Reviews Too Late: The Wire

by wjw on October 13, 2008

Last night I screened (courtesy of Netflix) the final episode of The Wire, which over its five years has pretty damn clearly proven itself the Greatest Dramatic TV Series Ever. The series never won any major awards, but it’s so good that it ought to be inscribed, like the works of Chuck Berry, on a platinum record and sent into space on the next interstellar probe, just to show the aliens how freakin’ great we can be.

Calling The Wire a cop show is like describing Oedipus Rex as a family drama. It’s an exploration of institutions and the people who live in and struggle with them. In the first season, we saw the Baltimore cops being screwed by the cop system, the lawyers being screwed by the legal system, and the drug dealers being screwed by the criminal system. Building on the first season, the second season explored the failing culture of the docks, the third the failed political culture, the fourth the failed schools, and lastly the failure of the media to note truth from tabloid.

There are no big-name actors, only character actors working in ensemble. (Some of the actors were brand-new, including convicted murderer Felicia “Snoop” Pearson in the role of Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, a character that Stephen King considers the most frightening female character ever.) The writing is brilliant, mainly by creators David Simon and Ed Burns, but also by novelists Richard Price, George Pelicanos, and Dennis Lehane. A lot of local Baltimore reporters also wrote for the series.

The series never lost the ability to surprise. The story and characters were always taking unexpected turns, and the writers were never afraid to kill off characters even if the audience had grown fond of them. (RIP Omar, sigh.)

The only failure is in the series was in the character of its ostensible lead, Jimmy McNulty. How often have we seen the alcoholic, self-destructive cop obsessed with his work and hopeless in his relationships? The writers and the actor did their best, but McNulty never quite rose above the stereotype. Alone of the characters, I always found his series arc completely predictable— at least until the final episode.

In that last episode, the writers at last allowed themselves a bit of sentimentality. The long, drawn-out farewell— accompanied here and there by the Pogue’s “Body of an American”— framed all the characters in the place which fate, and time, and their own desperate inclinations had sent them. We had time to say goodbye to all of them.

David Simons’ next series will supposedly be set in the New Orleans music culture, post-Katrina. Hey. He found a subject even more depressing than the drug culture in Baltimore!

I’ll be glued to the set.

Maureen McHugh October 13, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Tru dat, as they say in Bal’mor.

Ty October 13, 2008 at 7:33 pm

And now Michael is the new Omar.

On the McNutty thing (I always loved that Bubbles called him that), I wonder if it isn’t a cliche because it is so very true. One of the writers worked the crime desk for twenty years, and I’m willing to bet he met a lot of McNutty’s in that time.

Also, Bubbles gets the best. ending. ever.

Ralf the Dog October 13, 2008 at 8:30 pm

Friggen awesome, another good TV show to eat my time. Why can’t the people who make TV shows turn out mindless crap so I can ignore it?

Please, Hollywood writers, can’t you guys make up some stupid show like a remake of Gilligan’s Island only make it a game show? How about a show about a talking Corvette or a Mustang?

Please, I am begging here, no more quality writing.

dubjay October 13, 2008 at 8:47 pm

It isn’t Hollywood, Ralf. It’s HBO.

And Maureen, I’m surprised at your bad spelling.

It’s Balmer.

dubjay October 13, 2008 at 8:57 pm

Re: McNulty

I’m sure there are plenty of real-life McNultys around. David Simon himself may have been a McNulty, for all that he wasn’t an actual cop.

Doesn’t mean that McNulty wasn’t a stereotype, though.

I’ve tried to think of ways that McNulty could have risen above that, and I think the writers should have found something outside of the job, alcohol, and drunken women that he could have obsessed about. Like Freamon with his unlikely hobby of building doll furniture.

Maybe McNulty could have been obsessed by trout fishing, or softball, or drag racing. Something that would have taken him out of the expected places.

Ty October 13, 2008 at 9:25 pm


I always thought his partner (whose name is escaping me right now) was much more interesting as a character.

He was also a job obsessed boozing womanizer, but he also seemed like a real person. And he didn’t even build doll furniture. I wonder if in that case it’s just the actor’s charisma.

dubjay October 13, 2008 at 9:43 pm

Bunk only womanized the one time, as I remember. And then he felt so guilty that he burned his clothes to hide the evidence.

This was why he was such a more interesting character.

The story is also so wack that I’d bet you it’s true, and that Simon and/or Burns heard it somewhere in their round of cop bars.

Ralf the Dog October 13, 2008 at 10:13 pm

“…I always thought his partner (whose name is escaping me right now) …”

Who would name a cop “Escaping Me Right Now”? That is a very silly name for a cop.


Ian McDowell October 17, 2008 at 6:27 pm

Walter, have you seen Simon’s recent HBO mini-series GENERATION KILL, based on journalist Evan Wright’s account of the push to Baghdad while he was embedded with First Recon? It may not be the masterpiece that THE WIRE is, but it’s pretty damn great, and with many of the same themes.

James Ransome, who played Ziggy on Season 2, is the motormouth Rip-fueled driver of Wright’s humvee, Ray Person. Unlike most of the other actors, Ransome doesn’t look like the real guy he’s playing (the real Person is from hillbilly stock), but it’s a good performance and it’s odd how likeable he is while still being like Ziggy in some ways.

And really, “Fruity Rudy” Reyes, the built-like-a-superhero kung fu and MMA practicing metrosexual Buddhist Marine killing machine who plays himself in the mini-series, deserves an action movie franchise or something.

Some conservative blogs called the mini-series an insult to the Marine Corps (one blogger in particular got upset at all the bad language), but all the Marines and GIs I know have really liked it, and called it accurate, even the conservative ones who don’t share Simon’s politics.

I’m not sure which is darker, it or THE WIRE. If THE WIRE had one genuine hero in Cpl. Bunny, GENERATION KILL has two, in Lt. Nate Flick (who wrote his own account of the events, ONE BULLET AWAY, and who spoke before Obama at the DNC), and Sgt. Brad “Iceman” Colbert, a super-competent Republican who teases Wright about his “liberal lies” and who is still in the Corps (I think he recently did some exchange program with the Royal Marines).

A quick google search shows that there’s actually GENERATON KILL slash out, mostly concentrating on Colbert/Flick. God knows what the actual guys think about that!

dubjay October 17, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Ian! Good to hear from you! Whatchoo been up to?

No, I have not seen GENERATION KILL, but if it’s got a Buddhist Marine killing machine in it, I’m there!

Ian McDowell October 17, 2008 at 10:55 pm

Not as much as I should be, Walter.

It’s probably unfair of me to call Rudy Reyes a “killing machine,” for all that’s part of the Marine self-image. He’s pretty sensitive. Or “Sensitive.” It’s amusing how, well, gay, he comes across as being (although he has a wife), and how, in both Wright’s book and the mini-series, the other Marines clearly adore him FOR his metrosexuality, even while insisting “Rudy, you’re fucking gay!” Of course, as Wright says, the fact that he can easily kick their asses may have something to with it, as they tend to look up to the Alpha Male even when he’s, well, “Fruity.”

Rudy Reyes on a TV interview about the show:

Rudy showing off his MMA sparring skills (what straight man would wear those shorts?):

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