All the pieces matter: analysis, essays, and anything else on The Wire
I have posted a few items on The Wire here at the readjack.com blog, referencing it in my blog intro and covering it in a February 2008 essay. Now, as I have done with my Iran and Bulls coverage, I would like to pool all of my favorite Wire material into one spot. This one. So here we go.
**DECEMBER 1, 2012 UPDATE**
Remember, if you have other essays/videos/links that you don’t see here, drop them in the comments and I’ll add ‘em in. Thanks!
June 25, 2002 in Entertainment Weekly (EW.com)
‘Wire’ Power by Ken Tucker
EXCERPT: ”The Wire”’s fifth episode is, well, funkin’ amazing. McNulty’s unit has been trying to get the goods on kingpin Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris), a figure as elusive as a phantom. The cops crack the code that Barksdale’s scattered minions use on their pagers — a key to tying Barksdale to large-scale drug running. Many of the established story lines converge here. The best of them involve the moral struggles of Barksdale’s young nephew D’Angelo (Larry Gilliard Jr.) — a natural lieutenant in the enemy army, who’s deciding if he has the stomach for pushing death on the streets — and the office politics McNulty must endure to combat that army. The latter affords ”The Wire” an opportunity to dissect the multilayered bureaucracy, and episode directors such as Clark Johnson (Boycott) get beautifully detailed performances from ”Oz”’s Lance Reddick as McNulty’s promotion-minded superior, ”Homicide”’s Peter Gerety as a pushy judge, and Clarke Peters as a brilliant detective consigned to a desk job for a forgivable sin committed years ago. (The series may be about cops and criminals, but you’ll recognize ”The Wire”’s workday tensions in your own life.)
June 29, 2002 in salon.com
‘What drugs have not destroyed, the war on them has’ by Ian Rothkerch
EXCERPT:HBO’s new series “The Wire” is as much a polemic against the drug war as it is an indictment against traditional cop-show conventions. Over the course of a season, “The Wire” follows the frustrated attempts of federal agents and Baltimore police to topple an elaborate drug organization run by an elusive crime lord named Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) and his conscience-stricken nephew D’Angelo (Larry Gilliard Jr.). When first we meet D’Angelo, he’s on trial for murder — a rap he beats after one of the star witnesses is coerced into changing her story by Uncle Avon’s crew. In attendance for this bogus verdict is Detective James McNulty (played with charismatic intensity by Dominic West), a pit bull homicide cop who takes D’Angelo’s victory as an insult to his professional ego. McNulty is subsequently brought in by the presiding judge to do a postmortem on the case, revealing that this was only one in a slew of uncharged homicides attributed to the Barksdale clan.
September 13, 2004 in msnbc.com
On ‘The Wire,’ sometimes the bad guys win by Michael Ventre
EXCERPT: With “The Wire,” the entire series is like a brazen gunfight on an inner-city street. Even if you think you are safe, you could still be hit with a stray bullet. Characters that you’ve invested time and emotions in suddenly are gone. Executive producer David Simon apparently has too much integrity, intelligence and respect for the harsh realities he and his crack team of associates deal with to hand out one-hour helpings of vanilla. Here’s hoping he keeps it up.
October 1, 2004 in salon.com
EXCERPT: “It’s a novel,” David Simon likes to say about the show he created, HBO’s “The Wire.” Which is a good way of explaining the show’s distinctively long plot arcs, dense webs of characters and grand scope — but an intimidating message to new viewers who, tempted by the show’s wild critical acclaim, are trying to tune in now, early into the program’s third season. After all, you wouldn’t start reading a novel on page 201, would you?
But getting a handle on the third season of “The Wire” doesn’t necessarily require watching 25 hours of back story. Though I heartily recommend the Season 1 DVD set (out Oct. 12), I’m happy to present a guide to HBO’s acclaimed, and extremely intricate, series.
August 18, 2006 on youtube
Charlie Brooker on The Wire
August 25, 2006 in Entertainment Weekly
Setting off a ‘Wire’ alarm by Stephen King
EXCERPT: In David Simon’s version of Dante’s Inferno, Hell is played by Baltimore and all seven of the deadly sins are doing just fine, thanks. Midlevel drug dealers welcome fall by giving their corner boys money for new clothes — a little perk to keep them happy and moving those spider-bags and red-tops. The bigger crooks give to the politicians to make sure the influence keeps flowing. The only difference is the amount changing hands. And Lester Freamon, a detective Sherlock Holmes might hail as a peer, has an aha moment while looking at an abandoned row house — one of thousands in the city’s decaying core — on a chilly winter afternoon. ”This is a tomb,” he says.
September 1, 2006 in ESPN.com
Sports Guy seal of approval (item 17) by Bill Simmons
EXCERPT: Before I started watching “The Wire,” my four favorite TV/movie detectives of all-time were Sonny Crockett (“Miami Vice”); Jack Cates (“48 Hrs.”); Johnny Kelly (“NYPD Blue”); and Nick Curran (Michael Douglas’ character in “Basic Instinct”), who couldn’t break away from Sharon Stone even though he knew that every time she climbed on top during sex, there was a 50 percent chance she might ram an ice pick into his chest. But Jimmy McNulty in “The Wire” (played by Dominic West) … he might end up beating them all before everything’s said and done. He might have even moved to No. 1 during the scene in Season 2 when they raid a brothel and he ends up in a threesome before the rest of the cops arrive. Not even Sonny Crockett would have done that.
September 7, 2006 in Variety
The Wire, Season 4 review by Brian Lowry
EXCERPT:What Simon and his collaborators achieve is breathtaking — creating a dozen parallel plotlines that slowly converge as the season progresses, all rooted in a totally organic world. There is drug kingpin Marlo (Jamie Hector), consolidating his hold on the streets; Det. Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters), who continues to follow the drug money despite his higher-ups’ reluctance to stir the pot in an election year; and former cop Howard Colvin (the magnificent Robert Wisdom), who, after unilaterally decriminalizing drugs in season three, is recruited to research at-risk teens, intersecting with the aforementioned youths.
