Monday, December 13, 2010

Wired to the box.

A mighty Avon, if ever there was one, was Avon Barksdale; the kingpin of Baltimore’s narcotics distribution in ‘The Wire’.
In the continuing saga of ‘pop-cultural catch-up’ via boxed sets for the culturally impaired; my most recent consumption was has been a FIVE season long eye-bleeding marathon of ‘The Wire’;- and oh it was glorious, my droogs.

Avon Barksdale was played by Wood Harris and Wood Harris is in Johannesburg at the moment, playing a part in the new Judge Dredd film; I hope it all goes well for him. That’s not what I’m talking about today though. Today I’m just talking about ‘The Wire’. Or, as Jon Kenny and Pat Shortt might have called it: ‘D’Wire’.

As I’m sure everybody else in the world knows by now, ‘D’Wire is only brilliant altogether and represents a giant step in evolution as far as televisual dramatics are concerned. It’s enormous, it’s ambitious, it’s all-encompassing and it’s just so gosh-darned well written that it takes your breath away. Or it took my breath away anyway.

Well look, a five season boxed set isn’t actually something I could survive without breathing but don’t be like that when y’know perfectly well what I mean.

Underpinning the complexity of the large ensemble cast and their multiple back-stories, (as well as a clear and analytical approach to the interconnectedness of the schools/policing/media/drug trafficking and politics that make the sordid life of Baltimore), is a very simple premise: everybody is at work.

The cops solving murders are not trying to find justice for the victims or their families; they are trying to have a good work record, for themselves and their careers.
The gallows humour and general indifference is barbaric and shocking in the TV cop genre, but it doesn’t make us recoil from them as characters, because very soon we see that this is simply how it is for people who do a job, and we find other things to like about them.

The drug dealers, from the high echelon Kingpins such as the mighty Avon and his successors, to the children who distribute for them on the corners; no-one is ever simply evil and nor are they victims either: they are at work. They have individual ambition and drive and different levels of tolerance for the nastier side of the game, but this their job, and the law is a simple irritation, that makes it harder for them to do their job.

The politicians, ranging from the ‘Fianna Fail Ferengi’ shameless con-man to the starry eyed idealist who can get nothing done without double-dealing in some sense, (because that is what the business of politics is), are in the business of remaining elected; that, is the focus of their job.

The most idealistic and dedicated teacher in the world can have little impact in an underfunded school where they turn the heating up as a control measure, but still he goes in everyday, to do his job.

And it all fits so beautifully. I have me gripes of course. There’s a flaw or two here and there where some aspect is over-emphasised or dramatised so that the mask of realism slips, but these instances are only jarring because they are so rare, and it’s possible that the program wouldn’t work as well without them, after all, how much realism do you want out of the telly at the end of the day?
A case in point is the colourful and almost superhuman character Omar and his singular way of supporting himself. It doesn’t seem like a viable long-term occupation, certainly for as long as he survives on it in the one town of Baltimore.
But we need it because it places him in a unique position of moral authority outside of the game but part of it. Omar’s the Clint Eastwood noble bad-ass maverick, and the series would lose a lot without him.

One thing, I felt it let itself down on, was the ‘ground-breaking’ sex scenes: inter-racial/same sex/couple in a corridore.t.c.; they felt to me like self-conscious 'television events’ and almost always interrupted the pace of the story; but maybe that’s just me being repressed or whatever. There was one ride in a carpark that was okay because that was just a character caught in the headlights and it didn’t go on for five minutes with music and everything.

Anyway that’s my tuppence worth, about a series that’s long over.

If for any reason, you’ve missed it, or missed part of it, or saw a couple of episodes and didn’t get into it, I’d say check it out. It’s brilliant. I think it has to be the best long running series I’ve ever seen ever ever ever.

And I mean that now.

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