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March 2, 2007

News on "The Wire"

Enthusiasm for The Wire came to this household rather late (last summer, I think) but when it did hit us, it hit plenty hard. All the superlatives are appropriate.

The show does what Lukacs thought only the classic realist novel could -- that is, portray a social totality and unveil its inner coherence. (Again with the Lukacs!)

It also demonstrates what the medium of television, in particular, is capable of doing. One of the writers said somewhere that The Wire was not so much a series as a film that runs for sixty hours. That strikes me as apt; and it's a brilliantly executed movie, one that demands your concentration. But that in turn underscores the point that The Wire is something that could only be realized on TV.

Anyway, we recently finished watching the fourth season (the one following a group of kids through the Baltimore school system) and so are now fully caught up. Which is frustrating. Each of the seasons has looked at a different layer of Baltimore while also mapping out how it is inserted into the whole. So there's something to say for watching the whole thing over again at some point. But now I really want to see what happens in the next (and final) season. It will focus on the media -- paying particular attention to the reduction of staff at a newspaper and how this affects the way the city learns about itself.

In the meantime, a brief bulletin from the writers' quarters:

This final season will be a shortened one - just 10 episodes. They'll start filming in a few weeks. I cannot reveal anything about the storyline, except to say that it'll surely be the funniest season ever of "The Wire"... if you like your humor dark. We're talking the "Dr. Strangelove" of police procedurals here.

See also Undercover Black Man's interview with David Simon, the show's creator -- the first part of which suggests that the Lukacs reference above is not just my imagination after all:

If you look at the themes of "The Wire" going back through all seasons, there's been an argument that the triumph of capitalism is the creation of wealth and the diminution of labor. The corner boys are more and more expendable; the cops who know their business are more and more expendable; the longshoremen are more and more expendable; the East European and Russian prostitutes who are coming in in boxes - Every day, human beings are worth less. That is the triumph of capital. ... The more we become post-industrial, the fewer we need. Every minute, human beings are worth less.

Not that Simon is a Marxist, let alone using History and Class Consciousness to shape the scripts:

No, I'm a social democrat. I believe in capitalism as the only viable motivating force to create wealth. But I believe that there have to be certain social frameworks that allow for a distribution of a share of that wealth throughout the classes....That is not to say that I think they should get an equal share. Or "to each according to his needs." The impulse towards Marxism is not there. But I do believe that raw, unencumbered capitalism, absent any social framework, absent any sense of community, without regard to the weakest and most vulnerable classes in society - it's a recipe for needless pain, needless human waste, needless tragedy, and ultimately a coarsening of our society.

Part two of the interview is here.

Posted by smclemee at March 2, 2007 12:08 PM


Hey Scott,

Just out today in Variety, word that Simon/Burns are going to make a HBO mini-series out of the excellent book "Generation Kill."


And this makes it sound even more promising:

"Essence of the project, according to net, is how elite members of the Marine Corps confront the military bureaucracy in the midst of a war.

Simon was paired with the project because, similarly, "The Wire" focused on cops and civil servants and how they deal with the Baltimore city bureaucracy in the face of gang warfare."

Posted by: Aaron at March 2, 2007 1:26 PM

Yes, it's like a film, almost to a fault. I've only seen the first two seasons, but there seems to be indifference (or even contempt) for using the structure of an episode to pace the development of the season's plot. Often individual shows just sort of abruptly end. (And the part of the epiosde that precedes the title sequence -- is there a name for those? - are even more nonsensical.)

Which actually is pretty apt: it gives a visceral counterpoint to the overall sense of chaos and perversion that characterizes the world of the show (at the expense of the humanism?).

I wonder how I would feel about this effect if I had to wait for each new episode though (I only came to the show over the summer.)

Amazingly good, though. It doesn't have the dramatic virtuosity of the HBO cash cows, but instead a kind of serious-to-the-point-of-naive devotion to its concept.

Posted by: zbs at March 2, 2007 3:59 PM

The segment preceding the titles is called the "teaser."

Posted by: Laura at March 6, 2007 8:00 PM

You're probably aware of this, but just in case; there was a fine interview with Simon at Slate where he talked about the how, with the fifth season, the show would cover all the ground Simon wanted it to cover. But he also mentions the possibility of a season six, covering the Hispanic influx into the city, that will never be made -- not just because HBO wouldn't support it, but also because the writers couldn't do justice to it (none of them even speak Spanish). While Simon is probably right -- I thought season two, about the docks, for which the writers had to do much more research, didn't have as much insight and originality as the other seasons -- I can't help but wonder what might have been. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a show enough to want an additional, inadequate season of it.

Posted by: Reader at March 12, 2007 10:23 PM