The Wire - no spoilers!

Discussion in 'TV & Media' started by Yassim, Jun 29, 2010.

  1. Yassim

    Yassim Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I've enjoyed that. Carving dude's detective work in ep 3 pays off in ep 4. Didn't need to follow it closely, but a nice through-line if you did.

    Just. His first appearance was a big deal, his second... just to let us know he's coming back. Love how he's better at this than the cops..

    I don't have any of the names, really. And a few of the characters who only show up from time to time, I'm not really clear on exactly who they are. The story always makes the relationships clear, but exactly which person is which isn't obvious beyond the main cast.

    I'm still not totally clear on how the judge has so much authority over everything...?

    Another piece of what makes it work, and why it relies so heavily on plot, is that it feels like a documentary. It is convincing as a portrayal of the "real" police. Which was part of why the Pryzb. little plot was disappointing - could a real cop be such a screw-up? But then, the show actually gets some lee-way in its story-telling, because it's so plausible the rest of the time. I can imagine the writers talking about what they had to tone down, so people would believe it. Does anyone know of any interviews or commentary where the realism is discussed?
     
  2. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    He was married to the right person. That's got to count for something, no? The first few episodes there don't exactly paint a very flattering portrait of the Baltimore police. They're low on everything, it seems; cash, manpower, talent, you name it. They keep typewriters around and there aren't any typewriters married to Valchek's daughter. (Although...)

    I'd consider the the show moving characters around the board where they need to be the main strike against realism.
    McNulty is sent to the boat, and hey presto, we get a season about dockside crime. Since it's connected to Prez and Prez loved the stuff that happened in season one it's also a good device to get the whole team back into the narrative.

    McNulty also meets and dates Carcetti's campaign manager in season three because hey, why not? When season four rolls around we have two ex-cops and one ex-con having changed their careers over to assisting young people, which is the major theme of that season. Also Herc has a stint of mayoral police duty. And so on. If the plot decided to wander into Baltimore's fine dining establishments we'd probably have Lester Freamon retiring to become a food critic and Greggs investigating across the way.
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2010
  3. Lindley

    Lindley Moderator with a Soul Premium Member

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    Politics. You don't want the judge upset with you.
     
  4. Yassim

    Yassim Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    That, and everyone is either brilliant or a "hump". Why isn't anyone just mediocre at their job?

    But they do make the cops look like fools.

    Other than go to the media, it's not clear to me how or why a judge has any authority over these characters. Until the judge mentioned his brother's charity that might help out the force, I didn't (and still don't really) see why everyone's afraid the judge isn't happy. In what sense do they answer to him?
     
  5. J.T.B.

    J.T.B. Rear Admiral Premium Member

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    Isn't Herc pretty much mediocre? Also Santangelo and some of the other homicide detectives (Norris, Holley? It's been a long time, I need to watch the series again).

    That reminds me of one realistic thing I loved about The Wire. In a lot of police detective shows, Kojack and so on, the higher ranking sergeants and lieutenants (usually the star) are out on the street working cases. But Sgt. Landsman just sits on his ass, eating and looking at porn, and making life miserable for everyone else. A true bureaucratic supervisor!

    They don't. But he's got political connections, travels in the same circles as the mayor and the council and people they do answer to.

    --Justin
     
  6. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    They need to keep the judge sweet because he can screw them over whenever they want a warrant or make it difficult to get prosecutions. And, to be blunt, because the judge is part of their line of defense against prosecutions for their own crimes. Despite what Fox News and Fox TV shows tell you, planting evidence, suppressing evidence of innocence, intimidating witnesses, brutality and torture, etc. are all crimes. Also, taking bribes, robbing dealers, sleeping with prostitutes, gambling, taking drugs, etc., are all crimes. The presumption that the police are not testilying could be undermined with just a little fairness from the judge. They don't want to get on his bad side.
     
  7. Hunter X

    Hunter X Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Actually, my guess is that a lot of the really out there anecdotes and character quirks are based on real life situations the showrunners heard about or encountered in their previous careers as a police officer and a journalist in Baltimore. I'm not talking in terms of where the overall plot goes, just throwaway background things like Prez shooting up his car.
     