Why ‘The Wire’ is the best show on television by Jacob Weisberg
EXCERPT: The Wire, which has just begun its fourth season on HBO, is surely the best TV show ever broadcast in America. This claim isn’t based on my having seen all the possible rivals for the title, but on the premise that no other program has ever done anything remotely like what this one does, namely to portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature.
September 18 to December 11, 2006 in slate.com
Breaking down the Wire by Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz
EXCERPT (from the 10-16-06 Steve James post): For my money, The Wire‘s visual and storytelling style is what you might call “classical.” The series runs against the tide of current television (and even film) drama by not indulging in spurious attempts to mimic the look and urgency of real documentaries with a lot of “shaky-cam”: jiggley hand-held shots, quick unmotivated zooms, extreme close-ups, and editing that seems intent on letting no shot play longer than two seconds. It’s an affliction shared by recent works like Friday Night Lights (the film and the series), the controversial Path to 9/11, much of the work of Oliver Stone, and virtually every awful network-TV miniseries involving natural and man-made disasters. (Though I don’t include such deft appropriations of doc style as Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday and Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves.) Real documentary filmmakers would fire shooters who can’t hold a shot or focus, or sit still on a subject. Why? Because it prevents the viewer from connecting with the subject and story at hand. And as David says, The Wire is, above all, intent on pulling the viewer into the story and characters.
September 20, 2006 in ESPN.com
Mad libs world in Hollywood by Bill Simmons
EXCERPT: There’s nowhere to hide in “The Wire.” The characters are stuck in Baltimore, a washed-up city ravaged by drugs, poverty and political corruption. Our closest thing to heroes are renegade detective Jimmy McNulty (a likable, hard-drinking iconoclast who disappears for much of Season 2 and becomes completely irrelevant in Season 4) and a gun-wielding nomad named Omar (a scarfaced Robin Hood, only if Robin Hood was gay and stole from drug dealers). We spend three full seasons watching Baltimore police break the city’s biggest drug syndicate … only to watch an angrier, more ruthless group of rival dealers immediately pop up in its place. The current season centers around four poor teenagers (all of them threatening to succumb to the drug lifestyle) and Baltimore’s incompetent school system (which can’t even begin to hope to save them), with the show elucidating in painstaking detail why these kids can’t be salvaged: They have no role models and no chance to escape, and things will never change because the lead politicians and major police heads only care about themselves. There’s no overall plan to save the city, no passionate leader on the horizon, nothing. All of it would take too much effort. Like a dead fish, Baltimore rots from the head down.
Season 4′s run, in Entertainment Weekly (EW.com)
Season 4 episode recaps by Michael Endelman
JACK’S NOTE: For some reason, I am having difficulties locating all of these reviews. As I secure them, I will post them.
EXCERPT (from Endelman’s recap of episode 4 ‘Refugees’): As for Marlo’s own bloody trail, Lester Freamon is inching a bit closer to figuring out that the murder rate isn’t down; the corpses just haven’t appeared. ”The boy is a young lion,” he muses while drinking one of many whiskeys with Bunk. ”The lion has to have its kill. Where’s he putting the bodies?” Don’t you just want to shout into the screen and tell him? Look in the row houses, dude! I’m gonna predict that that B-More’s own Sherlock Holmes will find them in the next episode; it seems like the right point in the season’s narrative arc for a major event like that. And when that happens, the now dead Major Crimes Unit will have to come back to life, despite the suffocating presence of Charlie Marimow. And though Bunk seems to miss his beloved Jimmy McNulty, the hefty detective is spending some time showing homicide’s newest member, Kima Greggs, the ins and outs of her new unit, while hazing her too. Bunk does impart some useful information, so we finally hear one explanation of the phrase ”soft eyes” (which was also the title of episode 3). The question, however, is whether Greggs will be able to develop soft eyes soon enough to solve the political-hot-potato case that’s just been dumped on her desk: the murder of the state’s witness that Carcetti used to skewer Royce in the debate. Burrell is trying to bury the case until after the election, but he dropped the case on the wrong rookie. I bet Greggs will get this murder tied up in time for a Carcetti upset.
2006 to the present in What’s Alan Watching
Episode by episode recaps of The Wire by Alan Sepinwall
SEASON 1 (written summer 2008)
SEASON 2 (written summer 2009)
SEASON 3 (written summer 2010)
SEASON 4 (written as the season aired)
SEASON 5 (written as the season aired)
September 22, 2006 in The House Next Door
The Wire and the Art of the Credit Sequence by Andrew Dignan
EXCERPT: A dialogue is brokered through the alternating images of law enforcement and those seeking to undermine it; the cutting creates symmetry through juxtaposition. To wit: a pay phone call in which a dealer orders a re-up of drugs is followed by a shot of an officer listening in through an ear-piece. Though their heads are out of frame, the man using the pay phone is clearly facing screen left, while the man with the ear piece is facing screen right. Yet bisecting the frame in both shots is the titular wire, occupying roughly the same position within the frame. The cop needs the criminal and the criminal is only forced to employ cloak and dagger tactics because of the cop.
November 17, 2006 in ESPN’s Page 2
Will HBO series change attitudes? by LZ Granderson
EXCERPT: “[Omar]‘s one of the best characters on the show,” the Cavs guard [Larry Hughes] says. “I think Omar is very believable. If you can have a businessman be on the down low, why can’t you have a gangsta?”
“That’s different,” Mason says. “Because Omar does his thing but you don’t have to be around him all of the time. In football, you spend so much time together and you’re in the shower … it’s just different. I still think if an athlete comes out, he would be committing professional suicide.”
But Mason’s teammate, Bart Scott, has a different take.
“I don’t care what he does in his personal life,” the linebacker says. “All I care about is, ‘Can he help me win football games? Can he help me win a Super Bowl?’”
December 1, 2006 in slate.com
DAVID SIMON: There were no models for us in TV. I admire the storytelling of The Sopranos, though I don’t watch it consistently. And Deadwood; I don’t watch it, but I admire their storytelling. We certainly weren’t paying attention to network TV.
