.