Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When You Walk Through The Garden, Watch Your Back

David and I have been watching The Wire on DVD for the past few months. If you have never watched The Wire, I'm not sure how I can adequately sum up the experience, or how I can convince you that this is a show you need to see.

Critics have named it as either the best or the second best drama of the decade. (One reviewer insisted that The Sopranos was better). I recall reading one article that pegged it as the best TV show ever, which, yes, is quite blustery language, but watching such a great ensemble cast take turns telling the story of drug dealing/policing in the broken big city of Baltimore, and doing such a stellar job of it, it's hard not to believe the hype of that particular accolade.

I suppose, however, that some words of caution are in store. As the premise of the show is based around inner city life and the cops that work there, the show is no 90210. It's bleak, as gritty and dangerous as broken glass, and filled with the horrific music of gunfire. Based in the projects, the corners, the District police headquarters, and all the way to City Hall, we see how when the system is inexorably broken, people who make it out are a rare item. We see what happens to children when they're raised by the streets.

But it's also true that, wherever sunshine is a rare commodity, some light still seems to miraculously find its way to the ground.

Well, on occasion, at least.

For all of the terror and sadness, there are bits of hope and humor scattered about, from the corner boy who becomes disillusioned with 'the game,' to the addict who keeps trying out the 12-step program, to the police major who tries his hand at legalizing drugs on the sly to see if crime levels are brought down (they are), to the former gangster who, upon release from prison, briefly tries his hand at his old life, only to reject it after finding there is nothing there to sustain him. And then there are the cops, who while trying to bring down the big guns, find themselves growing strangely attached the middlemen, those ubiquitous corner boys who are the ones always being shaken down, and asked to take one (be it an arrest or a bullet) for the team. The relationship they build is a strange one, but moving nonetheless. (Video NSFW, language.)

It's in this world that we find brokenness and the concept that 'nowhere to go but up' is a bunch of bullshit. There is always further to go down, or a way to skate out sideways. The cops are alcoholics and the dealers seldom use. The schoolkids we meet are the lame horses in a race that's already been decided. And you wait for someone to attend to them, and witness some people try, only to discover that the new clothes a teacher purchased for one of his students have been taken by the kid's own parents, and sold on the street corners for drug money.

There are the guys in the game who are there because it's the family business, but who actually have a heart that can be found beneath the protective cage of their ribs, and there are the guys (and girls) in the game in whom there is zero trace of a soul, and those folks are the frightening sociopaths who kill as much for pleasure as for business.

The creators are so good that you soon find yourself enamored with and rooting for (though you're not exactly sure what you're rooting for) some of the guys who aren't so stone cold, whether it's D'Angelo, the guy who just wants to run things as a business, with none of the violence, or Bodie, the kid we see grow slowly disillusioned with the life, or Omar, the renegade with the shotgun who robs stash houses of their immense cash piles.

You also find yourself enamored with and rooting for the detectives, who know the real prize rests in catching the bosses, and who also know the bosses are usually stunningly smart and often one step ahead. Or that as they chase the money trail, it leads to City Hall, and so investigations are thwarted by higher ups. They can't seem to win either, chasing leads that go places they can't.

There you have it. A host of reasons why I recommend this show. It's so amazing and well-done that you might not mind that sometimes you need to take some Tylenol PM to take the edge off your sorrow. And the fact that it was overlooked by award shows should just serve to boost its cred further. As Bodie might say, "This shit is tight, yo. Check it."


Anonymous said...

OK. That was easy. I usually only watch one show, and I can't watch House anymore because I spend too much time re-writing it in my head to make it something I might give a damn about.

Monica said...

Well, you convinced me! It's going on our netflix list. And this show should hire you. Or at least pay you for this post.

Lora said...

I tried watching this, but I netflixed it at a time in my life where concentration wasn't my best suit.

Have you ever seen THe Corner? It's my favorite Baltimore based drug story EVER. It's an HBO miniseries, and you can netflix it

Indigo Children said...

I will have to watch it -- especially since a character shares my son's name (Bodie / Boddhi).

Major Bedhead said...

I watched the 1st couple of episodes but haven't gone back to it. I really enjoyed it so I'm not sure why I stopped. Too many things to watch, I guess, and I don't even have cable.

I keep trying to subscribe to your blog but all I get in my Bloglines is the comments. Weird. I'll try the little subscribe thingy down there, see if that works.

Anonymous said...

I own the first season of this - a gift - and have yet to open it. I shall rethink this ignoring. :)

Amanda said...

I am not yet in a place in my life where I have energy or focus to enjoy television. But oh, how I miss the escape.

Kader said...

It is definitely the best show I've ever seen. I mourned it for months (years?) after we watched the final season. I don't know how they made each character so multi-dimensional, but they did it. I was attached to everyone, although Omar was definitely my favorite. Great post!

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