No Nostalgia 03/10/2008
(Spoilers: Don't read this if you haven't seen the last episode of The Wire.)
The Penultimate Wire 03/03/2008
(Note: If you don't want to know what's happened in the next-to-last episodes of The Wire—say, for example, you're still working through season two on DVD—then don't read any further.)
Real Thugs Watching The Wire 02/22/2008
Of all the weekly postmortems of episodes of season five of The Wire (in Slate, Salon, Variety, and a zillion other places), one of the most unusual and insightful, not to mention the liveliest and most entertaining by far, is the one in the New York Times Freakonomics blog, "What Do Real Thugs Think of The Wire?" It's a weekly discussion of each week's episode by a group of real gangstas (mostly retired) from the New York area, moderated (if that's the word) by Sudhir Venkatesh, a Columbia sociologist and author of Gang Leader for a Day. The gentlemen of this informal seminar, which is fueled by beer and pork rinds with hot sauce (which sounds pretty great, actually), go by Wire-worthy sobriquets like Shine and Flavor and Tony-T, and they've already made a number of wonderfully astute predictions, which I won't spoil for you by telling you what they are. It's also a lot of fun to watch the Grey Lady Herself trying without much success to disguise the casual obscenities lacing their conversation. Apparently even the Times' web editors take that "fit to print" business seriously, so you get locutions like "m—er f—ing," which is kind of like the itsy bitsy, teeny weeny string bikini of a bleep that Comedy Central lays over the obscenities on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. You wonder why they even motherfucking bother.
Dominic West on Season Five 02/20/2008
Here's a really interesting interview from the LA Times with actor Dominic West (aka, Jimmy McNulty) about season five of The Wire. As the intro to the interview says, there are a few lines that might be considered oblique spoilers, so read it at your own risk. It doesn't give away anything crucial, though, if you ask me, and it goes a long way toward explaining why this season feels rushed and more implausible than earlier seasons: to wit, HBO cut the season from the usual 13 episodes to only 10. If Simon and his writers had had the extra three episodes, I'm confident Jimmy McNulty's derailment (and Lester Freamon's astonishing decision to join in) would be a lot more credible. It also explains why Clay Davis's trial, which would last weeks in real life, lasted only a day in the show.
Ripped from the Headlines 01/20/2008
One of the key scenes in tonight's episode of The Wire was a dramatization of something that's been happening in print newsrooms across the nation for the last several years: the management of the show's fictionalized Baltimore Sun, embodied by the publisher and the editor, call everybody in the newsroom together and announce that the paper's foreign bureaus are being shut down, and that they are making cutbacks in the paper's Baltimore staff as well, mainly through buyouts. Veteran reporters especially are vulnerable, as they are easily replaced with younger, cheaper workers.
This Just In: More About Simon and Bowden 01/14/2008
John Marks has a fascinating post about Mark Bowden's Atlantic article about David Simon. John's a journalist as well as a novelist, and his take is vastly more knowledeable than mine.
Art, Life, Vengeance, and David Simon 01/10/2008
Mark Bowden has an interesting piece about David Simon and The Wire in this month's Atlantic Monthly. Bowden explores the despair and futility that underlie the brilliant storytelling, but then the piece turns into something more ad hominem and less interesting. Now that Simon's taking on big city journalism as well as big city police departments and public education, a number of journalists—tentatively, regretfully, while still expressing their love and admiration for the show—have begun to express some skepticism about Simon and his motives. You can see it in the two guys blogging the show in Slate, and you can see it again in Bowden, and what's unfortunate in both cases is how much their argument depends on an ad hominem judgment of Simon himself, rather than a critique of what he's saying (though there's some of that, too). Which is ironic, because part of what they're accusing him of is being overly ad hominem himself, in his attacks on some of his old editors at the Baltimore Sun. The upshot of Bowden's article seems to be that Bowden considers Simon a brilliant artist who is entitled to say what he likes, however dark, about Baltimore, journalism, the state of the world—unless he says something nasty about one of Bowden's friends, in which case David Simon is a bitter, cynical hack.
The fifth season of The Wire has started, and not a moment too soon. But in a couple of months fans of intelligent, layered, brilliantly plotted, morally complex, politically engaged, and world-encompassing narrative will be faced with a existential dilemma: what do we watch now? From the looks of it, HBO doesn't seem to be planning anything similar—most of the new shows seem to be about unhappy middle-class folks whining to their therapists. Battlestar Galactica, which scratches most of the itches listed above, starts up soon on Sci Fi, but not everyone is willing to make the leap from the drug corners of Baltimore to the Twelve Colonies on the run.
In which I mostly write about books, movies, and TV. An all-purpose spoiler alert: Sometimes I will talk about these works on the assumption that the reader's already read or seen them, so if you haven't, be forewarned.
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