THE WIRE Project: Season 1, Disc 1
June 30, 2010 by Erik Wilkinson
Welcome to The Wire Project. Over the next five weeks, I hope that the GMMR community will explore the streets of Baltimore in a unique way, enhancing the viewing experience for one another. My goal is to make this project feel like a book club, with insights and opinions expressed with civility and good humor.
Each week, I’ll spend a little time chatting with my friend Heather to kick start the conversation. We’ll do our best to hit on the big themes and events of each week’s episodes. This is a complex show, so your favorite storylines, characters, and scenes may be wildly different from ours. That’s fantastic! With your participation, this discussion will be ripe with new ideas all summer.
A quick favor to ask before we get rolling: Since this is an interactive project, I would also welcome your feedback about how we introduce each group of episodes. If you would like more emphasis on plot, characters, etc., please include those in the comments section. We will do our best to make this satisfying for everyone.
Without further adieu, here is our take on Episodes 1.1 to 1.3.
Erik: How did you get talked into revisiting The Wire?
Heather: I feel like I’m the only person on earth who hasn’t seen it and had my life changed by it.
E: You’re not alone, believe me.
H: Every critic I read had it on their list as best show of the decade at the end of last year. Basically, I feel left out.
E: As you know, I’m a picky person. When every sports columnist, radio host, and comedian I enjoy comments on the greatness of this show, I felt like the kid in class who didn’t get the joke.
H: Exactly! But that leads to the problem of “is this thing over-hyped?” How can we possibly go into this with reasonable expectations?
E: It’s a good point, and one that I tried to keep in mind as I watched the first batch of episodes. Quick note for the readers: Did you have ANY previous knowledge of the show or the main characters?
H: I’m sure that I do, but I don’t know yet what those things are. Does that make sense? Like how you know things about shows you don’t watch just because the facts are floating in the ether. I’m afraid that we’ll get toward some really shocking development and I’ll suddenly remember that I already know what happens.
E: I feel the same way. If something earth-shattering happens, and the twist was hidden in my subconscious, I can’t really get frustrated. After all, we’re 8 years late to the party…
H: Yeah, it’s not really a spoiler at this point. Also, I’m the kind of person who reads the end of a book first, so I’m trying very, very hard not to just go read the Wikipedia entries ahead of time. I’m going to attempt to do this as purely as possible.
E: Because everything on Wikipedia is true For this installment of THE WIRE project, we watched Episodes 1-3 of Season 1. What are your overall impressions? Is there a show that The Wire reminds you of?
H: It reminds me of every cop show I’ve ever seen. McNulty is Irish, divorced, disliked by his superiors for his unconventional methods, there’s the obligatory strip club visit. Sometimes I felt like I was watching a satire of a cop show. Like they were hitting the notes, but doing so with a wink.
E: Because it’s set in Baltimore, I definitely got the vibe of Homicide: Life on the Street, an old NBC show that also focused on inner city drug wars
H: Yes, I got that vibe, too. As if only direction given to everyone involved was “be gritty.”
E: And a quick trip to IMDB just informed me that almost every episode of Homicide was written by David Simon, the showrunner and writer of The Wire. How big of a “Duh” can you print in a live chat?
H: Heh…So this is Homicide with boobs?
E: I think that was the original tag line on the posters
H: No wonder the show became so popular. There were a couple non-traditional things here. Like the lesbian cop. When they had that scene with her live-in girlfriend I thought that I just didn’t think I was up for secret lesbian subplot and was pleasantly surprised that she’s out and no one cares.
E: A far cry from most shows, where you’d have the cliched bigotry in the bullpen…
E: Is it wrong that, so far, I hate the McNulty character? Beyond the unoriginal characteristics you pointed out, his sense of earnestness rings hollow to me.
H: Maybe you’re turned off by how hard the writers are trying to make us root for him? They really make a point about how much everyone else hates him. Making him the underdog just trying to do the right thing. Which I get, I guess, but then he refuses to participate in the raid in episode 3 and he started to just seem like a self-righteous jerk.
E: The raid was the climax of our first group of episodes, and I did feel like it was an exercise in police ineptitude. I’m also not taken with McNulty’s taste in women, because Assistant State’s Attorney Rhonda Perlman is a weak character
H: Yeah, she doesn’t do anything for me, either. Maybe she gets better later. You know what’s really surprised me is how genuinely funny the show is. I laughed out loud several times. I’m used to some gallows humor on a cop show, but this was better than that.