Instead, the impulse on my part is rooted in what I was supposed to be in life, which was a journalist. I’m not interested in conducting morality plays using TV drama—in stories of good versus evil. I’m not interested in exalting character as a means of maintaining TV franchise. Most of TV works this way: You try to get something up and running, and once you do, you just try to keep it going, because there’s a lot of money involved. That’s not in my head. What’s in my head is what I covered, what I saw as true or fraudulent, what made me smile, as a reporter. I’ve been mining that ever since. To be honest, at the end of The Wire, I’ll have said all I have to say about Baltimore. I don’t have another cop show in me. I don’t have another season about Baltimore. What I’m saying is that I have to go back to the well.
March 22, 2007 on youtube
Jay-Z, A Week Ago, The Wire
May 22, 2007 in justtv.wordpress.com
The Wire and the Serial Procedural: An Essay in Progress by Jason Mittell
EXCERPT: The Wire’s novelistic qualities are most directly linked to its storytelling structure and ambitions. As Simon attests in frequent interviews and commentary tracks, he is looking to tell a large sweeping story that has traditionally been the purview of the novel, at least within the realm of culturally legitimate formats. He highlights how each season offers its own structural integrity, much like a specific book within a larger epic novel, and each episode stands as a distinct chapter in that book. The model, modestly left unspoken, might be War and Peace, a vast narrative containing fifteen “books,” each subdivided into at least a dozen chapters and released serially over five years.
August 2007 in believermag.com
NICK HORNBY: Baltimore may have had more of an influence on me professionally than any other U.S. city, now that I come to think about it. Certainly with High Fidelity, one of the things I was trying to do was cross Barry Levinson with Anne Tyler. Levinson, Tyler, The Wire, John Waters… None of these seem even to share an aesthetic, and yet there is an incredibly distinctive body of work that’s come out of your city. I’ve never been there, although I’d like to visit. Can you explain how it might have produced this work?
DAVID SIMON: I’m somewhat at a loss to explain Baltimore’s storytelling appeal. The interesting thing is that all of us are slicing off different pieces of the same city. My demimonde is decidedly not the Baltimore of Barry Levinson or John Waters in terms of filmmaking, and none of us get close to the blue-blood districts of Anne Tyler’s Roland Park. Laura Lippman moves all around the city, but her latest stand-alone novels are actually strongly referenced to Baltimore County, which is the suburban subdivision that actually encircles Baltimore city. She’s been mining places like Towson and Padonia and Owings Mills, where a lot of the upper-middle-class wealth has migrated.
One thing that I do feel is that by getting out of the traditionally dominant locales of New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, writers stand a better chance of speaking to conditions that are reflective of a lot of less-than-unique or less-than-grandiose second-tier cities. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington—these are unique places, by dint of their size, their wealth, and unique aspects of their culture (New York as financial, fashion, and theater capital, and as cultural icon, or Washington as the government city, or Los Angeles as the film capital of the country). Baltimore is a postindustrial city, wedged between D.C. and Philadelphia and struggling to find its future and reconcile its past. In that sense it’s like St. Louis and Cleveland and Philly and a lot of other rust-belt American places, and so stories from here have a chance of being about more than Baltimore per se. The storytelling here might be quite detailed in referencing local geography and culture, but it translates easily to elsewhere and therefore acquires additional relevance easily.
September 15, 2007 in salon.com
The Sopranos vs. The Wire by Rebecca Traister and Laura Miller
EXCERPT (from Miller’s Wire half): What “The Wire” is about is the game. The “game” is what the show’s black characters call the drug business, but the smarter players know that the game’s boundaries are not so finite. Although the series is scrupulously realistic (its creator, David Simon, is a former Baltimore Sun crime reporter and his writing partner, Ed Burns, is an ex-homicide detective), there is one improbably romantic character: the maverick stick-up artist Omar Little — beholden to no one, afraid of nothing, resolute in his abstention from curse words and the injury of “taxpayers,” and, last but not least, gay. Leave it to Omar, the show’s only true outsider, to state the series’ premise while pulling off a bit of prime courtroom rhetoric in a scene from Season 2. Testifying against a soldier of the dreaded Barksdale gang, accused by the gang’s sanctimonious lawyer of leeching off the drug trade, Omar coolly tells the shyster: “Just like you … I got the shotgun; you got the briefcase. It’s all in the game.”
October 22, 2007 in The New Yorker
Stealing Life: The crusader behind “The Wire” by Margaret Talbot
EXCERPT: Each season of “The Wire” has focused, with sociological precision, on a different facet of Baltimore. The previous season featured a story line about the city’s anarchic schools, told partly through the character of Roland (Prez) Pryzbylewski, a young cop turned schoolteacher. Simon recalled, “On the first day, the kids were all cutting up and yelling. It was like the first day of school. You know how they kicked the shit out of Pryzbylewski emotionally on the show? The kids were doing the same to the assistant directors. One poor A.D. was, like, ‘Please! This is too fuckin’ meta.’ By the end of the year, we had a good crew of young actors, but in the beginning it was, as we say in Baltimore, like herding pigeons.” While Simon was telling this story, Jermaine Crawford, a fourteen-year-old who joined the cast last season, came over to hug him. The scene being filmed would mark the final appearance of Crawford, whose character, Dukie, comes from a family in which all the adults are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
June 1996…posted on youtube November 2007
Steve Earle performing “I Feel Alright” on MTV
January/February 2008 in The Atlantic
The Angriest Man In Television by Mark Bowden
EXCERPT: [Simon] has done something that many reporters only dream about. He has created his own Baltimore. With the help of his chief collaborator, Ed Burns, a former Baltimore cop and schoolteacher; a stable of novelists and playwrights with a feel for urban drama (including George Pelecanos, Richard Price, and Dennis Lehane); a huge cast of master actors; and a small army of film professionals shooting on location—in the city’s blighted row-house neighborhoods and housing projects, in City Hall, nightclubs, police headquarters, in the suburbs, the snazzy Inner Harbor, the working docks—he has, over four seasons, conjured the city onscreen with a verisimilitude that’s astonishing. Marylanders scrutinize the plot for its allusions to real people and real events. Parallels with recent local political history abound, and the details of life in housing projects and on street corners seem spookily authentic. (A New York City narcotics detective who loves the show told me a few years ago that street gangs in Brooklyn were watching it to learn tactics for avoiding cell-phone intercepts.)
