Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Wire - Trouble on the Docks? Season Two Review

Thanks to a really bad cold that confined me to my bed this past weekend, I managed to burn through all of Season Two of The Wire in just two days. You could say I was watching them feverishly.

I haven't had much luck with Season Two's lately. Dexter S2 totally let me down, to the point where I don't think I want to watch Season Three. Heroes S2 lost me only two episodes into the season. It totally jumped the tracks. Lost had a bumpy S2, as did Battlestar Galactica (although both of those recovered well enough over the short term).

I'm not sure what it is about second seasons that prove to be such bugaboos for the creative teams. I guess it's that during the successful first season, they never really had time to analyze what they were doing, and just reacted on pure instinct, which turned out to be right. After S1 ends, they sit back, and TRY to figure out what audiences liked about the show and try to break it down to the point where they believe they can construct the second season using only the good stuff, and none of the fluff. And almost every time, they're wrong. Recent movies have shown the same tendency. The Matrix sequels and Pirates sequels were wrong wrong wrong on just about every level. Utter disasters. Peter Jackson guessed wrong with King Kong, figuring that if we loved the cool Legolas scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, that we'd LOVE a whole King Kong movie filled with nothing but those wildly over-the-top sequences. What worked beautifully ONCE per film became mind-numbing in King Kong. And I even have a personal example. The first Addy Awards we did in 1995 was received amazingly well (or so we're told, since we were too chicken to go to the show to see if anyone laughed or jeered what we did), leading Don and I to approach the 1996 show with a bit of over-confidence, and the belief that we could 'nail it this time'. Didn't work out that way. While it was received well enough, we knew almost right away that we'd missed the mark.

Point is, it's tough to catch lightning in a bottle twice. And that was the mindset I was going into for Season Two of the The Wire.

I'm happy to report that The Wire mostly safely navigated the dangerous waters of Season Two. My review? 8.5 teeth out of ten.

Some specifics- I loved how they continued everyone's stories, even the street characters, even though their stories seemingly came to an end after S1. We got to follow Avon and Dee in prison, and Stringer Bell as he attempted to hold together the crumbling pieces of the Barksdale empire. We got to meet a few new street characters that promise to feature prominently in seasons to come.

Omar became the Boba Fett of this series. It took me a while to figure out what made his character so appealing and interesting (besides the fact that I've never before seen a homicidal gay thug as a sympathetic main character). He doesn't have a whole lot of airtime, but like Boba Fett, the time he's given he makes the most of. He's decisive, he has a strict code that he sticks to (he only robs people in "the game"), and most of all, he moves easily back and forth between the worlds of the good guys and the bad, working with whoever serves his purpose at the time.

The cops story had some interesting turns. It took until the eighth (of 13) episodes until the whole team was actually back together. They ways they managed to keep them all together, even though they were all working in different departments, was pretty clever, but a weeee bit TV-ish, which is where I docked a quarter of a tooth.

Where the show lost most of its points was in the overall Port Murders plotline. The mystery itself was excellently done, it's just that a few of the aspects of the Greeks, the bad guys of this season, were a bit too fiendishly evil. Season One's drug lords and street thugs all had believable motivations for doing what they did. but The Greek, and Vanos were evil with no balancing good traits to make them human. The one thing that really confused me was the FBI leak. I'm still not sure how that guy worked, but the whole time, it felt very much like just a plot device to eventually lead to betrayals and twists, which is exactly what happened.

The Dock workers themselves were pretty good and I can't dock them any points except for a half-tooth for some cheesy dialogue late in the season. Especially good were the actors that played Ziggy and Nico. They had very tough roles with very fine lines they had to walk. But they were given strong parts to play. They were on the opposite side of the law, but were made human by making all their decisions, especially the bad ones, fit perfectly within their worldviews.

We got one major new character, Beadie Russell, played by Amy Ryan, who was really good, and who I hope they bring back in the final three seasons (early word is that she does return, but probably as a love interest rather than a member of the team). Prior to this, the only place I knew Amy Ryan from was her amazing performance in Gone Baby Gone. As it is, I didn't recognizer her at all, so different is this character and her portrayal, and in fact, I only knew it was her by looking it up on IMDb.

One of the things I like so much about this show is its unrelenting bleakness. There's no way for the Law to slow down or make the endless wave of Crime even NOTICE. The cops know they are only putting band-aids on the problem. But they go to work knowing that for a while at least, they can fractionally stop the bleeding. While it would be nice to think that The Wire offers up a far too pessimistic version of the war on drugs and crime, I tend to think that it portrays it pretty accurately, bleakness and all.

The Wire S2 missed the mark a tiny little bit, but as far as second seasons go, it is easily the most successful according to ME. I was riveted from first frame to last. I'm invested in these characters and mourn the loss of those that unexpectedly didn't make it to the end, including my favorite character, the one character who seemed primed for a nice redemption arc. But...his act of reaching for redemption is what ultimately cost him his life. Rest in peace, dude...

And with that, I get ready to fire up Season Three. I have no idea what it's about, and I love it. But from everything I HAVE allowed myself to read, it seems that Season Two was the show's only bump in the road and that it only got better from here on, with Season Four being a masterpiece. We'll see...

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