The New Yorker Profiles David Simon and The Wire

October 17, 2007

You still have some time to get caught up before the final season of The Wire starts in January.  When the series concludes I have no doubt it will be the finest piece of television as literature to ever air.

Looking for a quick summary of the series to get you interested:

“The Wire,” Simon often says, is a show about how contemporary American society—and, particularly, “raw, unencumbered capitalism”—devalues human beings. He told me, “Every single moment on the planet, from here on out, human beings are worth less. We are in a post-industrial age. We don’t need as many of us as we once did. So, if the first season was about devaluing the cops who knew their beats and the corner boys slinging drugs, then the second was about devaluing the longshoremen and their labor, the third about people who wanted to make changes in the city, and the fourth was about kids who were being prepared, badly, for an economy that no longer really needs them. And the fifth? It’s about the people who are supposed to be monitoring all this and sounding the alarm—the journalists. The newsroom I worked in had four hundred and fifty people. Now it’s got three hundred. Management says, ‘We have to do more with less.’ That’s the bullshit of bean counters who care only about the bottom line. You do less with less.”

Need more?  Here are some great quotes from the article that may help convince you:

The show’s departure from Hollywood formulas may be nowhere more palpable than in its routine use of nonactors to fill the minor roles. No other television drama, it seems safe to say, features an actor whom one of the show’s lead writers helped put in prison with a thirty-four-year sentence. That is Melvin Williams, a Baltimore drug kingpin whom Ed Burns nabbed in a wiretap investigation in 1984; Simon reported on the case for the Sun. Williams plays the part of the Deacon, a community leader both savvy and wise.

‘The Wire’ is dissent,” he says. “It is perhaps the only storytelling on television that overtly suggests that our political and economic and social constructs are no longer viable, that our leadership has failed us relentlessly, and that no, we are not going to be all right.” He also likes to say that “The Wire” is a story about the “decline of the American empire.”

Critics, meanwhile, have compared the show to a great Victorian novel. The Chicago Tribune, Salon, and the San Francisco Chronicle have called it the best show on television. Jacob Weisberg, writing in Slate, went even further, declaring that “The Wire” was the best American television series that had ever been broadcast: “No other program has ever done anything remotely like what this one does, namely to portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature.” Sometimes the fan base of “The Wire” seems like the demographics of many American cities—mainly the urban poor and the affluent élite, with the middle class hollowed out.

Read the whole article here and if you’re still not convinced, just trust me.  It is like no other show or movie I’ve seen or even comparable to any book I’ve read in terms of the canvas it paints with a sweeping story arc, complex and flawed characters and a mix of hope and tragedy that weaves its way through every episode of every season to date.

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Prison Break – Season 3, Episode 2 – Fire/ Water

September 27, 2007

I actually enjoyed this week’s Prison Break.  I know I sound surprised but the show has been so hit and miss you never know which side it’s going to lean toward.  Before I jump into what I like about the show, I’m going to get what I disliked out of the way.  One word – Sucre.  With all the new characters and still so many of the old around, he seems completely unnecessary.

Enough of the bad, on to the good.  First, the show looks great in high-def.   It really enhances the experience when it looks this good and takes advantage of the widescreen.  As for the storyline, the show feels like it’s raised the stakes this season.  Unlike last season’s disjointed chase across America, the Panama jail feels serious – from Bellick in a diaper to the lack of water to the absence of guards to Lechero, the informal head of the prison (the amazing Bunny Colvin from the Wire) who keeps these hardened criminals in line.  The events set up a feeling of danger, and the possibility that anything can happen which shows like Prison Break require to stay interesting.  Even the conspiracy story which has Michael trying to break a man named James Whistler out of prison in order to save Sara and Linc’s son is actually interesting and seems challenging.

For the first time in a long time I’m feeling like the decision to continue with a third season may not have been a mistake.  Bring on episode 3.