January 1, 2008 in theamericanscene.com
The Bleakness of the Wire by Reihan Salam
EXCERPT: …who doesn’t want to believe that the tragedies of the inner-city are intractable? David Simon thinks he’s constructed a critique of capitalism, but in fact he’s prepared an elaborate, moving brief for despair and (ultimately) indifference. If you’re outraged by The Wire, do you then … go and support the election of your own Tommy Carcetti? Or do you throw up your hands and rail against the depredations of the market economy? This could lend itself to some more radical challenge to the status quo, and of course we’re never shown the depredations of Chavez’s Venezuela where petrosocialism has fueled new inequalities and new repression. Or it could lend itself to paroxysms of white guilt.
January 2, 2008 in Variety
The Wire, Season 5 preview by Brian Lowry
EXCERPT: “The bigger the lie, the more they believe,” detective “Bunk” Moreland, played by Wendell Pierce, says in the opening hour, providing a window into a season whose labyrinth of plots are too good to give up and too intricate to do justice.
In the process, the series juggles a mind-boggling assortment of characters (40 are listed in the credits provided by HBO), raises issues seldom explored elsewhere in either drama or news (such as the tepid reaction to African-American fatalities) and assiduously builds from an understated start in tone, depth and intensity.
January 7, 2008 in New York Entertainment
The ‘Wire’ backlash begins by Ben Mathis-Lilley
EXCERPT: One of the otherwise-engaging newsroom scenes in last night’s Wire premiere stuck in our craw: David Simon’s grammar lesson. Remember? The go-getting young reporter played by Michelle Paress gets chastised for writing that (paraphrasing) “the Fire Department evacuated 120 people” during a fire. “You evacuate a building. You don’t evacuate people,” Old Curmudgeon Editor grunts. Cut to Paress’s character looking in some sort of reference book, then admiringly muttering, “He’s right, you know,” to a fellow reporter. But is he really right?
January 7, 2008, at ESPN.com
Truth of “The Wire” by LZ Granderson
EXCERPT: When someone like [Sean] Taylor is killed, we tend to spend much of our energy analyzing what happened. But it’s “The Wire” that takes a blunt look at the why. It doesn’t blame everything on race. The “good guys” tend to have really, really bad days, and no, you don’t feel good at the end of each episode.
Instead, you are left angry, helpless and confused, as if stricken by a debilitating disease that no one is willing to diagnose, let alone treat.
Each year, the show concentrates on one particular aspect of the overall problem. Last season was the education system. In prior years, the streets and politics were the focus. This final season is about the media, particularly newspapers. Not necessarily the sexiest subject, but certainly one that plays a huge role in the way we see crime, particularly those crimes involving black men.
January 9 to March 10 2008, at the Freakonomics blog
What Do Real Thugs Think About the Wire? by Sudhir Venkatesh
EXCERPT (from Part 1): Thug assessment #4–Carcetti is a fool. Numerous observers commented on the Baltimore Mayor’s lack of “juice” and experience when it came to working with the feds. The federal police, in their opinion, love to come in and disrupt local police investigations by invoking the federal racketeering (“RICO”) statutes as a means of breaking up drug-trafficking rings. “When feds bring in RICO, local guys feel like they got no [power],” Tony-T explained, offering some empathy to local police who get neutered during federal busts. “White boy [a.k.a. Carcetti], if he knew what he was doing, would keep them cops on Marlo just long enough to build a case — then he would trade it to the feds to get what he wanted.” Others chimed in, saying that the writers either didn’t understand this basic fact, or they wanted to portray Carcetti as ignorant.
February 16, 2008 in Esquire Magazine
A Newspaper Can’t Love You Back by David Simon
EXCERPT: I was an angry kid, by and large, with a cynic’s wariness of authority that was in harness with a good newspaperman’s contempt of cant and hyperbole. I loved a snide turn of phrase. I edited my high school paper, pissed off the faculty advisor, who thought about firing me, won some awards. I edited my college rag, pissed off the media-board chairman, who thought about firing me, won some awards.
February 18, 2008
An examination of what The Wire considers as “real police work” by William Rodney Herring
EXCERPT: Policing is about surveilling. It’s about knowing every individual on your beat. It’s about having information about them. It’s about visibility. It’s about knowledge. And it’s about power. It is, in particular, about knowledge-power. In short, it is about discipline. (Is this not what makes the rowhouse murders so horrific in Season 4? That although we suspect murders are occurring, we can’t see evidence? That we don’t know the victims?) So it turns out that policing is not occupying because a disciplined society is a transparent society that doesn’t need occupation. And it doesn’t need occupation because visibility and information are produced everywhere and by everyone, at least for those properly positioned to see and know. But Foucault has taught us this, and this series merely illustrates with surprising accuracy his argument in Discipline and Punish.
February 29, 2008 in readjack.com
The Godfather of Television by Jack M Silverstein
EXCERPT: Simply put, The Wire is the story of its characters’ humanity. That comes first. It has to. Without the humanity, who really cares if a hopper gets killed because he tried to leave the game, or if the bosses shut down a case because cracking gang violence is less of a career-maker than political fraud? It is the humanity that drives the show, the humanity that makes Dad and Mike hop out of their seats at the reappearance of Omar, the humanity that makes viewers sweat during a shoot-out because they’re worried about the well-being of people on both sides of the fight.
March 5, 2008 in Time Magazine
The Wire‘s War on the Drug War by Ed Burns, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Richard Price, David Simon
EXCERPT: What the drugs themselves have not destroyed, the warfare against them has. And what once began, perhaps, as a battle against dangerous substances long ago transformed itself into a venal war on our underclass. Since declaring war on drugs nearly 40 years ago, we’ve been demonizing our most desperate citizens, isolating and incarcerating them and otherwise denying them a role in the American collective. All to no purpose. The prison population doubles and doubles again; the drugs remain.
