Communicator (communicator) wrote,
Communicator
communicator

The Wire and TV drama

Matthew Yglesias proposes that The Wire is the best show in the history of television. He's perhaps going a bit far there, but I think you could make an arguable case that's it's the best serial drama on television, and a strong case that's it's the best cop show ever made. However, I think it is a little challenging to get into: you have to watch two or three episodes before it clicks, and you can't easily pick it up somewhere in the middle. It takes a bit of faith, which is part of the reason I bang on about it. The Wire is a great show in that it fulfils and crowns a well-worked genre, while most of the other shows I'd pick as 'great' (like the original Star Trek, Monty Python, Doctor Who and The Simpsons) are great because they broke through genres, they set the bounds of genres.

Here is a comment from the Yglesias thread (edited a bit) which suggests that The Wire challenges the parameters of normal television drama:

First and foremost, the show explicitly calls out the cop genre for seeking the easy moralism... But it goes further to structurally confront the basic form of TV--by revealing the precise extent to which a story ....is crammed into a 48 minute 4 act structure, and how flat, mindless and distortive the characters and stories are when forced into those confines--that the actual form of network TV with commercial advertisements actually pushes those shows toward those simplistic portraits of a complicated set of intertwining social problems.

But beyond even that, as the show expands its view to reveal an entire urban ecosystem of dysfunction, the show ends up questioning why the viewer expects so little of so many things in his/her world. Through the experience of watching the viewer realizes the extent to which most other show are mindless crap. But the show has now moved to a place where it's forcing the viewer to ask--why do we settle for crap? Why do we settle for it in the context of urban decay and senseless drug policy, and why do we structure so much of our thinking around these issues as the same kinds of pointless morality tales we watch on TV?


Meanwhile here is a Pandagon post and thread about Season three. The story in Season 3 is about the attempt at system reform, the political angle. Carcetti, played by Aiden Gillen (from Queer as Folk), is a counsellor who is manipulative, vain, progressive and intelligent. He is kind of likeable, and kind of foul.

Councilman Tommy Carcetti’s story could be called the AnyDemocrat story, the tale of an earnest, well-meaning progressive who realizes that taking soundbite-ready potshots and abandoning your moral compass is the only way to win. His final speech was a stroke of genius, his final capitulation to a progressive agenda that talks big and does nothing.


While Amanda calls him any Democrat, I think he is very New Labour, and surely Gillen was aware of this in the way he played the role.

The genius of The Wire is that neither choice in the political battle is portrayed as obviously wrong, and yet the outcome is obviously a failure. The issue of drug policy is a complex one but I think the Wire has convinced me more than ever that the supply of drugs must be taken out of the market place, de-capitalised, and also legalised. However this means that it comes into the public arena - and I think this may be impossible, a bit like prostitution in Victoria England.
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