Re-up with "The Wire"
"The Wire: Complete Series" box set arrives in stores tomorrow ($134.99 at Amazon), and with every ounce of TV-related hyperbole attached, its truly the gift that keeps giving. One of those shows that critics and discerning TV viewers obsessively talk about, it's almost like you join a special club when you get all five seasons under your belt.
I speak from experience as someone who didn't have HBO at the outset of Season One and had to quickly play catch-up when I read reviews comparing it to the finest Greek tragedies. Since completing all five seasons, I'm not only thankful to have discovered my all-time favorite TV show, but I've also attempted to introduce everyone I know to Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West, why are you in "Punisher: War Zone?" Why?), Omar Little, Stringer Bell, Marlo Stanfield and probably my favorite character, The Bunk.
Maybe because I haven't felt particularly excited about new programming since the writers' strike, I popped in the first disc from Season Three -- my favorite, and one that caused my jaw to drop when a certain someone crosses paths with another certain someone in a certain situation that shall remain vague for the sake of new viewers -- about a month ago. I was using it as time filler more than anything, but something happened after re-watching that first episode. I felt like I had been sucked into a whole new program.
On a show as complex and multi-layered as "The Wire," small details tend to get lost because it's hard enough to keep track of every character that's introduced each season -- and ultimately how they fit into David Simon's grand scheme. It's real work in that respect, one of the reasons it's not a television show for everyone and shouldn't be for everyone.
That sounds like a snobbish statement, but it's true. You can't leave the room for two seconds while watching "The Wire." If you skip the slightest conversation between say, Stringer and Avon in Season Three, you might miss the makings of a plot arc that'll determine the fate of several important characters -- only it'll happen when you least expect it and with a realistic sense of timing and suspense. The only experience I can equate it to is reading a really good book and suddenly seeing a slew of new characters introduced in chapter five. You can read on and keep enjoying the ride even though you might not have all your facts completely lined up, or you can take your time and page back to see who's who in the greater scheme and try to figure what role they might play down the road. Skim at your own risk. You'll still get the essence. But you'll also miss key details that make the experience truly revelatory.
Even if you're unable to latch onto every conversation, "The Wire" can still function without full connectivity. You'll always know who the big guns are. But watching Season Three a second time -- I'm now mid-way through Season Four -- brought with it so much more clarity and understanding of everybody. Even though I knew the fate of all the characters having previously finished the series, knowing their endings didn't ruin a single thing. In fact, it helped me understand the steps that allowed each and everyone to get to that final destination -- the delicate dance playing out in picture perfect slow motion.
Granted, I'm still interested in the individual journeys of characters like Michael Lee and Bubbles. But allowed to move past elementary questions like "So what's that guy's name again?" opened up so much in terms of Simon's pristine attention to detail. And that's not due to any lack of concentration on my part. I'm as locked in as it gets for TV, and even I had trouble following every move on "The Wire" chessboard.
Also, knowing who Dennis "Cutty" Wise is the minute he steps on the screen gives greater weight to easy-to-dismiss characters like Fruit, Kenard, Slim Charles and Old Face Andre. You're likely to move past them the first time around because they're merely in the periphery. But all the scenery is important on "The Wire." Every last character. Every last scene.
Just think of it this way. "The Wire's" central character is Baltimore. And each season pulls back several layers of the city so that it can provide a bigger picture of how "all the pieces fit." To take in that much volume on first viewing means you had to have missed some of the "getting there" that makes it all worthwhile in the end.
So while I didn't think it was possible from a show that literally blew me away the first time I saw it, I can say with absolute authority that "The Wire" is actually better and more rewarding the second time around.
Guess there are heights greater than the greatest of all time.
-- Thomas Rozwadowski, firstname.lastname@example.org
Labels: The Wire