March 7, 2008 in New York Entertainment
Debating the legacy of ‘The Wire’: did Season Five tarnish the show that invented the Dickensian Aspect ratio by Dan Kois and Adam Sternbergh
Kois: For me the oversimplifications of this season brought to my attention the oversimplifications of seasons past — ones I overlooked initially, because I don’t know the world of cops and drug dealers the way I know the world of the media Which ended up, yes, tarnishing the show for me somewhat.
Sternbergh: I would never argue that the show is, or was, flawless. But most of these flaws were a product of its outsize ambition. (Not to reference the dreaded Dickens, but you think there aren’t a few one-dimensional characters in his classics?) And it’s this ambition, and the astonishing attempt to which it was realized, that makes this the GREATEST SHOW EVER™!
March 10, 2008 in New York Entertainment
March 10, 2008 in Rolling Stone
EXCERPT: As great as the last episode was, saying goodbye to the show sucked. Why stop? There’s so much more to say about Baltimore and any number of these characters. And when HBO announced that after The Wire we could stay tuned to the season finale of Russell Simmons presents Def Comedy Jam, a nation’s television sets went dark. I’m sure of it.
Still, it’s somehow fitting that the day after The Wire retires, the Governor of New York is busted in a prostitution ring by getting caught on a wiretap. Seriously, you can’t make this shit up.
March 11, 2008 in heavenandhere.wordpress.com
EXCERPT: Given the uneasy history between blacks and Jews in this country, I’m surprised Simon, a Jew himself, allowed the final season of his masterwork to hinge on a conversation between two powerful Jews. Granted, Levy was the ultimate token Jew on The Wire, as Pearlman was Jewish like Snoop was gay, but the implication was that everything ultimately gets hashed out behind closed doors by Jews. After Pearlman and Levy’s stand-off, I sent a text message to my brother marking the birth of a new generation of anti-Semites.
March 20, 2008, on youtube
David Simon speaks at USC Law
April 20 and May 4, 2008 on Both Teams Played Hard
EASTERN CONFERENCE EXCERPT from Part I:
Washington Wizards (“I wasn’t meant to play the son” — Marlo) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (“Why don’t you just shove the broom up my ass and I’ll sweep the floor too.” — Bill Zorzi)
…all you really need to know is that at one point while calling the game Steve Kerr calls LeBron’s performance “Jordanesque.”
It was total bullshit. Because not even Jordan ever did anything like that.
After that explosion, it was game…set…match. Frankly, I’m not even sure why Detroit showed up for Game 6 (and, actually, they really didn’t: Cleveland won 98 – 82).
Then they got swept by San Antonio in the Finals.
Predictably, that was LeBron’s fault too.
Fast forward ten months and it’s looking like more of the same.
Sure, Danny Ferry shuffled the deck chairs a little bit and this Cavs team is improved. But they’re also gonna hafta get through both a “Remember the Alamo” Detroit team as well as the Boston Three Party, who are vastly superior to anything the East had to offer last season. And if the Cavs somehow manage to get through all that, then, surprise, they get the best team in the West.
Basically, there’s absolutely no chance this is the year LeBron gets his first ring.
But it sure will be fun watching him try.
From the Summer of 2008 in Dissent Magazine
EXCERPT from Atlas and Dreier’s first story: The few heroes depicted in The Wire are individualist renegades and gadflies. These include cops like James McNulty (Dominic West) and Lester Freaman (Clarke Peters) and the stick-up artist Omar (Michael Kenneth Williams), as well as social worker Whalen (a Narcotics Anonymous sponsor played by the singer Steve Earle), the Deacon (an influential West side churchman played by Melvin Williams), and Dennis “Cutty” Wise (Chad L. Coleman), whose boxing program may stop a teenager from succumbing to a life of drugs. Unlike ACORN, BUILD, the Algebra Project, and Justice for Janitors, these do-gooders don’t seek to empower people as a collective force. They try to help individuals, one at a time, rather than try to reform the institutions that fail to address their needs.
EXCERPT from Chaddha, Wilson, and Venkatesh follow up: According to Simon, the central and straightforward goal of The Wire was to show that the “system” is broken and that it fails individuals and families. With its sophisticated critique of the structure of urban inequality, the show drove this point home, although apparently with a “nihilism” that, for Atlas and Dreier, rendered the critique ineffective. However, the community organizers they describe would presumably agree that the “system” has profoundly failed their communities. We would argue that the message of the show and the work of the grassroots activists go hand in hand. The Wire exposes the systemic inequality that the activists and organizers are working tirelessly to challenge and reform. Indeed, The Wire suggests that, since attempts to reform these institutions from within are doomed to failure, the only way to challenge failed systems is through independent action unsanctioned by these very institutions.
August 13, 2008 in Entertainment Weekly (EW.com)
EXCERPT (from Moment 2):
Season 1, Episode 4-Watching Bunk, chomping on his cigar, and McNulty methodically work a crime scene was one of The Wire‘s richest pleasures. In the victim’s kitchen, their whole dialogue is one variation or another on a most satisfying swear word. Actors Wendell Pierce and Dominic West, brilliant both of them, make it sound like Shakespeare. Suck on this, network crime procedurals.
October 27, 2008 on youtube
Wire cast members urge North Carolina voters to vote Obama
December 12, 2008 on House of Georges
Evening Essay: “The Wire” by bankmeister
EXCERPT: Stubborn prick that I am, though — I can’t dive into something like that; I’ve got to have the handle, the entire litter as opposed to the alleged pick. So I got on the NetFlix, and I ordered it up, one disc at a time, cordially interspersed with one movie for the wife, then one for me in between. Earlier this week, I finished the entire program, and I can’t remember the last time I felt so thankful for a recommendation, so stunned by a production of any kind. And I say all that to say this: There is nothing current-events-related about this post. The Wire called it a wrap and ended their fifth and final season earlier this spring. But, like Jim Gaffigan says, it’s frustrating when you see a movie for the first time that everyone else has already seen ages ago, and you want more than anything to talk to someone about it. That’s the position I’m in right now, so I’m talkin’.
