Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Wire - Best TV series ever? Season One Review

I'm a TV and Movie curmudgeon now. I freely admit it. I go into every bit of filmed entertainment looking for, and waiting for, that point in which a show or movie jumps off the tracks. For me, there's no excuse for any TV show to get lazy or silly or fall into cliche'.

My favorite TV shows of late (notably "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica") seem to eventually not have any idea what they are doing. Until "Lost" got its act together late last season, it was on the verge of my declaring it the most disappointing show ever produced. This season has restored nearly all of my anger towards the show, but ultimately, I can't forget that for a while, "Lost" was unfaithful to me. You can forgive, but you can never truly put it out of your mind. As such, "Lost" and "BSG" will forever be "almosts'.

Earlier this year, I wrote reviews of "Dexter", both season 1, and season 2. That show had an amazing first season, and then completely jumped the rails in the second season. I was convinced that finding "The Best TV Show Ever" would prove to be a pointless endeavor.

So, it was with that mindset that I sat down to finally watch "The Wire". Not sure what prompted me to pick up the first disk of season one, but there I was last week, putting the disk in the DVD player and sitting down to watch.

And I have to say, that season one delivered, 100%. I don't have a single bad thing to say about season one. I normally don't even LIKE cop shows, finding the procedure tedious and cliche'd.

However, "The Wire" did everything right.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, "The Wire" is a police drama set in Baltimore. Season one centered on drugs and featured both the law and the street. It's hard to say if there truly are 'main' characters, as the cast is a couple dozen deep, all given major screen time. They range from the lowest of the low (homeless drug addicts), to the top (police commissioners and judges). And what's most remarkable is that more successfully than any movie or TV show has dome, "The Wire" has given every character both good and bad qualities. One of my favorite characters was one of the drug dealers. The ostensible 'hero' of the series, Jimmy McNulty, is a completely screwed up mess. These are all real people who exhibit the best and worst of humanity.

Part of what makes this show so good is that it never once compromised the logical next step of the story for a cheap Hollywood cliche'. No character was ever put in false danger for the sake of drama. Even the non-case related situations (such as the home lives of some of the characters) was handled perfectly and added to the overall tableau.

This show has been described as 'televised novel', and I'd have to agree. None of the episodes have forced themes or situations. They all form once chapter of what feels like a book.

Best of all, it seems obvious that each season was intricately plotted and planned prior to filing, so that there doesn't seem to be any abandoned plotlines, or abrupt changes in direction. And best of all, no filler episodes.

What makes this show even more gritty and realistic is that it is 100% realistic in its portrayal of these characters, especially the language. This show aired on HBO, so make no mistake, the language is pretty raw. I learned a few dozen new ways to use profanity. Every once in a while it seems a bit gratuitous, but for the most part, it seems pretty authentic to the characters and this world. It really stands in stark contrast to typical, neutered TV language. I have no problem with keeping the language clean on broadcast networks, but at the same time, when the language is authentic to the story, I have no problem with excessive profanity.

Adding to the authenticity is that "The Wire" casts many of its minor roles with local people who have little or no prior acting experience. Some of them are painfully obvious to point out, but even those ultimately work, making everything feel more like it's a documentary rather than a fictional drama.

Again, the acting across the board was uniformly brilliant. Every actor is interesting, and no matter what character they switch focus to, it's always exciting to see what happens next. Proof of this is that as I stated previously, even all the bad guys are sympathetic.

I could go on writing for hours about this show (and will probably return to it at some point), but I simply have this to say-


It's that good.

Ten teeth out of ten.

(Coming soon, review of season two)

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