Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Wire cuts

Courtesy of Tone, I'm remembering and anticipating the Wire. He says, quite rightly:

If you haven't gotten into The Wire by now, you are a complete dickhead.

... which isn't far off the mark. A year back, over at Tone's as it happens, that it was the best hour on television and it wasn't even close, and the intervening time hasn't changed that opinion. (I was hedging at the time by saying "hour" rather than "show", but I wouldn't now).

For those searching for more depth to an already very deep show, one of the best sources I've seen is Heaven and Here, a Wire blog set up (as far as I can tell) by Shoals of the once unparalleled and still occasionally excellent FreeDarko). H&H has been a little dormant, but, in what appears to be a reawakening timed for the show's impending return to the American (and intertubular) airwaves in January, they recently blinked and linked to this article at the New Yorker. As an aside, that publication will forever be characterised for me by the Kauffman character in Adaptation, "great, sprawling new yorker shit".

Perhaps true to form, then, their Wire article is 12 pages long. There is some good stuff in there, though:

... Simon told him that “The Wire” would be “a novel for television. Not in a ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’ sense. Each episode would be like a chapter in a book. You could digress, in the way a novel does.

That was said in the context of the show's differentiation in its first season from most other crime dramas, and it's spot on. There is a commitment to a season-long arc of the plot and characters, with almost no identifiably complete storylines within each individual episode. This really allows for a much more nuanced and fleshed-out storylines and characters.

Of course, none of this was by accident. Simon himself, in his pitch to HBO, is both ambitious and prophetic:

It is a significant victory for HBO to counter program alternative, inaccessible worlds against standard network fare. But it would, I will argue, be a more profound victory for HBO to take the essence of network fare and smartly turn it on its head, so that no one who sees HBO’s take on the culture of crime and crime fighting can watch anything like “C.S.I.” or “N.Y.P.D. Blue” or “Law & Order” again without knowing that every punch was pulled on those shows. For HBO to step toe-to-toe with NBC or ABC and create a cop show that seizes the highest qualitative ground through realism, good writing, and a more brutal assessment of police, police work, and the drug culture—this may not be the beginning of the end for network dramas as the industry standard, but it is certainly the end of the beginning for HBO.

There's a lot more in there, replete with big words like "grandiloquence" and "autodidactic intellectualism", but this post is already long. Simon comes across as part insightful genius, part tool, and you get the feeling that this might be his great work, that without the rapport he has clearly built up with the city of Baltimore, he might struggle for the cathartic insight that makes The Wire work. Overall, the article is solid, and if you bail after the first four pages or so, you'll probably have covered the best stuff.

I've said it before, somewhere, and I still think its true, that the closest thing I've seen to the Wire is Janus, made by the ABC back in the 90s before they outsourced drama to the Beeb's crime unit. It was a follow-on to Phoenix, which I missed, and may in some jurisdictions have been known as Criminal Justice or some such. The show had that season arc that the Wire does so well (does better, it has to be said), with the Hennessy family trial, but also the strung-out cop (Peter Faithful vs Jimmy McNulty) who gets too involved in the case, an archetype very difficult to express in an episodic format. I'd recommend getting a copy, but not only have the ABC stopped making Australian drama, and stopped showing Australian drama, they're not selling the stuff they've already made.

Lest I finish on that disgruntled note, let me get back on message to sum up. Don't be a dickhead: if you haven't seen The Wire yet, do so.

Saturday, 1 December 2007


mo-ver, originally uploaded by jsteel.

Thanks to all those who donated to Movember. Our team, the Monkey Butlers, raised about $2000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Beyond Blue.

I'm off for a shave.