December 19, 2008 on youtube
‘The Wire Wrap Up’ by Mad Skillz
December 23, 2008 to the present on IMDb, started by user Everyday-Struggler
Results HERE at the readjack.com blog
EXCERPT: Worst liked characters on the show… DE’LONDA BRICE, Rawls, Marlo, Clay Davis, Herc, Johnny Weeks
January 26, 2009 in New Yorker Magazine
‘A Lonesome Death’ by David Simon
JACK’S NOTE: This story is not about The Wire, but it is written by David Simon, and seeing his stuff in print–getting another layer of what he is about as a writer and social commentator–is always interesting. Also, the Hattie Carroll story did take place in Baltimore. So thar ya go.
EXCERPT: In February of 1963, twenty-four-year-old William Zantzinger, armed with a toy carnival cane and wrecked on whiskey, made a spectacle of himself at the Spinsters’ Ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore. He was a drunken country mouse in the big city, at a time when the notion of racial equality had barely shown itself in the neighborhood of his father’s tobacco farm. When the hotel’s black waitstaff was slow to serve Zantzinger another drink, he yelled racial epithets at Hattie Carroll, a barmaid and a fifty-one-year-old mother of eleven, and he rapped her on the shoulder with his cane. She became upset, then collapsed and died of a stroke.
March 1, 2009 in the Washington Post
‘In Baltimore, No One Left to Press the Police’ by David Simon
EXCERPT: In the halcyon days when American newspapers were feared rather than pitied, I had the pleasure of reporting on crime in the prodigiously criminal environs of Baltimore. The city was a wonderland of chaos, dirt and miscalculation, and loyal adversaries were many. Among them, I could count police commanders who felt it was their duty to demonstrate that crime never occurred in their precincts, desk sergeants who believed that they had a right to arrest and detain citizens without reporting it and, of course, homicide detectives and patrolmen who, when it suited them, argued convincingly that to provide the basic details of any incident might lead to the escape of some heinous felon. Everyone had very good reasons for why nearly every fact about a crime should go unreported.
March 12, 2009 in IrishLeftReview.org
JACK’S NOTE: A decent essay… doesn’t give you much you don’t already know… bricks on some character names and details… but provides some absolutely terrific links to other Wire-related stories.
EXCERPT: Though the political commentary in The Wire is usually implicit, the show can be read as a text that bridges the Bush and Obama eras. David Simon said that he was initially prompted to make a show whose scope far outreaches the crime series he had previously been involved in after witnessing the institutional corruption and failure of American corporations such as Enron and WorldCom, both of which happened in the months following 9/11, and which, one would imagine ought to have served as a warning sign for the much greater collapse seven years later.
May 29, 2009 in darkmatter.org
The Politics of Brisket: Jews and the Wire by Keith Kahn-Harris
EXCERPT: What is intriguing is how far our brief insights into Levy’s home life are tied in with references to his Jewishness. His family life is bound up in Jewish ritual (Sabbath dinner) Jewish food (brisket) and Jewish belonging (mishpocha). Levy’s invitation to Herc to become mishpocha has unmistakably clannish, even conspiratorial overtones. He extends the warmth of his Jewish family to someone who has loyalty to him – loyalty forged through Herc’s betrayal of Carver. In turning his back on his loyalties to the police and to his former partner, Herc is received into Levy’s Jewish family circle. Even if Herc has previously betrayed Levy himself through giving Marlo’s cell number to Carver (something of which Levy is not aware) Herc’s pleasure in Levy’s invitation indicates his willingness to forge a new set of loyalties that, whilst anchored in the Jewish home, are built on the values of The Game. In other words, Levy succeeds in seducing Herc – one of The Wire’s dumbest and most suggestible characters – away from the rectitude represented by his former partner in the police (who over the five series has come to be redeemed from his earlier corruption). The embrace of Levy’s Jewish home is ultimately the reward for Herc’s betrayal. The home, a source of succour for other characters, is in the case of Levy a source of corruption.
Lots more Wire essays from darkmatter.org that I will profile as I read.
July 10, 2009 in kellylowenstein.wordpress.com
The Wire’s roots: David Simon’s Homicide by Jeff Kelly Lowenstein
EXCERPT: Many of the characters, scenes and institutions that Simon unrelentlingly portrays are broken in The Wire are essential elements in Homicide. Reading the book is almost like seeing an earlier version of one of Michelangelo’s statues half-carved out of marble: the future masterpiece is visible, but not yet fully formed.
The drug dealers and users are a major ingredient of The Wire that is not a significant part of Homicide. Simon spent the year with the detectives, and while he does an effective job of painting complex pictures of these public servants, his depcition of the criminals at that point was far thinner.
JACK’S COMMENTS:It seems this former fan site has been ‘picked up.’ Congrats to them! This is a great spot to go for current, post-show material and news on Wire alum. It also has tons of links to fun stuff like soundtrack listing, discussions on Wire actors with British accents, and, prior to Season 5, ponderings of the worthwhileness of a Snoop Dogg cameo.
JACK’S COMMENTS:I have only just recently found this site, but the ep-by-ep reviews feature in-depth, scene-by-scene recaps, and they also provide character guides, so this is a terrific site for beginners–it kind of functions as another set of Wire Cliff Notes. The site runner has just finished her/his Season 2 writeups following coverage of Season 1, (an example of one episode writeup) and it says the site will be doing all 60 episodes, so thar ya go. Definitely recommended.
August 27, 2009 in justtv.wordpress.com
Reflections on teaching The Wire by Jason Mittell
EXCERPT: First off, this was the most satisfying course I’ve ever taught. It truly felt like a shared community of learners exploring the program and its contexts, with nearly every student fully engaged and excited about what we were working on. In large part, I was blessed with great source material – the show clearly rewards close attention, and if anything, I felt myself holding my students back from wanting to just keep watching episode after episode. Even though we met for 7.5 hours a week (5 of which were spent watching episodes), I felt there was not enough time to discuss everything that was on people’s minds. Luckily, the class blog captured the overflow, making it the most vibrant online discussion I’ve ever run.
September 2, 2009 in tomkatsumi.wordpress.com
EXCERPT: Omar makes no attempt to hide his sexuality, but is not overt about it either – he feels no need to wear it as a badge but similarly shows no shame. It is a testament to the amazing writing on the show that Omar wasn’t flirting with the police or planting a kiss on the cheek of someone he was about to shoot in the head – he even has terrible fashion sense, demonstrated in a bizarre scene where McNulty takes him shopping. At the same time they resisted an ‘Omar coming to terms with his sexuality’ special; in the words of the recent Stonewall campaign “Some people are gay. Get over it”.