E: Yes, Mr. Simon seems to have a gift for dialogue, and I was tickled by the scenes where the older cops were being cajoled into working on the clock only. Something about turning red into black through green? Not a strong endorsement of our public servants, but probably more accurate than we’d like to believe
H: Yes, they do seem to have a good sense of the internal politics that people outside the system wouldn’t know and probably wouldn’t want to know.
E: Switching over to the seedier side of the show, what’s your read on D’Angelo Barksdale? He’s probably the most developed character so far, and my favorite to watch
H: He IS very interesting, isn’t he? On the one hand, the first thing we know about him is that he got away with murder. On the other hand, they seem to be going in a drug-dealer-with-a-heart-of-gold direction with him. He has redeeming qualities. He also is just beginning to grasp the power dynamics around him. I almost feel like he’s more of an audience surrogate than McNulty is.
E: Fantastic point! I think that rooting for the cops, because of the depth of despair being suffered in the projects, is almost counter-intuitive. D’Angelo had a great line in episode 3, when he pointed out that a kinder, gentler approach to drug dealing would work, because the cops don’t care about black people getting high
H: The funny thing about that is that he was repeating something McNulty told him. As if he was genuinely digesting the things that McNulty was seemingly saying just to be snide.
And that issue, for me, was the Big Theme of these episodes. Why is selling drugs different than selling anything else? Is it just the illegality? People are addicted to alcohol and no one gets killed for selling that. That was kind of the moment when they moved away from just cop show to something a little bigger. Not just assuming that drug dealing is different, but asking why.
E: And the liquor store owner rarely gets pistol whipped in the eye…
H: Seriously. It is really hard to root for the cops after that “fact-finding” incident. That was brutal.
E: So, we’re getting lessons in the power of the Thin Blue Line, the hopelessness of drug addicts, and the parallels in power between Law Enforcement and Drug Lords. Not bad for an hour long drama
Before we wrap up, a couple of questions for you… Is there a character you are looking forward to seeing more of?
H: Aside from D’Angelo, I’d have to say Lt. Daniels. Partly because Lance Reddick also plays Agent Broyles on Fringe, so I have some affection for him to start off. The other part is that interesting bit of information given by the FBI agent – that they think he’s on the take. He seems very above-board, so I want to see where this goes. And you?
E: I was waiting for the Fringe reference Speaking of favorite shows, one of the young dealers (the one who wanted to keep playing checkers instead of chess) is Michael B. Jordan, who plays Vince Howard on this season of Friday Night Lights! I want to see more of the older detective who figures things out without speaking.
H: The one who got the boxing poster?
E: YES! Based on his age, I think it’s Detective Lester Freamon. I could be wrong, because this show’s cast needs a Venn Diagram to keep track of.
H: I can see that. He has an “I am quietly awesome” vibe about him. Dude, seriously. I have never taken such copious notes watching tv before. Every time the cops were frustrated that they couldn’t figure out who the drug dealers were, I thought to myself that they don’t know the half of it.
E: It’s a lesson to the younger generation. If your 11th grade English teacher instructs you to take copious notes, it is a skill that pays off later in life
H: Yes, thanks Mrs. Rice! If I may also mention a character I don’t want to see more of: Pryzbylewski.
E: I agree, and I congratulate you on the correct spelling.
H: Thanks! He is every bad cop/government worker stereotype rolled into one. Jim True-Frost also briefly played a character on Fringe and I wish this guy would suffer the same unpleasant fate. Though I don’t see The Wire going into alternate universes anytime soon.
E: Maybe that’s what our friends haven’t spoiled for us…
Quick bonus note for readers who are kind enough to participate in our discussion: Since we are working through the series Disc by Disc, next week, we’ll only be covering episodes 4 & 5 of Season 1. Same amount of incoherent babble, and 1 hour less of your time needed to participate!
So many areas to discuss! Do the characters seem realistic to you? What scenes struck you as particularly powerful? Does the show seem like a typical cop show? What characters are you connecting with most on an emotional level? The Wire Project is underway, so please chime in!