Monday, September 1, 2008


I just finished watching the final season of what I am contractually obligated to say is the greatest show of all time on DVD, The Wire. Now, I hate to play the hipster card, but I was totally into this show before everyone else was (okay, so I kind of like to play the hipster card) been a fan since the early days. Lately it seems that calling the show the "greatest, most important, smartest, most socially responsible, authentic, high-minded show of all time" is a cliche, something to be skewered by that dude from Stuff White People Like. But despite the public FINALLY embracing the show, it most likely IS the greatest show of all time (if The Sopranos didn't exist, that is) and deserved all the praise that is heaped upon it. The Wire is great, plain and simple.

BUT, comparatively, the final season is not as great as what has preceded it.

I am aware that many are of the belief that nothing anyone ever creates will ever be as good as season four, where the middle school kids stole the show. Now, harp at me all you want about "no one has ever told the school system story quite like this before" or whatever else you want to do, but while "the message" is what sort of sets this show apart, I am still more interested in the storytelling. As far as storytelling goes, nothing will ever beat season three, where the Stringer Bell storyline and the Hamsterdam debacle played out. For me, for someone who, despite all the high-mindedness of the show, still responds most passionately to the "gangsta shit" of the show, season three was the most entertainment one could ask for. Second only to season five of The Sopranos, I should say.

It is important that I make this distinction up front because it goes far to explain what sort of viewer I am of the show. I am fascinated by all the aspects of The Wire - the petty squabbles of the cop brass, the dirty-dealings of the city council, the failure of the school system, the selling out of the media - but what mainly gets my nerd boner raging is the gangsta shit. Stringer Bell, Omar Little, Poot, Bodie, Avon, Cheese, Prop Joe, Chris Partlow, Slim Charles, Snoop, Marlowe, Bird, Wee-Bay, and the rest are what really get me going, mainly because we haven't seen them in any medium before. All of those mentioned are redeemable bad guys, people that we are allowed to love and empathize with. They are not bad guys but people, flawed people who have been let down by every institution available to them. The Wire never romanticized their situations, but let us into a perceived reality of their lives. They are drug dealers and murderers because that is what is available to them. Where The Sopranos essentially said that its characters were bad people because they fed into the easy, consumerist lifestyle, The Wire said that there were no bad people, just people playing out the hands dealt to them according to their own code. Shit, to the end Omar was the respectable person on the show and he committed enough crimes to be locked up for a million consecutive lifetimes.

So, after you know that I am the crime obssessed viewer, you would think that I out-and-out loved the final season. I mean, it had the crazy storyline of McNulty inventing the homeless murders, getting over-time by making a series of deaths look like a serial killer was terrorizing the city. Well, it was a lot of fun. McNulty got to be pushed past his own wide limits, we got to Lester eating up the over-time and straight up rocking the wiretap on Marlowe's crew. Plus, we got to see the douchebag ambitious reporter take the fake case and run with it, even telling his editors at the paper that the killer called him personally to threaten him.

But while it was a very fun season, it was seriously all a little too much. And I LIKE too much on The Wire. Far as I'm concerned, the moment where Omar and Brother Muzone kill Stringer Bell is the best part of the whole show, and that scene is inarguably too perfect, too writerly and awesome. But even for me, the whole serial killer thing was just a little too much, stretched a bit too far. And then how they finally resolved with the overlong final episode, it was a bit too pat. Yeah, certain things actually turned out okay in the end, but ultimately it was a little too much information. I much preferred The Sopranos crazy ambiguous/symbolic ending to the montage-fest that was the final episode of The Wire. And though people it seems to be the same complaint across the board, Simon's potshots at newspapers have been seen before way too many times. I mean, I know my expectations may have been skewed for the show based on its past greatness, but as good as the newsroom stuff was, it never really let me into a world I hadn't already seen, not in the way the previous scenes had done so when covering the drug war, the ports, reform, and the school system. The previous four seasons all felt extremely fresh in their perspective while Simon's take on the media seemed a bit more old hat. Well done old hat, but still.

But ultimately these complaints are sort of silly. It's like chiding your child for getting an A instead of an A+. The Wire's final season was still top tier entertainment that raises the bar on what TV can do. I surely hope that some day another show will be able to rock me as hard as The Wire, that HBO can be as good as when it had The Sopranos, Deadwood, and The Wire all on its schedule. Right now the only thing close to any of those shows is AMC's Mad Men, but even that is pales somewhat in comparison. Yes, there is a brand new TV season upon us and who knows what will come out of the fall lineup. Personally, I think that the FX show Sons of Anarchy looks pretty sweet in its trailers, but we'll see. But even if that show fucking rocks, it will have some mighty gigantic shoes to fill if it hopes to reach the heights that The Wire has shown us.

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