Really Late to the Party: The Wire
One of the shows I'm most excited about this summer is the third season of The Wire, which HBO is airing Sunday nights at 8. (They might be re-runs, but they're new to me.) Over the past month or so, I have finally gotten around to watching the first 2 seasons on DVD. This show is so addictive that it's going to be hard to be limited to just one episode a week, rather than the marathon viewing sessions I've become used to.
The word you often see used to describe this show is "novelistic," and it really is apt. The show has layer after layer of plots and subplots. But more important (and unique) are the characters. Almost every character, including the minor ones, is fully realized and allowed to be both good and bad. Our hero -- Detective Jimmy McNulty -- is passionate about his work, loyal, a good cop (and crazy hot), but also self-destructive, petty, and manipulative.
The same is true of the bad guys. One of the best characters is Stringer Bell. In season one, he is the second in command, and sort of chief operating officer of the drug ring that is being targeted by the police. He wears business casual clothes and takes econ classes at the community college. In season two, he takes over when the ringleader, Avon Barksdale, goes to prison, and he espouses the desire to run the gang as business -- cutting deals with rival gangs rather than fighting over turf. At the same time, he is brutal -- ordering the murders of underlings who might pose a danger.
It is also heartbreaking. Case in point: Wallace, a teenage member of the drug crew. His mother is a drug addict, and he lives in an abandoned house with some of the little kids who act as lookouts, who he looks after and helps with their homework. He wants to quite the game after he sees the mutilated body of a guy who stole money from the gang -- someone who he turned in to Stringer Bell. In return, he is shot in the head by his two best friends.
Or D'Angelo Barksdale, the nephew of the ringleader. He has a chance to cut a deal by testifying against his uncle and to start a new life for himself. He clearly wants to take it, but his mother (who is supported by her brother) convinces him not to and he is sentenced to 20 years in prison. Stringer has him killed in prison because he questions his loyalty.
And that's just season one. Season two introduces a whole new cast of characters -- longshoremen who work at Baltimore's port.
The only drawback is that it is so complicated that it would be almost impossible to start in the middle and have any idea what's going on. And there's no exposition like in almost every other show -- like the scenes in 24 where Jack talks to Chloe and reiterates everything that happened in the last 5 minutes. And the dialogue itself is like actual conversation, with a lot of unstated assumptions, slang, and nonverbal communication, so it can be hard to follow.
Speaking of which, my one pet peeve is about the language. They constantly use the phrase "a police," as in the highest compliment you can give someone is that he's "a real police." Which, incidentally, was one of my pet peeves about Martin Amis's Night Train. I liked that book, but thought his constant use of term was an annoying affectation. So, either people in real life actually use that phrase, or Martin Amis and David Simon share the same affectation.
The bottom line is: you should be watching this show.