The Wire: Season One

Prod. David Simon
2002
Recommended by Jon, and in the back of my mind since reading a laudatory article in Salon about it,
the first season of Wire was my first order on Netflix. (Yes, we’ve signed up). David Simon’s story of a Baltimore drug kingpin and the team assigned to bring him down takes delight in upending every cop show cliche, and not just for effect’s sake, but because that’s the way the world works, baby. So instead of brilliant cops going rogue after being told they’re off the case by their cigar-chewing boss, we have cops and detectives brought down by bureaucracy and their own weaknesses. There’s no dialog-for-dummies here, either; characters reference events several episodes previous and we’re just expected to know. On top of that put the dueling patois of the drug dealers (garden variety Ebonics laced with phone-is-tapped shorthand slang) and the cops (cynical, pseudo-racism mixed with procedural jargon) and you’ve really got to prick up your ears. Characters reveal themselves slowly–our “hero” McNulty comes across later as rather selfish; rising dealer Dee is a street thug trying to figure out a right way to live in a society that’s all wrong. There’s none of the safe humor of The Sopranos here, nor a need to ratchet up the suspense. What we get instead is a chance to explore the minutia of the typical drug enforcement case. Salon calls it “novelistic”–in its breadth I’d have to agree. The ending of Season One puts the show on the level of political films as “Z,” a world where no good deed goes unpunished.

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