Friday, June 19, 2009

The Wire

Finally finished the fifth and final season on DVD. Was it the best TV series of all time? Certainly a contender, in my mind. What I particularly appreciated was the relentless efficiency of the story-telling: not a wasted moment on the screen. Along with the writing, acting, production, sociological and political themes, all that stuff too. And an appealing crook who read his Adam Smith.

I had heard that the fifth season was a let-down, and how could it not be, following on 3 and 4, perhaps the two most perfect TV runs ever? Still, as a person who briefly contemplated a career in journalism and did a very short reporting stint on a small-town paper, I actually found the newspaper story line pretty compelling. The final episode's closing epilogue was uncharacteristically contrived and unnecessary, however... an unfortunate way to go out.

For all its emphasis on shades of gray, The Wire clung to fairly standard cop-show moral conventions in its portrayal of the police: flawed and capable of very bad behavior, but with their hearts in the right place-- in fact so much so that we were inclined to accept that their ends justified their means. What defied cop-show convention was that the bad guys could be understood as complete human beings in terms of their development, motives, and moral code... and that, nonetheless, to understand is not-- necessarily-- to forgive.

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