Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Wire re-seen

Recently I watched all five seasons of HBO’s excellent series, The Wire, on DVD. I binge-watched, six episodes per day until I had finished.*

When it was first run I watched it every week, and missed some of the nuances I saw this time. Characters in minor parts in one season became major characters in the next. There were foreshadowings of events to come, which showed me the creators of the series had mapped out what they wanted to accomplish in the long term. Each season had a theme. A team of actors made their way through each season, keeping a continuity, although we saw some major changes in some character’s lives, and some just stayed the same through the end. In its original run from 2002 to 2008, I thought it to be a very good television program. I have upped my estimation of it. I believe Breaking Bad to be the best serial television program I have ever watched, and it would take something momentous to knock it off its number one ranking, but The Wire is a close second. They aren’t remotely the same (except for drugs being the raison d'etre for the characters), but each in its own way just has its way of kicking other series to the curb.

 I can’t believe my good luck in finding the complete series for $5.00 at a local thrift store. It is made in China (Chinese writing on the back and inside). It is shown in English, with the choice of Chinese subtitles.

So...that puzzled me. Why would the Chinese be interested in such a show?

I see The Wire as the story of a city in dire straits, and despite its problems, people trying to hold it together. Baltimore is the setting. But when you watch it you know the Baltimore Chamber of Commerce probably had fits in its vision of the city. it is a bleak and terrible place, with drug dealers on every corner. As envisioned by the filmmakers, the cops can barely keep the lid on the garbage can that is the drug trade in a city with thousands of vacant houses and no jobs or hope for much of the population. It would be a great propaganda tool for any communist government to say this is life in a typical American city. Drug dealers, murder, crime, crooked cops, compromised policing, corrupt city and state officials. They could sell it as American hopelessness in the face of problems they cannot control, either because of lack of money or even desire to improve.

But I see The Wire as more than that. We all know we have these problems in America. but in America there is also a hope, some optimism that things will at some point be corrected, problems solved, or at least put n the right track. That may be naïve on my part, but I believe that there are always those who are working toward making life better for others. They have varying degrees of success, but I never feel hopeless about the future. I could not face the day if I did. Could a program like The Wire be made in China, showing the problems that their large cities face? I don’t think so.

In 2008 I wrote in a post for this blog about The Wire. With some editing, here is what I had to say:

I believe if Shakespeare were alive today he might be writing for the HBO series, The Wire. Unlike The Sopranos or Six Feet Under, The Wire doesn't fall into the doldrums those series fell into as they gasped out their last episodes. Where The Wire has succeeded is by including in each season a major plot involving some aspect of life in Baltimore. In Season Two it was the dockworkers, in Season Four it was the school system and a group of students, and in this, the last season, the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

The characters in The Wire are Shakespearean. The major players, the police, are flawed but interesting. The characters I like the most are people like Bubble, the junkie trying to clean up, Marlo Stanfield, the druglord working with the most murderous pair of hitmen ever presented on TV, and the best of all, Omar Little, the gay stickup man who goes solely after drug money.

Michael K. Williams as Omar.

All of these characters are deeply flawed by their criminal lifestyles, but are also understandable as being part of the environment of life on the streets in Baltimore.

Like Shakespeare, the plots can twist and turn around until they show their true purpose, but also like Shakespeare the play's the thing: While you're watching The Wire you're watching major drama that builds until the ultimate conclusions, then leaves you walking away shaking your head, thinking, “Man, I'm glad I stuck that out!”

*Yes, I had other things to do, but the beauty of retirement is I can do something like this occasionally without feeling guilty about ignoring more “important” things.

No comments: