In the Life of 'The Wire'
October 7, 2010 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Anyone who loved David Simon's ‘The Wire’ will be interested to read Lorrie Moore’s recent piece in the New York Review of Books overviewing the series (and its sixty great episodes, originally broadcast between June 2002 and March 2008).
posted by JL Sadstone (57 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also: A version of Monopoly based off of The Wire.

(Via Kottke)
posted by schmod at 11:40 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Wire is the greatest show that I will never watch again. One trip through that world with those amazing characters was enough for me.
posted by joelhunt at 11:41 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just watched Season 4 again last week because I was missing The Wire. Thanks for posting this.
posted by SarahElizaP at 11:44 AM on October 7, 2010


The Wire is the greatest show that I will never watch again. One trip through that world with those amazing characters was enough for me.

Agreed. It was superb, even the fifth season, but I have no wish to walk down that dark road again.
posted by nomadicink at 11:45 AM on October 7, 2010


Birds of fuckin' America.
posted by Bromius at 11:45 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also: A version of Monopoly based off of The Wire.

I hate Monopoly, but that seems like a substantial improvement on the original.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:45 AM on October 7, 2010


Y'all should re-watch it. I found The Wire even better on a second go-around. The level of care and detail that went into all facets of that show is amazing.
posted by fryman at 11:47 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


In case it's not clear from the fact that it's an "overview" and not a "review", HERE BE SPOILERS AND ALL MANNER OF STRANGE BEASTS.
posted by Riki tiki at 11:49 AM on October 7, 2010


This might be obvious to some, but as a huge Lorrie Moore fan I have to ask... I've only seen the first two seasons of The Wire, will reading this article totally spoil the rest of it for me? Or is it written on a more macro level?
posted by telegraph at 11:50 AM on October 7, 2010


"Lance Reddick plays Lieutenant Daniels as a princely African-American Spock aboard the starship Baltimore."

I'm not entirely certain I agree with that line, but damn it did jump off the screen at me and make me chuckle. I can never get enough of people talking about the damn Wire, it seems.

And oh but does it ever repay rewatching.
posted by kipmanley at 11:51 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heh. I liked that line, too, kipmanley.

And I have to say I am delighted to have reached the point both in The Wire and in LOST where my Mrs. B's eyes will suddenly go wide and she'll say "I know that voice."
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:54 AM on October 7, 2010


I hate The Wire for making me not able to go back and enjoy all the other cop shows on TV. I was a Law and Order and CSI junkie when BAM! along comes this incredible show (with the exception of the first two thirds of the last season) that I now compare all others to.
Even my beloved Dexter seems like a hollow empty cardboard caricature of what it could truly be.

Fuck You David Simon! No, I'm sorry...I didn't mean that...yes I did...
posted by MrMulan at 11:57 AM on October 7, 2010


Hill Street Blues hasn't lost anything (additional), MrMulan. There's no way you can look at Mick Belker and think "Thanks to The Wire this no longer seems authentic."
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:00 PM on October 7, 2010


You could probably watch Homicide, for what it's worth, MrMulan.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:05 PM on October 7, 2010


Yeah, spoilers ahoy, for anyone who hasn't seen it all the way through yet.

Also, am I misremembering, or is this incorrect:

[Chris and Snoop] open Season Four using a nail gun—a nod, perhaps, to Cormac McCarthy’s cattle bolt—to kill young black men...

Isn't the whole point that, you see Snoop in the Home Depotish store, you see her buying this thing, you're certain she intends to use it to kill, but then, surprise surprise, she and Chris use it for its intended purpose? (Not that stashing bodies in row houses is the project the salesman would have in mind, of course.)
posted by SpiffyRob at 12:11 PM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


A version of Monopoly based off of The Wire.

Go directly to jail.
Do not pass GO.
Do not collect sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeit.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 12:13 PM on October 7, 2010 [15 favorites]


Yeah, Snoop busted caps in their asses like a normal gang hitlady. The nailgun was used to entomb corpses in abandoned rowhouses.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:15 PM on October 7, 2010


You could probably watch Homicide, for what it's worth

Yeah, I came along to reccomend Homicide: Life on the Street. The first few seasons are super-tight. It starts to get a bit more "cop-show" formulaic in the later seasons, but even in the 6th season (which I just finisheded) they manage to make half-a-dozen or so great episodes.

There are even two crossovers with Law and Order to demonstrate how superior Homicide was in every way.
posted by muddgirl at 12:22 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


SpiffyRob, absolutely. That's some complicated bathos right there. I'm not sure Chris Bauer was wearing a fat suit either, or that Idris Elba, who is certainly beautiful, has a 'sensitive' face.
posted by tigrefacile at 12:36 PM on October 7, 2010


Hill Street Blues (before my time) and Homicide: Life on the Street are both on Netflix.
To those posters that gave me these alternatives. Thank you.
posted by MrMulan at 12:36 PM on October 7, 2010


The Wire is the greatest show that I will never watch again. One trip through that world with those amazing characters was enough for me.

That's how I feel about Six Feet Under, but I enjoyed The Wire a lot more the second time I watched it, and even more the third. Three might be my limit though.
posted by bondcliff at 12:37 PM on October 7, 2010


Hill Street Blues (before my time) and Homicide: Life on the Street are both on Netflix.
To those posters that gave me these alternatives. Thank you.


For a second I was really excited that maybe you meant Netflix Instant, but alas.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:44 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hate The Wire for making me not able to go back and enjoy all the other cop shows on TV.

It's not just cop shows. Last Xmas brought two boxed sets my way, one for a show I had never seen but had been looking forward to for a while, one for the second season of a series I had already seen the first year of.

I watched the complete run of The Wire. You have no idea how difficult it was then to find any point of engagement with season 2 of The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

The downside to this show is that it makes everything else look like a bunch of ugly chickens.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:04 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Hey Lorrie! All of our editors and fact-checkers have been consumed whole by bedbugs. Want to do a few pages on how men and women misunderstand one another? Or how cute cats are? Or a few pages of banal, lazy, and not even accurate reminiscing on The Wire?"
posted by darth_tedious at 1:06 PM on October 7, 2010


Moore says:

Ideas are no good without stories. Stories are no good without characters.

I think this is precisely the problem with her piece. If you're reading it without ever having seen The Wire, I hope she convinces you to watch it before you read it all the way through and have a bunch of stuff spoiled. But I've already seen the show, and Moore's review fails to do it justice in at least one important way--her musings about the characters are not nearly as compelling or provocative as the words Simon et al. have put into their mouths, or the experience of actually watching the series all the way through. This is perhaps a failure of ambition rather than execution: Moore is an excellent writer, and I think any attempt to write about The Wire as a whole would exhibit the same flatness that I saw in this one. I guess it reminded me of reading a book report on Ulysses: no matter how good it is, it's going to suffer by comparison with its subject.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 1:10 PM on October 7, 2010


Hill Street Blues (before my time)

Just to be clear: don't expect to engage with it in the same way that you would The Wire. Hill St. Blues is drama. Kinda. Sort of. But like St. Elsewhere, it's not quite reality, and I don't think it's meant to be. That's why I think it comes out of this relatively unscathed.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:15 PM on October 7, 2010


I guess it reminded me of reading a book report on Ulysses: no matter how good it is, it's going to suffer by comparison with its subject.

But if you follow that logic you'll end up only writing about stuff that's a bit shit really. Joyce spends eighty pages of Ulysses criticising Shakespeare and it's fascinating. Lorrie Moore isn't Joyce, but nor is David Simon Shakespeare.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:35 PM on October 7, 2010


I recall reading that Moore's adopted son (who's now teenaged, I think) is part African-American. She famously doesn't talk much about her personal life in essays and interviews, but it would be interesting to know how her feelings about The Wire were affected by the experience of raising her son. I couldn't help but think some of her characters in A Gate at the Stairs (the discussion group) were pretty clearly giving voice to feelings she or those she has known have had on raising African American or mixed-race kids, though the scenes in the novel were often (as is Moore's tendency) played more for comedic effect than social criticism.
posted by aught at 1:36 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


SpiffyRob : Isn't the whole point that, you see Snoop in the Home Depotish store, you see her buying this thing, you're certain she intends to use it to kill, but then, surprise surprise, she and Chris use it for its intended purpose?

Yeah, it's a beautifully orchestrated one-two punch. You think it's a weapon, they turn the table and it's not.

But yeah, what it's being used for is still fucking evil. Probably one of my favorite reveals in the show, actually.

I just watched the whole thing a couple of months ago over the course of a week or two, and I'm letting it settle in my head before I watch it again. I will watch it again too. Even as I was viewing it the first time, I knew I was missing a ton of nuance, but that was part of the joy.
posted by quin at 1:45 PM on October 7, 2010


"They want me to stand with them but where the f@$ are they when they suppose to be standing by us? When s$#% goes bad and is hell to pay where they at? This game is rigged man, I feel like them little bitches on the chess board."

-Bodie
posted by WhiteWhale at 1:52 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Since this has been well-aired-out, I'll digress a bit to note that in five seasons, 'The Wire' got two Emmy nominations. Two. Nominations. And that's all I will ever need to know about the Emmy Awards. Fuck those Hollywood assholes.
posted by mojohand at 2:31 PM on October 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


On the ‘watch again’ once, twice, or even thrice, those among us of a certain age, or particular constitution, whose chemical engrams are so often decomposing and then not recomposing, or recomposing insufficiently, as memory (‘Speak,’ indeed!) can pretty safely watch and re-watch these classics, but who has the time for more than twice? There are all those 85 ‘Sopranos’ episodes, and ‘Six Feet Under’ seasons to do too, all calling for their second and third screenings (to say nothing of any more active cerebration ---reading a novel, writing a paragraph about something); and ya, Lorrie Moore was I think the purpose of that piece, she the writer on ‘The Wire’.
posted by JL Sadstone at 2:40 PM on October 7, 2010


Since this has been well-aired-out, I'll digress a bit to note that in five seasons, 'The Wire' got two Emmy nominations. Two. Nominations. And that's all I will ever need to know about the Emmy Awards. Fuck those Hollywood assholes.
posted by mojohand


While this is obviously a ridiculous matter (and I'm REALLY not defending the Emmys on this one), it's partly a matter of format. People who vote on the Emmys do not watch every episode of every show they nominate, they only watch the episodes they are sent. Watching a random awesome episode of some overall mediocre show that doesn't require much understanding and nuance probably does appear better than a random episode of The Wire lacking all the context and depth that a full season/series viewing obviously brings. Now of course this just means the Emmys have a shit system of determining quality (and looking back upon the show the organizers of the whole thing should be embarrassed at what they overlooked), but it does at least explain how this comes about.
posted by haveanicesummer at 2:41 PM on October 7, 2010


http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/10/22/071022fa_fact_talbot

This New Yorker profile of David Simon is well worth reading too.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:52 PM on October 7, 2010


http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/10/22/071022fa_fact_talbot

'Course, it'd be even better if I remembered to activate the link. It's from October 2007, by the way.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:55 PM on October 7, 2010


Whenever a new "The Wire" thread pops up on the blue, I feel compelled to write something that can accurately depict just how good this show is.

Thus far, I've been unable.

I love this show.
posted by flippant at 2:59 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: "Fuck those Hollywood assholes.

The Wire is brilliant in a sneaky sort of way. Unlike say Firefly which was obviously awesome half way through I didn't really grasp how good the wire was until half way through the second season when I realized I'd been watching the series straight through for the last two days. I ended up watching the whole thing in little over a week and never has insomnia been so fun.

I've watched it again at a more reasonable pace and yes there is a hell of a lot going on that any reasonable person is going to miss the first time. And stuff like the Bodie quote above get better, at least for me, when you see the begining reference. I plan to watch it again some time this winter and I anticipate it being better than whatever else is being broadcast even the third time.

There is one drawback a few friends and I have noticed in watching it all in one go marathon style: It's a little too immersive. Mostly this manifests itself in the urge to call everyone (white, asian, First Nation, Meti, it doesn't matter) nigger. Something that is so inappropriate here in white bread Canada it's practically absurd. That and the urge to precise up rounded time periods: "I've been living here for 11 months". "And 3 Weeks."
posted by Mitheral at 3:21 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Herc—played by Domenick Lombardozzi, whose Bronx accent is already a conspicuous and pleasingly unexplained dislocation.

A nitpick: they actually do explain this briefly, in Season Five, when someone remarks about Herc originally hailing from the Bronx. Apparently Simon tried to get Lombardozzi to do a Baltimore accent but it just wasn't working.
posted by Rangeboy at 3:28 PM on October 7, 2010


The Wire is brilliant in a sneaky sort of way.

This varies by person.

Me, I was hooked in the first scene -- McNulty and some kid talking about why Snot Boogie got shot, and the ending "Ya gotta let him play -- it's AMERICA." Holy shit, that was it. I've still only watched the first 2 1/2 seasons, mostly because I know I can only watch it for the first time once and I want to be able to savor it right.

It's a little too immersive. Mostly this manifests itself in the urge to call everyone (white, asian, First Nation, Meti, it doesn't matter) nigger.

See also Deadwood, that motherfucking show about the adventures of various motherfucking cocksuckers, motherfucking dirt-worshiping heathens, San Francisco cocksuckers, and various other motherfucking motherfuckers. Fuck.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:00 PM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


See also Deadwood...

Yeah, wow. Mrs. Grotesk and I just watched that the whole way through (her first time, my second), and it has done some serious remapping of the language centers in my brain. Even if I am not audibly calling the cat a professional fuckin' pain in the balls or requesting that a pedestrian vacate the fuckin' middle of the God-damned thoroughfare, I am definitely thinking these things. Here's hoping I can still speak G-rated English in the workplace.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 4:25 PM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


It gets better on the second and third viewings. I haven't started on the fourth, so I can't vouch for numbers beyond 3 yet.

In that sense, it is indeed like a good novel. Going through it again keeps bringing up new things, or new ways of looking at old things.

For me, that novel was Catch-22 and that TV show is The Wire.
posted by vidur at 4:33 PM on October 7, 2010


Including season 5? (if you were not impressed with it)

I can't tell if I'll like it more because my expectations for that season will be different (I'll resist "lower"), or if I'll come to see the whole season as dispensable because I'll know it won't be reaching previous heights again.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:58 PM on October 7, 2010


My favorite conversation is whether Deadwood or The Wire is better. No matter what side I pick, I love having this argument.

The answer, BTW, is Deadwood by a hair.
posted by Falconetti at 5:00 PM on October 7, 2010


My only problem with season five is the death toll. Most of the people I was rooting for ended up dead and the person I'd most like to see get his comeuppance makes out like a bandit; essentially better than anyone else.
posted by Mitheral at 6:22 PM on October 7, 2010


Yeah - but the fact that Slim Charles gets to deliver a comeuppance was like a personal gift to me.
posted by Mid at 7:12 PM on October 7, 2010


(from the article):

In the one episode where Omar is on a Caribbean isle, he seems so out of place the story line quickly summons him back to cowboy land.

That was actually one of my favorite moments of the entire series, in a subliminal sort of way - Omar, who probably represents the 'real' Baltimore more than almost any other character, is, as far as I can recall (and I just finished watching The Wire for the second time a few weeks ago), the only character ever shown outside of Baltimore itself. Not counting the few scenes that take place on the street in Philadelphia or New York etc. like when they bust Wee Bey. But in the first season, when McNulty is putting Omar on the bus to NY to lay low, Omar declares that he'll be back sooner or later, as Baltimore is all he knows. But in the end, he was probably the only one strong enough mentally and spiritually to actually try a totally foreign place. I don't know, probably I'm reading into it too much, but even on my first trip through the show, that brief scene said a lot to me about Omar as a character, and as a result, a lot about the others as well.
posted by mannequito at 8:05 PM on October 7, 2010


The only thing better than The Wire would be five seasons of Omar and Brother Mouzone teaming up to kick people's asses. They could call it What Do I Have To Do Before This Man Raise Up His Gun Again?
posted by the_bone at 9:45 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Falconetti: The answer, BTW, is Deadwood by a hair.

What kind of hair?
posted by snwod at 1:33 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love The Wire (so far, anyway). And for those who haven't, definitely watch Homicide: Life on the Street. It is (unsurprisingly) very similar in many ways, and was the best show on TV when it aired. It contains an episode with Vincent D'Onofrio called "Subway" (vague to avoid spoilers) which remains the single most harrowing and brilliant hour of TV I have ever experienced (and could likely never watch again), it haunted me for days.
posted by biscotti at 4:35 AM on October 8, 2010


the only character ever shown outside of Baltimore itself

Doesn't McNulty go to Virginia to stash the fake serial killer? And wasn't there an episode where a couple of the cops drive around the suburbs looking for a store that sold burners?
posted by kirkaracha at 6:03 AM on October 8, 2010


And that's all I will ever need to know about the Emmy Awards.

”It’s like them never giving a Nobel Prize to Tolstoy. It doesn’t make Tolstoy look bad, it makes the Nobel Prize look bad.”

Forgot who said that, but its spot on.
posted by AceRock at 7:13 AM on October 8, 2010


There are all those 85 ‘Sopranos’ episodes, and ‘Six Feet Under’ seasons to do too, all calling for their second and third screenings

I dunno. I started watching the Sopranos for the second time earlier this year and gave up after Season Two. Knowing that they would do the mobster-you've-never-heard-of-who-gets-out-of-prison-or-back-from-Florida-and-wants-his-due-creating-a-problem-for-Tony again and again and again was discouraging, plus, having seen the series, I knew that Janice, Meadow, and AJ would always be whiny brats. Having one of the themes of the show being that people don't change was a disincentive to watch again.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:35 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I always liked how they would talk about food on the commentary tracks. I got the impression that a lot location scouting time was spent eating.
posted by warbaby at 7:35 AM on October 8, 2010


kirkaracha writes "Doesn't McNulty go to Virginia to stash the fake serial killer? And wasn't there an episode where a couple of the cops drive around the suburbs looking for a store that sold burners?"

He also has that road trip where they are tracking down the burner vendors and he has what turns out to be a pretty uncomfortable conversation with that male overweight white cop.
posted by Mitheral at 8:28 AM on October 8, 2010


It's a little too immersive. Mostly this manifests itself in the urge to call everyone (white, asian, First Nation, Meti, it doesn't matter) nigger.

See also Deadwood, that motherfucking show about the adventures of various motherfucking cocksuckers, motherfucking dirt-worshiping heathens, San Francisco cocksuckers, and various other motherfucking motherfuckers. Fuck.


The Wire is entirely responsible for me using the "re-up" is everyday conversation. Most people understand, but I get some questions sometimes. I just cannot help it.
I use it constantly: "I need to re-up the sticker on my license plate again," or "I need to stop by the grocery store and re-up."
posted by smitt at 12:45 PM on October 8, 2010


The article was pretty decent, but Season Five still broke my heart (in that I thought it was totally terrible).
posted by elder18 at 1:31 PM on October 8, 2010


lol I also started using the word: re-up in everyday conversation after having recently finished the wire in about 2 weeks. And I expect others to naturally know what I'm talking about.
posted by spacediver at 7:53 PM on October 8, 2010


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