Last night one of my favorite TV shows, HBO's The Wire, premiered its fifth and, unfortunately for fans, its final season. A week ago Reggie H and Bernie emailed about it, and we've since exchanged messages and links about what I'd estimate is one of the best dramatic programs in the history of recent television. In terms of vividness and depth of characterization, novelistic richness of plot, excellence of casting and acting, skillful dramatization of themes and scenarios, and fidelity to a realist vision of the world, it has few peers. (Yes, I know, The Sopranos is up there too.) I'll post the article links below for anyone who hasn't seen them, and keep my comments about the first episode succinct.
It was vintage The Wire, with a number of future plotlines braided in careful, deliberate ashion, and the new focus, the role and state of the newspaper industry, represented here by a fictional version of the Baltimore Sun, offering the major dramatic set piece that drew many of the script's threads loosely together. Previous seasons' focuses were also present each with a twist: the drug dealers (Season 1 and every one thereafter) appear to be facing a looming war, led by the most ruthless among them, Marlo Stanfield (Jaime Hector), and his deputies Chris Partlow (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and Snoop (Felicia Pearson); the cops (Season 1 and every one thereafter), now struggling under a severe budget crisis, are again being dispersed, particularly the exceptional special crime unit assembled by Major Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick); Season 3's focus, the mayor (Aidan Gillen), because of the budgetary problems, is breaking promises and straddling political difficulties; the students--Michael (Tristan Wilds) and Dukie (Jermaine Crawford) remaining from last year's heartbreaking season (4) are integrated into the drug trade; and one of the "Russians," Sergei (Chris Ashworth) who played a role in Season 2's union corruption and foreign gangster plotlines, also was invoked and will likely become important as the season proceeds.
Creator David Simon, his writers, directors, and actors succeeded last night in integrating all these threads with subtlety, though perhaps too subtly, I thought, for anyone who'd turned in for the first time. But each season since the first has required that you catch up to get the full flavor and power of the series. I've never worked at a real newspaper, but Simon's portrayal of the fictional Sun, drawn from his past experience as a journalist, appeared to hit the right notes, and new cast member and police procedural show veteran Clark Johnson (above, from HBO.com), who directed the first The Wire episode in 2002, particularly shone in his role as the city desk editor, Augustus "Gus" Haynes. It'll be interesting to see how the critiques of the newspaper business hold up, because this first episode made the newsroom look exciting enough that it could have been used a recruiting video. The portrayals of the police department, City Hall and the Council, and the Feds on the other hand showed the compelling philosophical pessimism that are The Wire's hallmark. But the brilliance is, ultimately, in the drama, and The Wire is a sourcebook on how to do it. (TV drama writers, please take note for when you return from your strike.)
Some links (courtesy of Reggie and Bernie):
Baltimore Sun: The Wire loses spark in newsroom storyline
Bowden on The Wire in the The Atlantic Monthly
The News Hour with Jim Lehrer's The Wire preview
Baltimore's City Paper's take on the news season
Baltimore's City Paper's take on Snoop (Felicia Pearson)
Hope grapples with despair, right down to 'The Wire' - PRIME-TIME TELEVISION - Los Angeles Times - calendarlive.com'Wire's' latest target: The media - CNN.com
On a completely different note, can I just say that I haven't yet tired of clicking through and reading these pages? They read almost like poems (though not, I'm sure, to the author in question, Samuel Delany); am I misremembering, or hasn't some clever written a poem or poems in the form of errata? You couldn't do worse as a writer and editor than study his changes, though, as the genius clearly gleams through.