Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Wire; A Retrospective

Okay, I know - it came out ages ago. But I only recently had the pleasure of watching all five seasons of The Wire so I thought I'd talk about it. If you too have not got on the Wire train yet, then do it. Do it NOW! You will not regret it. Somehow I managed to entirely miss it when it was TV here in Britain, and then never got around to renting the series. But, with the insistence of my boyfriend, we both sat down to watch it from beginning to end over the last few months; me to see what the fuss is about, and him to watch my reactions. What I saw was a prime example of fine storytelling and excellent character development, from beginning to end.

For those who doesn't know the premise (is there anyone that doesn't? Really? Well read on then), The Wire is not just a simple cop show. Set in Baltimore, Maryland, it focuses on different facets of the city, predominantly those involved in crime and the law. We see the police officers fighting the odds and trying to control the rampant drug dealing on the streets. We then watch those same drug dealers and runners in their daily lives. The schools, docks and even the mayor's office all feature at one point or another in the course of the show. And with each facet we see another shade, another side to the story, that illuminates what we've already seen. The show definitely improves as it goes on, but only because as each season  ends and the new one begins we have a fuller picture of what's going on.

Bubbles, a fantastic character. Makes tramps look cool.
That's how good he is.
Something that really impressed me is how the show manages to make each character so unique and distinct from the others. We meet a whole host of characters as time passes, but they stay fresh in your memory, so as you see their rise and fall we feel for them (even when they're the bad guys). Whether it's watching the police officer Jimmy McNulty making a mess of his life, the street tramp Bubbles getting his next hit, or 'gangster' Stringer Bell making a deal behind the scenes, we care. We care about them all, even when their goals are at complete logger heads with each other. Then there are characters who you would never like in real life who become heroes to the viewer, like the murderous Omar, who only kills drug dealers and those in "the game". A truly terrifying individual but in The Wire he's the knight in shining armour. Unless you happen to be one of those gangsters...

Omar, a good bad guy.
(Brilliantly acted by Michael K. Williams)
The brightest moment for me was seeing the kids, and their development from children into the future 'hoppers', or worse. Watching the almost inevitable fate that awaits them, and all the while knowing it's a realistic portrayal of what happens in poor, damaged communities, gives a depth to the "bad guys" normally lacking in TV or film. But at no time does it feel like you should side with them, or let them slide for the evil acts they commit or allow. However the writers aren't into judging, and they just tell it like it is, with no easy answers for anyone. Especially when it comes to sudden plot twists that you never see coming.

The popo, Lester Freamon and Jimmy McNulty.
The Wire is now discussed in some Universities, not just for media or film studies, but also for law and sociology, among other subjects. At all times the show feels real, authentic, with no punches pulled. This is also true of the language used in the show, as the street talk is near incomprehensible when you start watching it. But it's worth sticking with it; eventually you catch yourself understanding the slang (or put subtitles on if you struggle too much - though the writer is against it). Personally I loved listening to the pattern of the street talk, and the way the police themselves use the same jargon, having to work with and listen to the men involved in dealing, thus picking it up themselves. The show also raises a number of challenging questions and ideas; whether it be about the right to privacy, the problems with capitalism, or good old fashioned institutional corruption and incompetence. There is a wealth of discussion topics in The Wire, and it will have you talking about it long after that last credit rolls.

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