Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Wire

I don't know how to write reviews (This is my last poor attempt). I certainly don't know how anyone manages the courage to write them. In my mind, there are two types of reviewers; those that are famous, and those that aren't. The ones that are,  do so for a gigantic audience every day. I could do a few things in front of  large amount of people. Acting isn't really a problem. Public speaking I can handle. Perhaps I could even write a book that might be read a load of people. But reviewing? Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit*. I couldn't handle that if you threatened me at gunpoint. And the ones that aren't famous, like me, well how can I say anything that the famous ones haven't already? What is the point of my voice? And it is for these reasons I don't review things. I don't see the point. But every once in a while something comes along that makes even me want to scream from the rooftops unto high heaven, and that is what is happening here. I want to shout out to you, whoever you are, family, close friend or complete stranger, the brilliance of The Wire.

I spent a good amount of time, over the holidays, and while in London, watching The Wire. Time that I could have spent in bookshops, in libraries, I spent sitting in front of my laptop and furiously trying to figure out what was going on. Every once in a while, I would swear, loudly and extravagantly, using the same phrases I heard being used on the screen in front of me. I was addicted, start to finish. I have no idea what cold turkey is going to be like. And it is that kind of storytelling that swept me off my feet.

At this point, I would not blame you if you asked me the question; what is The Wire actually about? The answer to that is I don't really know. Is it about drugs, and the effect that it has on its users and ultimately society? Is it about politics, and the effect of all the bullshit that politicians speak to us has on the streets? Is it about the police department? Is it about crime? I think it's about all of these things, but most of all, it's about the city of Baltimore. Situated not more than half an hour from the capital of the United States of America, The Wire shows us what the city of Baltimore has become. And it is that vision, more than anything else, that makes this a TV show more compelling than anything that has ever come before it. I wrote only yesterday of how no medium could capture the kind of brilliance literature can. I am willing, on this one occasion, to make an exception for The Wire.

The series tells us many stories; it hops, skips and jumps between them perfectly, and decorates them with characters that don't seem like they could belong anywhere else. The first season, which is really where you should start, is about a drug lord, one Avon Barksdale, and the police unit working to catch him. It is a thing of beauty.

They introduce us to the major players, not slowly, not smoothly, but in a jarring pilot where one just happens to take a peek into the world of these people. There's a huge cast, but by the time you're hooked, you'll know and love (or hate, as the case may be) each one of them. The main lead, played by Dominic West, is a cop by name of Jimmy McNulty, who complains about a murder trial he's lost to the judge presiding in that case. The main defendant is D'Angelo Barksdale, Avon's nephew. The judge demands to superiors in the police department that they assemble a unit to take Barksdale down, which they do, though reluctantly.

At the same time, the defendant in the murder trial is set free, and moves back into the streets. He's given charge of dealing drugs to a neighbourhood in west Baltimore, and his story of drug dealing and avoiding the cops is in chilling counterpoint to the story of those very same cops who try to catch him. The series' title comes from the the essential tool used by the cops in catching the criminals: the wiretap.

Some characters are lovable, others aren't, but all of them are amazing. There's Omar, the gangster armed with a shotgun and a code; he will not kill anyone not involved in 'the game'. There's Bubbles, the heroin addict who brings a smile to everyone's face with his easy humour and disarming charm. There's Jimmy McNulty, who doesn't bow to any authority except his own. There's Stringer Bell, Avon's lieutenant, who behaves more like a businessman than a gangster. But my personal favourite is Officer Pryzbylewski, a cop who is seemingly ineffectual at terrifically simple things, and manages to fire his gun into a wall and is thus kept off the streets.

The Wire also keeps you guessing, and second guessing. The script is so well written that you feel it every time a major character is killed, which is pretty often. And watching it will make you love characters you thought you hated, and hate characters you never cared about. It's complexity in unmatched, and you won;t get into it until atleast the third or fourth episode. They aren't the normal forty minute episodes, either. Each episode is almost an hour long, and is guaranteed it keep you on the edge of your seat.

I end with a video clip, from the first episode of the last season. It contains no spoilers, but is certainly one of the best scenes in the entire show. You will fall off your chair laughing.

* I take this directly from the show. see this

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