  8. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    A lot of the little details sound like that; in particular the idea that the guys playing cards cut Snot into their game every time - though he kept stealing from them - 'cause this is America. It's precisely the kind of bizarre little line that sounds plain too weird to have been made up.

    But it struck me also the show's relationship to character is like a journalist's article: An article might begin with some details of an individual to give the topic they're discussing a human face, and then jump off into the wider context of that issue. I think that's pretty much how The Wire uses its characters; they're there to illuminate the issue and add some colour and drama to it, but none of them are really ends in themselves.
     
  9. Alidar Jarok

    Alidar Jarok Everything in moderation but moderation Moderator

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    Ziggy and his duck are based on a real person (and bird) from Baltimore, fyi
     
  10. mimic

    mimic Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    You're completely right about that particular scene. I read Simon's book Homicide and the Snot Boogie thing is lifted straight from his experience shadowing the police for a year.
     
  11. TheGodBen

    TheGodBen Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    While on the surface it appears to be a police procedural, ultimately The Wire was the story of "the American city", and its purpose was to explore the workings of various organisations in the city and how they interact with one another. Unfortunately, HBO would never have picked up the show if that's the way David Simon and Ed Burns had pitched it to them. Since they had a history in writing about crime and law enforcement, they pitched their idea as a cross between The Sopranos (which was popular at the time) and a standard police procedural (which are always popular for some reason). The first season is a cop story, but their intention was for the story to explore how the police department and the Barksdale criminal organisation interact with one another, and to show the contrast in how they deal with internal matters.

    The problem was that people thought that The Wire was a cop show, and most of the cast were working in the police department, so as the show expanded its focus into unions, politics, education and the media, they were always forced to have an investigation of some kind each season. The season that moved away from this format most was season 4, the police stories that season were a side-plot to the education and political storylines.

    The Wire is as much an intellectual exercise as it is a plot or character based drama. That's why season 3 is my favourite; they took an interesting "what if" scenario and tried to explore it as best they could from a social and political perspective, and at the same time you have...
    that brilliant character drama going on between Stringer and Avon.

    Personally, I think that The Shield was way more of a police procedural show, especially in the first couple of seasons, but even as the arcs took over it maintained some elements from its early episodic nature. It's a great show in many ways, and it's almost worth watching all seven seasons just for the final episode, but having watched The Wire before watching The Shield I couldn't help but feel that the investigations in The Shield were far too simplistic: Someone commits a murder, Michael Chiklis beats someone up in order to find the murderer, rinse and repeat. Although, ultimately The Shield is probably the better character drama.
     
  12. firehawk12

    firehawk12 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    ^ I basically agree with your Shield vs Wire comparison. The Wire is more... narrative focused, which is why I think as a "series" it is more interesting. But yeah, Mackey stands out as probably one of the best characters in television and his character ending is one of the most brilliant endings I've ever seen.

    It's interesting to see what Simon and Ryan have done since though and how their styles haven't changed too much. Generation Kill and Treme are more about situations and weaving a structured and complete narrative while The Unit and Lie to Me are heavily character focused, with the episodes serving only as an excuse to mess up the characters in some way.

    Heck, The Unit even took a page out of The Shield's first episode by offing a main character... although they saved it for a few seasons to make it more impactful.
     
  13. Capt. Vulcan

    Capt. Vulcan Vice Admiral Admiral

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    That's not really how I saw it.
    I saw it as more watching where the characters were going and gaining insight in to wherever they landed. I didn't read about the show as it happened so everything seemed to happen organically to me. The schools, docks, papers, political offices, ect. existed before and after the show focused on them. We see hints of them in seasons before they were the main focus. (Well, maybe not the docks in season 1.) There definitely was some coincidences in regards to the relationships but I didn't necessarily mind that. It was interesting how different characters interacted with each other.

    As far as the Pryz character, there are plenty of fuckups that end up as cops. Particularly if you're a fuckup with connections. Heck I knew a guy that had no connections that was one mental breakdown away from becoming a cop. It was actually scary how many chances they gave him to totally mess up at the academy. Thankfully he did eventually have that breakdown, but it was an extraordinary circumstance that caused it. Had things just gone a little more right, this head-case douchebag would have ended up as a cop rather then selling counterfeit purses in china-town.


