Just thought I would make mention of the fact that season the first of HBO show The Wire finished on my telly last week. FX, being the dears they are, are starting season the second tonight. I will love it. I have to mention that as the first season was wearing on, I was entertaining those thoughts of ‘surely it’s nearly finished’. Not because I wanted it to finish (though in a way I did, on account of it’s a hard life being a spoiler-evader), but because I had that feeling that it had been on for ages. And you do tend to get that feeling when Big Events are occurring, McNulty (Dominic West) comes face to face with Stringer (Idris Elba) and police officers get shot. Fortunately the voiceover person told me when it was over (like I say: dears), so I can safely… I don’t know… go to the relevant Wikipedia or IMDB page (maybe not the latter) in safety.
I am happy season one is finished in the sense that I can firmly inform any of the undecided that the first season is really good, contrary to what they may have heard. Time may inform me that it is relatively poor compared to what follows but, on its own merits, it is a quality season of television. It’s quality in the sense that characters are introduced, on a near-weekly basis, without the faintest whiff of contrivance. Some of them appear ephemeral (such as the rotund head of a rival tower block, who has apparently acquired the services of deadly homosexual street ronin Omar Little (Michael K. Williams); quite patently the coolest character in the show), while others – like D’Angelo(Larry Gilliard Jr.)’s mother – ostensibly have more import than their initial appearances suggest.
The reason I am using such wussy, non-commital terms as ‘ostensibly’ and ‘suggest’ is because this is the kind of programme in which appearances seem only to exist in order to deceive. Not that this is a Shyalaman-style exercise in empty twisterama: it’s not. It’s more due to the fact that the show mirrors a dramatically compelling real life and, in life, all is not necessarily as it seems, books sometimes shouldn’t be judged by covers and other such clichés. People enter and exist our lives, and so it is here. The end result is that this semi-fictional Baltimore (apparently a fair wodge of season one, as with Homicide was based on actual events that actually happened in actual Baltimore) is more than merely a set of cops and a set of robbers; it is a breathing tapestry of life, in which there are good guys and heels on both sides.
It is a show in which hierarchy, or to use a common Wire term, ‘the chain of command’ on each side sees every stratus in a rickety tower lean suffocatingly on the one below, and the one below and so on. In which super-criminals are outed as bookworms on management courses, police middle managers are making life hard for the ground level cops, but have no other choice because their lives are being made even harder by far more powerful men. In which we are forced to sympathise with these middle managers, and with the troops, and with the muggers and hoodlums on ground level in the projects because they’re just trying to survive too. And then there are the crackheads, more sympathetic characters living a life many of us have little sympathy for in the real world; Bubbles (Andre Royo) and his associate are the aside characters with emotional depth, far more so than a Rosencrantz or Guildenstern.
The Wire is a show in which everybody is a somebody to someone and, thankfully, that someone is the viewer. It is not just possible, but likely, that we could find ourselves rooting for three different ‘sides’ in the space of one episode; such depth of character development, and of intra-team deceit is sorely lacking from subsequent programmes such as Dexter. (Just to compare the difference in execution between in police politic between the shows is stark, and that’s before one considers the difference – as indicated by nomenclature – in the emphasis of lead character and ensemble. Dexter is our lead and that’s the way it is while, as ‘the wire’ indicates, the situation is what dictates everything.)
Characters learn from past mistakes, as they should. Everybody has their good points and bad points, as they should. Death means something, that dread event after which we are never going to see that person again, an event to which too many programmes would attempt to desensitise us. The narrative gets increasingly grand as time goes on, until what was just a remarkably well written TV show becomes something else entirely. Not only is the infrastructure spot-on, but the dialogue is something else too. This is evinced by the fact that each episodes title is a quotation from that show, and also in lines like ‘the Queen ain’t no bitch – she got all the moves’ and ‘anybody who spend they time witnessing shit, they gonna get got’ (it would seem D’Angelo has all the best lines). To think this programme has two English ‘leads’ is insane; if they couldn’t get work over here then good. One Wire is worth a thousand vacant, soul-less Spooks, Hustles and, err, Life on Marses. And the best thing of all is that, a fifth of the way into this epic, the glory of The Wire has really only just begun for me.