The Wire

“No one wins. One side just loses more slowly.” – Roland Pryzbylewski

I know I’m late for the party.

The Wire: I love it and despise it.

I love the gritty HBO drama for all the memorable characters it gave us from Avon to Omar to Proposition Joe. I was told the question to ask while discussing your favorite Wire character is, “Who is your favorite character besides Omar?” and while I can appreciate that, I still found myself rooting for Proposition Joe more than any of them including Omar. You could name your three favorites and I wouldn’t argue.

Yet, I despise the Wire because it set a ridiculously high bar for future TV dramas to the point where I find myself comparing everything I watch to it and finding nothing outside of Mad Men and Breaking Bad are in the ballpark.

I’ve now watched every episode at least twice.  It’s that engrossing and layered and often shocking. It’s also sad and funny, and many nights I to went to bed bothered by what I’d seen, but unable to stop thinking about it.

One of my favorite scenes takes place in the first season when D’Angelo catches Wallace and Bodie playing a game of checkers on a chess board. Like an older brother, he explains the rules of chess, comparing each piece to people –mostly thugs, they can relate to.  It’s early enough in the story that it’s easy to overlook the fact that D’Angelo is spelling out far more than a game. As each season unwinds, you realize he’s describing Baltimore and all its social and economic failings as well as their role in the “the game”.

The Wire depicts police officers and detectives desperate to make their superiors look good which often includes “juking the stats” to give them what they expect. The police and politicians talk a good game when it comes to crime. But they care more about the appearance of fighting it, even when that means moving cases around jurisdictions to keep them off the reports.

Wall Street plays the same game with different financial vehicles. Remember how Enron was able to keep debt off their books by temporarily assigning it to fictional entities? We see the same games being played in the Wire but with violent crime stats. Everyone knows it’s wrong, but few have the guts to stand up and say, “This is wrong.”

There are so many great scenes and memorable quotes that run through my mind. Avon and Stringer on the rooftop, the Omar and Brother Mouzone confrontation, and Bubbles being allowed upstairs for dinner. Only during season five did I get a bit restless watching McNulty concoct the phantom serial killer.

The Wire discourages casual viewing, yet rewards those who are in it for the long haul. Seemingly insignificant characters return in later episodes (even seasons) to help paint a full picture of Baltimore and its people working in and outside of the law. The Wire has more in common with a great book that unwinds slowly than a TV crime drama. What other TV drama have you heard of that’s taught at Harvard?

The Wire is the best television show I’ve seen, yet I’ve only recommended it to a few friends I knew would like it. It’s a major time investment and it won’t appeal to all. I had difficulty understanding a lot of the slang, and keeping track of all the characters can be mind-boggling. But is worth it?

In the words of Omar Little: “Indeed.”

Too Many Stations

I don’t know how many stations DirecTV pipes into my home. A hundred and fifty? Two fifty? No idea. I just know that whenever I get a new receiver, I spend several hours setting up which stations are visible from the onscreen guide. Few make the cut. propjoe

I could probably get by with ten stations. In fact, most days I could get by with three of them: ESPN, HBO, and AMC.

Other than live sports, I could do without NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox.  I occasionally watch Shark Tank, but the Office hasn’t been any good for several years now. The BBC version of the Office went out on top after two seasons and two specials. Leave it to NBC to run the show into the ground. I hardly recognize the characters anymore. Dwight was always so far out there, but Jim had something going for a while. Now he’s a one dimensional dud.

Sorry, I tried Modern Family and couldn’t get over a couple annoying characters.

Flip over to AMC and you have Breaking Bad and Mad Men. The Walking Dead is good. FX had the Shield and now Justified and Louie. Louie may be the best show you’re not watching.

Of course, I can’t leave Game of Thrones on HBO off the list of best shows. The intro to Game of Thrones has higher production values than most of the junk on the Big 4.

But the Wire stands above them all. It’s an investment to watch five seasons of a gritty drama with numerous story lines. But so well worth it.

Omar, Bunk, and Proposition Joe. What a show.

"No doubt”

Tomorrow Never Knows

Last night’s episode of Mad Men was one of my favorites. I’m still getting accustomed to the new, gentler Don Draper. That Megan isn’t a pushover makes their relationship less predictable and more interesting.

TV shows such as Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Mad Men are so good that I’ve lost interest in firing up Netflix to catch up on the latest blockbuster I missed in the theater.

 don_beatles

I recently made my way through all five seasons of the Wire, and will write about that another time. But, in short, I can’t imagine watching a better TV drama. It’s so good that it’s in a category all its own.

It would be a shame if Mad Men were to flame out over another four seasons. If they only have a season or two in them, that’s fine. Go out on top.

When the BBC version of the Office went off the air it left me wanting more. I couldn’t understand why Gervais only gave us two seasons of his extraordinary work.