    On the Shield vs. Wire front, I thought the Wire was significantly better. I'm saying this as someone who really liked the Shield. I thought it kind of strayed too far in to the... I don't know... cheesy action route? I accepted the show as unrealistic because it was entertaining, but sometimes it seemed like it went a little too far. Also the yearly gang war that Vick had to eventually turn the sides against each other or whatever got a little boring. I appreciated where it took it's characters, but I think they did it at the expense of the world they inhabited.

    Aside from maybe Brother Mouzon, almost everything on the Wire was something I could accept as being real. Rather than putting the screws to all the characters, sometimes the situations resolved in a way where all the characters could do was shake their head and say "it is what it is" and move on, as often happens in real life. And they did move on, and we got to see what became of them when they did. Sometimes the good ones got fucked over, and the ones that didn't deserve it got the golden ticket. Sometimes people didn't get revenge, but life just went on.

    The wire may not be my favorite show of all time, but I'm far more inclined to say it was the best show of all time than any other show I've watched.
     
  14. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    But where they landed is very convenient for the plot. Prez becomes a teacher in a year the schools and the students are going to tie into other plots, and Herc has a stint as a cop defending the mayor right as the election starts. The characters are moved about where-ever the plot needs them to be, is my point.


    Really. I bought Brother Mouzone, but that's probably more due to my rank ignorance of America than anything else. I mean, he's just an articulate hitman with a bit of a Nation of Islam/Malcolm X vibe.

    It doesn't matter if he's realistic or not, he's still one of the most entertaining characters in the show. Seriously, I'd watch a Brother Mouzone spinoff.

    Maybe that happens in season five. I've almost concluded season four, and I'd still say this is a police procedural; just one that branches out a lot - season 4 far more then any of its previous years, to be fair... and perhaps not coincidentally this may also be my favourite year of the series to date.

    Sure, there's more politics and other issues, but the bulk of the regulars remain policemen and a concern for the cop world remains consistent. It's more than a cop show but it's still a cop show, if that makes sense. That might be because of HBO restraints or whatever, but we're not talking about what The Wire could have been - we're talking about what it is.

    But then, it's always more than a cop show but still a cop show - way back in season 1 where Yassim is watching he might note that our POV isn't limited to the cops, as some time has been spent with the drug dealers and even an addict. Of course, that sort of fits with the 'Sopranos' log-line - having Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell do business at a strip club definitely has shades of David Chase's mafia saga (though I'm sure that also happens in, uh, real life.)

    The show had other problems too I read about. Apparently the political angle was originally going to be a spinoff series titled The Hall, but they had to fold that back into The Wire due to low ratings... which actually I think works. Given how densely arced this show is it might be confusing trying to find out how to alternate it and a spinoff when watching the show.

    I'd say more. The Wire's heart is in its concepts, not its characters. The journalist analogy I used; they're here to provide the drama and put a human face on it, but the idea itself is what matters.
    As an excerise, season three's idea of hell, what if they tolerate the drug trade in certain areas is interesting - but inevitable in its conclusions. The only real surprises for me were that Colvin actually went through with it, and that Royce actually hesitated about shutting it down.
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2010
  15. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The Wire got silly as it went on (some of the foolishness is revealed in spoilers above,) till it went completely ape even in the "character driven" cop story last season. But the much maligned procedural aspect of the story gave it a kind of backbone that could support willing suspension of disbelief.

    The Shield on the other hand was based on the notion that brutal, corrup cops are the most effective cops. This is extraordinarily stupid on the face of it. To me, it stank of agenda: Cops have to break fiddling laws about civil rights to do their jobs. I could never force myself to watch an episode. Well, some people reject the concept of reality testing entertainment. The Shield didn't sound interesting because it was selling the pleasure in seeing a vicarious hero act out a political agenda (and then sufferes at the end, as a way of denying the implications of the pleasure in his actions.) AT least, that was the overwhelming impression I got. I suspect that the people who liked The Shield believe that cops have to break civil rights laws to do a good job, instead of thinking cops who break civil rights laws are by definition bad cops.