October 13, 2009 in timesonline.com
Transcript: David Simon on why he created The Wire by David Simon
EXCERPT: As I learned on my earlier experience in network television, the NBC executives used to ask the same questions every time they read a first-draft Homicide script:
“Where are the victories?”
Or better still:
“Where are the life-affirming moments?”
Never mind that the show was called Homicide, as head writer and executive producer Tom Fontana liked to repeatedly point out, and never mind that it was being filmed in a city struggling with entrenched poverty, rampant addiction and generations of deindustrialization.
Brave soul that he is, when Fontana wanted to write three successive episodes in which a violent drug trafficker escaped all punishment, he was told he could do so only if the detectives shot and killed the villain at the end of a fourth episode.
Good one, evil nothing. Cut to commercial.
October 13, 2009 in crownofthewire.blogspot.com
EXCERPT, from their introduction to the rules: “Best” character can mean whatever a panelist wants it to mean. A suggested framework is to evaluate the characters according to the following three categories:
1. Which character is “cooler,” more fun to hang out with, has a more awesome personality, etc.
2. Which character is better at his job.
3. Which character adds more value to the show.
The panelists still must decide how to weigh the different categories. For example, in a hypothetical matchup of Wee Bey vs. Chris, a panelist may find that Bey seems cooler and more fun to hang out with, Chris is more essential to Marlo than Bey to Avon, and they both are equally valuable to the show (of course, another panelist may disagree with each of these assessments). The panelist must then decide which is more valuable- Bey’s superior coolness or Chris’s superior assassin/consigliere skills.
November 16, 2009 on Both Teams Played Hard
EXCERPT: “We either step up or we step the fuck off.” (Bodie – 0:36)
Portland looks promising. But to hang with Denver and San Antonio — let alone LA — they’re going to need Greg Oden to both keep up his early-season defensive and board dominance and step up his offensive production as well. Tough order, indeed. But it’s either that or do what Bodie said.
March 24, 2010 in slate.com
This Will Be On the Midterm. You Feel Me? by Drake Bennett
EXCERPT: For Wilson, the unique power of the show comes from the way it takes fiction’s ability to create fully realized inner lives for its characters and combines that with qualities rare in a piece of entertainment: an acuity about the structural conditions that constrain human choices (whether it’s bureaucratic inertia, institutional racism, or economic decay) and an unparalleled scrupulousness about accurately portraying them. Wilson describes the show’s characters almost as a set of case studies, remarkable for the vividness with which they embody a set of arguments about the American inner city. “What I’m concentrating on is how this series so brilliantly illustrates theories and processes that social scientists have been writing about for years,” he said in an interview.
May 11, 2010 on theprodigalguide.com
EXCERPT: Amid this misery and brutality strides a character that has put a whole new spin on the gangster genre and the two-dimensional characters it so often yields. Omar Little is truly like no other: with a monster scar running at an angle down his entire, slightly droopy eyes that twinkle as often as they harden and a dazzling smile he exhibits anytime he rips off dealers for their stashes, well, it’s clear he’s a product of his environment.
October 11, 2010 on youtube
All opening quotes
March 23, 2011, in hoodedutilitarian.com
“When It’s Not Your Turn”: The Quintessentially Victorian Vision of Ogden’s “The Wire” by Sean Michael Robinson and Joy DeLyria
EXCERPT: If at any time besides its treatment of Templeton The Wire flirts with caricature, it does so in the character of Omar Little. Yet no one would ever reduce such a monumental culmination of literary tradition, satire, and basic human desire for mythos as Omar Little by defining him as mere caricature. Little is not Dickensian. Nor is he a character in the style of Thackeray, Eliot, Trollope, or any of the most famous serialists. If he must be compared to characters in the Victorian times, he most closely resembles a creation of a Brontë; he could have come from Wuthering Heights.
The reason that Little so closely resembles a Brontë hero is of course that the estimable sisters were often not writing in the Victorian paradigm at all, but rather in the Gothic. Their heroes were Byronic, and Lord Byron himself took his cue from the ancient tradition of Romance, culminating in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, but originating even further back. Little would not be out of place in Faerie Queene, and even less so in Don Quixote: an errant knight wielding a sword, facing dragons, no man his master. The character builds on the tradition of the quintessential Robin Hood and borrows qualities from many of the great chivalric romances of previous centuries. Meanwhile there is an element of the fey, mirroring Robin Hood’s own predecessor—Goodfellow or Puck—and prefiguring later dashing, mysterious heroes who also play the part of the fop, as in The Scarlet Pimpernel.
May 3, 2011, in ESPN.com
EXCERPT, from Part II
34. ”I admire a man with confidence.”
35. “I don’t see no sweat in your brow either, bro.”
To Ray Allen, who nailed so many big shots for Boston in four years that it’s reached “even if you know we’re running this double-screen for him, we’re doing it anyway,” status and he’s still as reliable as anyone. If Chicago doesn’t win the 2011 title, it will be because they didn’t overwhelm Allen with a three-year, $40 million offer last summer. In their defense, I think they thought they were a year away — they never expected Rose to make The Leap that soon. But why pursue a J.J. Redick/Kyle Korver tandem for the same money that it would have taken to get Ray?
Clearly, they read the tea leaves: Barring injury, Ray should remain at this level until he’s 38 or 39. One of my favorite parts of this year’s “The Association” was learning more about Ray’s preparation — how early he gets to the arena, where he shoots on the floor, how much thought he puts into everything — and coming away thinking, “Wait, this guy is kind of a lunatic!” And I mean that in the nicest way possible — he wouldn’t waver from his routine for anything, not even if it meant shooting 3s at 4:00 while they were still putting down the floor, or trying to get his drills done as a cheerleading squad practiced 20 feet away. He did everything short of shooting jumpers while muttering “15 minutes until Wapner, 15 minutes until Wapner” or counting 250 toothpicks that just dropped on the floor. As recently as last year, arguing “Reggie Miller versus Ray Allen” was as fun as arguing “The Sopranos” versus “The Wire” — you could make compelling cases for each side, even if the Reggie/Sopranos backers were arguing with their hearts and not their heads (and romanticizing certain things about the player/show that became distorted narratives over time). After Allen’s 2010-11 season? There is no more debate.
