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Sunday, June 28, 2009

In praise of "The Wire"

Sorry for the long blogging silence. I had promised myself that I would complete (fully sourced) the penultimate draft of my current article, so I have spent just about every working minute of the past couple weeks filling in footnotes. That fun now complete, I can return to some blogging. Later this week, I will have some thoughts on some recent, including the end-of-term flood. For now, let me wade back in with some pop culture.

My wife and I watched the full five-season run of "The Wire" in the past two+ months. And I have to say it is one of my two or three favorite shows ever and probably the best in terms of quality of any show I have watched regularly. I continue to wonder how our experience (and enjoyment) of the show was affected by the manner in which we watched it. In two+ months, we experienced a program that was designed to be experienced over five 3-4-month periods, spaced a year apart. It is the difference between reading a book and reading a magazine serial. What would cognitive and psychological theory say about the different experience and how that affects our enjoyment of the show?

The Wire had three of the greatest, most unique and memorable characters in television history: Omar Little, a gay stick-up man that some have likened to Robin Hood; Stringer Bell, the consigliere of the drug lord in the first couple seasons, who read Adam Smith, took economics classes at the community college, and tried to apply regular business and economic principles to the drug trade; and Bubbles, a homeless heroin addict who may be the one decent character whose life is arguably better when the show ends than when it began.

It even did a pretty good job of portraying the courtroom in two lengthy scenes, both of which I believe are accurate enough to present in Evidence class. The show last five seasons and each worked into the narrative a focus on a unique Baltimore institution: 1) street gangs and city police; 2) the port; 3) city government; 4) city public schools; and 5) the Baltimore Sun. I am somewhat sorry they could not have figured out a sixth season, focusing on the courts (which were shown throughout, but in a tangential way); my guess is this group could have developed a true-to-life presentation of lawyers and the system.

Finally, the show featured unquestionably the best theme song in television history.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 28, 2009 at 01:42 PM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink


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This was definitely one of the best TV series ever. For those of you who miss it, I would recommend David Simon and company's previous miniseries, The Corner. As Amazon aptly puts it: "The Corner is, essentially, the civilian flipside of HBO's equally laudable series The Wire, which approaches a similar neighborhood from a police-squad perspective."


Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 29, 2009 7:13:31 PM

My wife and I watched it over the entire five years. Every Sunday night that it began again was a holiday at Chez Esenberg. I agree that the Blind Boys' version in the first season was probably the best. While I agree that the three characters that you identify are unique (Omar being the most memorable), the brilliance of the show is such that one could name even more. Snoop, Prop Joe, maybe even McNulty (although the boozy renegade cop may not be all that unique.) We want it back.

Posted by: Rick Esenberg | Jun 29, 2009 6:50:12 AM

First season, no debate. Final season is second, but fairly distant. I wanted to link to each of the five versions, but could not make it work.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jun 28, 2009 3:40:32 PM

love that show. my wife and i had fun debating which version of the song was the best.

Posted by: law type | Jun 28, 2009 3:34:21 PM

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