The Wire: Why David Simon is No Mere Mortal

the-wire.jpgSheesh. Politics got me so worked up last week that I plumb forgot to post that HBO’s The Wire –my weekly exercise of picking my jaw up off the floor in awe — is back on. I now have a reason to go on watching tv. Whoo-hoo!

Now, I know this show is a critic’s darling, but gets sucky ratings and ignored at awards time. So maybe this post is redundant and/or irrelevant. Don’t care. I’m going to tell you, in writing terms, why The Wire is the best written show, maybe, ever:

  1. Voice: No other show that I have ever seen — and as you know, I am a couch potato priestess, so have seen many — captures the voice of a city as well as this show. This is probably where David Simon’s and Ed Burns’ backgrounds in journalism, police, and teaching play into effect the most. They — and with their guidance, the show’s other writers — can tap into absolutely credible dialogue from the inner city streets, to the police room, to the inner workings of the Mayor’s office.
  2. Characters: You’d be hard pressed to come up with a show that had a larger cast of characters. The police department alone hosts fifteen characters that we’ve seen in first two episodes of this latest season. And yet — and this is an important point for anyone considering jumping into watching The Wire and feeling intimidated — the characters are so well drawn that the show never feels bloated or overpopulated. In fact, even after watching just a few episodes, it’s so easy to claim any number of characters as your favorites, that when they get screen time, you celebrate to see them. Their language is so vivid that half the fun is finding out what these characters are going to say. Here’s a sampling of my favorite quotes:

    “Bring me a Shrek 2 slushie and some Krispy Kreme.” Squeak

    “I keeps one in the chamber, in case you pondering.” Omar

    “Ain’t none of you ever been in the military? Don’t you know how to make a 30-inch quick tie? (Silence) Draft dodging peace freaks, huh?” Lester Freamon

    It’s very easy to pick favorite characters. In my case, I love Omar, the scarred gangster who will rob and kill — but not on Sunday; Lester Freamon, a smart detective with a passion for miniatures; and Prez, the former cop turned teacher.

  3. Plot: Every season, The Wire walks the fine line between being complexly and intricately plotted, and being unwatchably confusing. They have not erred yet. Things move slowly — a seemingly throwaway reference will resurface five episodes later. But all the information is there for the viewer. Nothing is hidden. The show is as epic in scope as a Shakespearean tragedy, made all the more tragic because these events are based on what’s really happening in our towns and cities today. It makes me a little uncomfortable sometimes that I derive so much enjoyment from watching the series, but don’t get off my couch potato carcass to do anything to rectify the problem.

So if you haven’t been watching The Wire, what’s stopping you? If you don’t have HBO, rent some of the earlier seasons. If you do have HBO, then this should be appointment television. And if you are watching, then post who your favorite characters are and why. I’d love to hear from you.

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