    The Wire's characters mostly were not vicarious heroes, but like regular people. They weren't extraordinarily larger than life, routinely getting away with crap most people couldn't dream of pulling. The Wire's characters, being ordinary people, were part of a society, well, at least the city of Baltimore. They weren't satisfying fantasy figures who were masters of their destiny. Instead they were part of a system, which Burns and Simon insisted was a dysfunctional but immutable system (yes, this is logically nonsensical, but Burns and Simon had their own agenda, just a more sophisticated one than the usual ruck of screenwriters.) Being part of a system dimished them in some people's eyes, I think.

    The romance or ideology of individualism often expresses itself as a perverse desire to see characters detached from any social or cultural background. Like figures in a painting detached from their background, such characters are less realistic. This is a kind of primitivism (just as that kind of art is often called primitivism,) or a symbolic convention, like monumental art where the Gods can be recognized because they're twice as big as the humans.

    PS I may be misremembering my dates, but CSI (the real one, not the spinoffs,) killed off a major character in its first episode. Because CSI is the despised procedural, it doesn't count?
     
  16. Lindley

    Lindley Moderator with a Soul Premium Member

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    I haven't seen The Shield yet either. Thanks for confirming that you don't know anything about it so I don't try to use your opinion when deciding whether or not I should.
     
  17. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Something that show pretty much directly addresses with McNulty. There's our individualistic go-getter cop who's hated by his boss and wants to get the bad guys that matter.

    Probably. I've seen only one episode of a CSI show, Miami, and that was on an airplane and I wanted to see if it'd really begin with a lame David Caruso wisecrack in the teaser (it did).
     
  18. Star Wolf

    Star Wolf Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    It wasn't only The Brother, Omar rapidly achieved that status. Is it true that the show was rewritten after they saw his early performances to add more Omar?
     
  19. TheGodBen

    TheGodBen Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The plot didn't need Herc working at the mayor's office, he only worked there for a few episodes and the whole point of that plotline was that he saw mayor Royce banging his assistant. That storyline didn't impact the election plot at all, it was just there to explain how incompetent cops like Herc could be promoted to a position of authority.

    I feel that the police-procedural element is the sugar-coated shell, but that the delicious chocolate centre is the show's exploration of the city of Baltimore. The police element is always there because that's how the show started out, but at the end of the day that's not what the show is about.

    That's not what The Shield was like at all, although I must admit that I did think it was like that after watching the pilot. In reality, The Shield detailed how police officers that ignore the protections the law provides ultimately became criminals themselves because they felt their extreme methods deserved extra reward, so they got involved in the drug trade and various other criminal activities. Once they realised how far they had fallen they tried to escape and be good cops again, but they were trapped in a death spiral that was going to take them all down.

    Also, there was only 4 main members of the Strike Team, the rest of the cops were normal and worked within the law, some of them even dedicated their careers in an attempt to bring Mackey and the rest of the team down. My favourite character was Dutch, the nerdy and law-abiding homicide detective that used his understanding of psychology to get suspects to confess. The worst thing he ever did involved a cat, but I wont spoil it.

    Actually, The Shield was based on the real-world Rampart Police division and their anti-gang CRASH unit, many of whom got up to the same sorts of things that the Strike Team did in the show.

    That said, The Wire is by far the more realistic show, The Shield exaggerated things for dramatic impact all the time. I think The Wire was clearly the better show, but I can definitely understand why some people prefer The Shield.
     
  20. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Admittedly it's not as laugh out loud funny as "Mafioso sees a shrink," but no one needs me to decide whether they think cops need to be brutal to do their jobs. Either you take propositions like that seriously, or you don't. They could just remember the Ramparts scandal. The Closer may not get any credit around this bbs but at least they have a clue about the real world, even if they're wary about using too much of it.

    In other words, I don't need to see a show to decide the premise is foolish. It's up to fans of The Shield who've seen the show to explain either, I'm misinformed about the premise, or, how cops really do need to be brutal and ignore civil rights to do their jobs.