Avi’s Episode Rating: B+

 


The Wire – Good News, Less Good News and Great News about Season 5

March 2, 2007

In David Mills’ blog Undercover Black Man he provides us with some good scoopage on the new season of The Wire for which he is writing an episode (how cool is that!!).  As regular readers of my blog know I’m a huge The Wire fan.  It topped my best of 2006 list and will without a doubt be making its way into my TV Hall of Fame when it completes its run.

So here’s the good news, the amazing Clark “Meldrick” Johnson, local Torontoian and star of Homicide the #1 drama on my TV Hall of Fame is going to be playing a prominent role in the new season.  Since the series ended he’s been primarily directing some great TV (and some less great movies) but I look forward to seeing him back with David Simon and in front of the cameras on the one show that may supplant Homicide in my Hall of Fame.

The less good news is that this season is going to be a short one with only 10 episodes.  Previous seasons have ranged between 12-13 episodes.

The great news is that the 5th season is going to start filming in a few weeks and the fact that there is a 5th season.  Despite its critical acclaim, The Wire has never achieved the awards, ratings, attention, fan base of HBO’s other shows like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under or Entourage.  On any other network this show would have been dead after 3 episodes so HBO has to get kudos for giving David Simon the chance to finish his masterpiece.  I can’t wait.


Top 10 TV Shows of 2006

January 1, 2007

 It’s been a great TV year.  I’ve spent the last few days making my list, watching the episodes twice all in preparation to give you my top 10 TV shows of 2006.  So without further ado…

1. The Wire – When this show completes its 5 year run after the next season, it will likely be the best show to ever air on television.  This doesn’t mean it will be my favourite – after all it’s not an easy or even particular entertaining show to watch compared to the typical TV fare.  It is, however, the most fascinating, compelling, best acted show ever and this season exceeded even the high bar set by past seasons with its examination of the Baltimore school system, the rise of the next generation corner boys and their leaders and a study of the politics of being mayor.  The thing I find most amazing about this show is its ability to juggle multiple storylines, a cast of 30+ actors – all leads and supporting at the same time – and the way it doesn’t force feed the viewer with simple, pat resolutions to complex situations.  This show is frequently compared to a great book in terms of its pace and complexity but for me The Wire would not be as brilliant in any other medium where the quick cut scenes and the power of the actors transcend any printed page.  I have to give a special shout out to the 4 actors playing Michael, Naymond, Duquan and Randy.  Their performances gave their stories the gravity and heart that made this season one of the best.  It’s going to be a long wait to find out what happens next.

2. The Shield – I’m shocked that I haven’t seen this show on that many best of lists from this year.  In its fifth season, The Shield was at its best, using the unbelievable Forrest Whitaker to paint our Strike Team into a corner from which they did not emerge unscathed.  Bringing to a head all of the storylines from the previous 4 seasons, including the amazing pilot episode, the season concluded with a moment that I saw coming and couldn’t believe was happening at the same time, changing the show forever and setting the groundwork for the new season.  What more could a viewer ask for!

3. The Office – It’s blasphamy to say this in many TV circles but the US version of The Office has now surpassed the original in my books.  I could mention the obvious moment of the past year – the season ending kiss between Jim and Pam which was the best season finale of last year.  I could mention the amazing Steve Carell who brilliantly can be an incompetent buffoon one minute and an effective regional manager who has the loyalty of his staff the next.  I could talk about all of the great episodes from the past year balancing laughs, cringe-worthy moments and emotional scenes simultaneously.  Instead I’m going to focus on what truly has made this show unique from its British counterpart – the amazing work that has been done to make the supporting characters integral parts of the show.  This show would not be as great as it is without Stanley, Kevin, Angela, Creed, Phyllis, Kelly, Oscar, Toby, Roy and new additions Ed Helms and Rashida Jones.  Every week this is my favourite show to watch and I’m sure this won’t change in 2007.