November 30, 2011, at aaronhuertas.com
“What I Learned from Watching the Wire Three Times” by Aaron Huertas
EXCERPT, from “Go-Through One: Wait, What Just Happened?”
The Baltimore of The Wire is a war zone. And we are left with little satisfaction when the police put the bracelets on anyone. Avon Barksdale, Wee-Bey Brice, and Marlo Stanfield see jail as an extension of their street lives. In their world, jail time is comprised only of “The day you go in and they day you come out.” Though Dennis Wise (Cutty) puts the lie to that later.
The police characters experience “career death” over and over again as they lose and regain positions of power. McNulty goes to the boat and returns, just as Cedric Daniels winds up in a bland processing office before being given a command again. Carcetti moves up the ranks, Kima toys with different lines of police work and we watch as they all struggle to find their place in the world.
March 5, 2012, on Grantland.com
‘Smacketology: A tournament to determine The Wire’s greatest characters,’ by Grantland staff
EXCERPT, from Grantland’s opening article
Over the course of five seasons, The Wire populated its fictionalized Baltimore with more indelible, vibrantly flawed characters than any TV metropolis this side of Springfield (which also had its share of cynical cops, dirty politicians, and lovable substance-abusers). And yet, even in that context, it’s hard to argue that Omar Little — the proudly gay, profanity-averse, Honey Nut Cheerios-loving trap house stickup man played by Michael K. Williams — doesn’t still stand alone, like the cheese. (Word to Cheese.) If The Wire were the X-Men, Omar would be Wolverine; if The Wire were M.O.P.’s recorded output, he’d be “Ante Up (Robbin Hoodz Theory).” To paraphrase the President, if you were to rank the show’s characters in a March Madness-style bracket, “He’s got to be the no. 1 seed.”
This gave us an idea. What if we actually did subject the key players of the Wire-verse to rigorous bracketological inquiry? If we played corner boys against dock workers, murder-polices against hoppers, and craven politicos against enigmatic not-actually-Greek human traffickers, in matchups as arbitrary and occasionally unjust as life and death on the mean streets of West Baltimore, would the king stay the king?
This week, we’re going to find out.
March 5-14 2012, on Grantland.com
‘Smacketology’ full archives, by Grantland staff
EXCERPT, from Grantland’s interview with Michael K. Williams, whose Omar Little was the Smacketology champion, by Andy Greenwald
Were there any characters you would have voted for outside of yourself?
I always said that if I didn’t get a chance to portray Omar, and I could have picked any other character, it would have been Bubbles. I liked what that character represented: the struggle that was real prominent in Baltimore, the addiction. Bubbles had his own moral code that he walked to. I always wanted to see him win.
And yet you crushed him in this.
[Laughter.] It’s Omar! What do you want?
As the person closest to him, why do you think Omar won so easily?
He represented everything that society deems negative. And he also represented everything that society should aspire to be. He walked that fine line. He had a moral code, but also his heart. He had an awesome heart.
March 14, 2012, from indiewire.com
“The Wire” has been used as a stepping point in examinations of urban decay everywhere from law journals to Harvard sociology courses. Last month at the SW/TX PCA conference, I listened to a paper describing how the city of Vancouver had essentially created a district just like “Hamsterdam” from season 3. Shows like “The Sopranos” and “Deadwood” have been hugely ambitious in terms of storytelling and characters, but neither can claim to have inspired the social commentary and political discussion sparked by “The Wire.”
That’s why holding a bracket-style tournament to figure out the best character feels like a disservice — it takes creations out of context of the larger ideas they helped represent. Jay Caspain Kang wrote the winners would be chose based on their “Gulliness, Spine-tingling/goosebump-inducing scenes, Depth of character/uplift factor, [and] How badly you wanted them to win The Game,” as voted by their Facebook fans. According to “The Wire,” no individual is greater than the institution that controls them, unless, it seems, that institution is a social media game.
April 4, 2012, on vimeo
Style in the Wire, by Erlend Lavik
An exploration of the Wire’s visual style
April 5, 2012 at the New York Times by Jeremy Egner
and April 6, 2012 from Alan Sepwinall
Two interviews with David Simon about how people watch the Wire, in part a response to Grantland’s Smacketology feature
EXCERPT, from NY Times interview: David Simon on wearying ‘Wire’ love
Mr. Price noted that even with “The Wire,” many of the people who praise it now weren’t around when you almost couldn’t get a Season 4, much less a Season 5.
That’s right. I do have a certain amused contempt for the number of people who walk sideways into the thing and act like they were there all along. It’s selling more DVDs now than when it was on the air. But I’m indifferent to who thinks Omar is really cool now, or that this is the best scene or this is the best season. It was conceived of as a whole, and we did it as a whole. For people to be picking it apart now like it’s a deck of cards or like they were there the whole time or they understood it the whole time — it’s wearying. Because no one was there in the beginning, or the middle, or even at the end. Our numbers continued to decline from Season 2 on.
EXCERPT, from Sepinwall interview: David Simon doesn’t want to tell you how to watch The Wire
So what’s your concern with the interview?
May 1, 2012, from RedEye Chicago
Deconstructing the Bill Simmons-David Simon beef, by Stephen Markley
What makes “The Wire” so valuable is not just its writing, acting, or storytelling brilliance but the dire picture it paints of societal crisis and how mundane that crisis can sometimes look. It’s the most indispensable piece of art of the 21st century so far not because Omar is a great character (though he is) but because of the questions the show poses about our inner cities, public education system, blue-collar workforce, political processes, and—omnipresent—the prohibition of drugs and militarized enforcement of that prohibition.
As someone deeply interested in all of those questions, I can see how it would be annoying to hear the show reduced and talked about with the kind of devoted yet airless worship of a serial like “Lost.”