Too many shows wear out their welcome. That’s how I feel about the NBC version of the Office. It’s living off fumes from the first few years of decent comedy.  I don’t want to see the same thing happen to Don, Peggy, Pete and Roger.

The ending of last night’s episode would be a fitting finale with Don sitting in his chair listening to the Beatles, thinking who knows what.

“Turn off the old mind, relax, and float down stream…”

The Shield

First came the Christmas episode of the BBC version of the Office where Dawn drives away in the taxi with her butthead of a boyfriend. It looks like that’s the end of Tim and Dawn. And then we watch as she opens the oil paints.  Tucked inside is a napkin with a picture Dawn drew of Tim and the words, “Never Give Up”.

Watch Tim describe his coworkers and how he doesn’t feel like his relationship with Dawn will result in a happy ending. “Life isn’t about endings…it’s a series of moments”

The scene is so well done that it still feels genuine to me after dozens of views. It was the perfect ending to a show that few Americans had heard of. Even today, many fans of the US version don’t realize how great the original is.

The BBC version of the Office is my favorite TV show of all-time. It runs a total of 14 episodes over two years or about half the number of episodes typical American series produce. I like the American version of the show, but it lost much of the raw emotion of the BBC version. What the BBC had was Ricky Gervais.

I enjoy Dexter, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. I had never seen the Shield or heard much about it until last year when I read a number of articles ranking the best shows of the decade. The Shield showed up on most of them along with Arrested Development, The Sopranos and The Wire, which many regard as the best television drama ever.

I’ve been making my way through the first two seasons of the Shield this summer. It’s a gritty (makes CSI look like Dora the Explorer) cop drama that follows a task force filled with cops who do a lot more than merely stretch the rules. It’s difficult to classify any of the characters as good or bad, just as in everyday life. I can’t think of another show since the Office where I care more about the characters starting with Vic Mackey. Donna Bowman said it best: “There’s never been a TV cop like Vic Mackey, who painted a blue uniform the most frustrating, vigorous, incredible shades of grey.”

Tonight I watched the seasonal finale of season 2, and I knew I was watching something amazing. Something that will stick with me for a long time. Like Dawn’s taxi ride.

I don’t know what I’d compare the Shield too. I didn’t watch Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue or the Commish. But I can tell you it’s one of the best shows I’ve seen, and I highly recommend it if you enjoy this type of television.

Before it’s over, it may replace the Office as my favorite show. Here’s a video of the final scene from the season finale. The song is “Overcome” from Live.

The Shield–Season 2 Finale

Mad Men

Although I’d watched Seinfeld for a few years, it wasn’t until season four when I began to believe Jerry, Elaine and the gang were creating a show that would transcend the sitcom. I felt the same towards basketball watching Jordan drop 63 on the Celtics or the album on my first listen of Dark Side of the Moon.

That’s how I feel watching Mad Men in its fourth season.

The manner in which the writers weave bits of history throughout the story is rewarding and thought provoking.  The actors are at their peak and the entire set design and music evokes a mood that lingers past each Sunday evening showing.

draper

We’ve witnessed a number of memorable scenes over the past three seasons such as the carousel or the constant banter between Peggy and Joan.

A few weeks ago I watched a scene of Mad Men that hasn’t left my mind.

Don has decided to jot down his thoughts in a journal. One night he sits at a table looking out the window. There’s basically no dialog except Don’s inner thoughts. Many shows would have forced the show’s star to put something down in his diary. Anything to keep the show moving along.

But not Mad Men. What fills the screen is an awkward silence that every father can relate to. Juggling family and work often leads to moments of reflection – wondering if you’re adequately balancing both commitments. Solutions don’t magically drop into laps. So we sit there alone  pondering what’s next.

I’ve experienced many of these nights. While the kids are asleep and Kim is reading from bed, I’m sitting at my computer. With the lights off, only my reflection is visible on the screen. Although the thoughts run wild, they don’t always make it to my fingers.

And I’m left to think on my own.

World’s Wildest Remote

My Tivo remote isn’t working correctly. No matter what I press, it locates a showing of  World’s Wildest Police Videos.

This is a problem because no matter what’s going on around our house, I’m can’t take my eyes off the car chases and crashes and car chases that end in crashes.

It’s television at its finest. I never tire of watching a hardened criminal wrap his Ford F150 around a telephone pole at 90 mph. No messy arrest or criminals going free on a technicality. Just good old fashioned rolling your Chevy Cavalier through a corn field.

Does it get any more exciting than when the cops break out the SPIKE STRIPS?

Here’s my dream remote kindly created for me by my talented friend. The current Tivo remote is almost perfect. A slight modification would remove the ‘almost’.

Tivo_Police