4. Battlestar Galactica – I watched the entire series since the summer and all I have to say is wow!!!  It’s hard not to agree with the mainstream critics who say that this isn’t just great sci-fi but great drama that should appeal to everyone.  2006 saw some brilliant moments for this show including the introduction of Pegasus, the birth of the first Cylon-Human baby and the truly game changing season 2.5 finale which jumped ahead a year in the settlement and Cylon occupation of New Caprica.  I love how the show is able to paint its characters into difficult situations that seem to have no solution and no easy answers, often forcing them to make hard decisions.   Unfortunately this means sometimes the show has to take an easy way out sometimes (Roslin’s cancer, death of Admiral Cain for example).  Still week after week the show is excellent, character driven, action packed TV.

5. Heroes – Although we’re only 11 episodes in, I have high hopes for this show.  As I’ve written before I’m a comic fan so I was somewhat predisposed to either love the show or hate it with nothing in between.  I’m glad it turned out to be the former with great characters, fun mysteries with forward momentum every single week, great villains and cliffhangers galore.  It’s still a little early to know if this show will have the staying power to be great in its 2nd and 3rd seasons but for now I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the ride.

6.  Everwood – An unfortunate casualty of the WB-UPN merger (One Tree Hill and 7th Heaven, don’t make me laugh), Everwood was able to wrap up its storylines in a way that not only pleased fans of the show but was consistent with the way we expect the characters we’ve come to love over the show’s 5 seasons to behave.  It also served as an amazing bookend to the first season with Andy talking to his wife, Amy’s grand gesture to win back Ephram, Nina and Andy getting together, Ephram finding his calling in Everwood and the Brown family at peace with their past and future.  Here’s hoping the rest of the series makes its way to DVD very soon.

7.  Friday Night Lights – It’s appropriate that this show follows my previous favourite family drama on this list.  Friday Night Lights has a richness in its stories of the people who make up the Dillon Panthers and the community that worships them, that doesn’t exist on any other show today.  The characters are 3 dimensional with the actors who play them transcending their archetypes of the dumb jock, the arrogant jock, the tough coach, the newbie quarterback and the hot cheerleader.  Like Everwood, this is a show about a town and the families in it.  Jason Street is a definite standout in the cast and I also have to acknowledge the show’s matter of fact integration of religion into its fabric which contrasts with the heavy handed portrayal in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. 

8. The Sopranos – After starting with a bang, the show kind of meandered a bit as it ended the first 1/2 of the 6th season.  Still, The Sopranos remains event television and Edie Falco truly did the work of her career this season as her character finally acknowledged the life she’s led with Tony.  Gandolfini also had amazing moments especially his interactions with AJ.  Those who thought it wasn’t violent enough or moved a little too slow don’t hold much weight with me.  I have high hopes that Chase and company will bring this show to the conclusion it justly deserves.

9. Veronica Mars – I’m not sure if I’m crazy yet about the new format of shorter story arcs but Veronica Mars continues to uniquely mix teenage angst with family drama and film noir each and every week.  Last May’s finale was one of the best edge of your seat episodes ever wrapping up old storylines and showing why the characters on this show have us tuning in. 

10. Lost – I worry about Lost and season 3 to date hasn’t made me feel more confident that the show knows where its going or will be brought to any form of resolution.  However, as long as Abrams, Cuse et al continue to include jaw dropping moments like Michael shooting Ana Lucia and Libby, the destruction of the hatch and the introduction of the Others I can forgive some of the weaker moments and the limited story momentum.  Concept wise I still love the show including the formula that mixes flashbacks with life on the island and I’m glad ABC decided to run it uninterrupted for the duration of the season since the frequent reruns last year didn’t help with momentum issues.  It remains true escapist TV entertainment and I hope the remainder of season 3 is as good as the fantastic back half of season 2.

Honourable Mentions: I’m going to give an honourable mention to Entourage, How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs and Dexter.  All were great this year but making a list is about drawing lines and this is where drew it.