Watching the Wire, 12 Years Later

We don't tend to be up on TV series, especially those on paid movie channels like HBO or Showtime, and I have no idea what I was watching in the mid-2000s when The Wire was on (besides The Bachelor). Never got hooked on any of the network shows either. Grey's Anatomy seemed like a more soap opera-ish version of ER and none of cop procedurals ever measured up to Homicide or even further back, Hill Street Blues. Current shows like Scandal or How to Get Away with Murder or Mistresses seem geared toward college students. Okay, but so, we got free HBO for three months and started The Wire, in large part because everyone who has seen it raves about it, and Dan has never quite recovered from Breaking Bad, which set the bar high, high, high for him. We're now up to season 3, episode 3 and it feels like we are watching it in hopes of getting hooked. We are not hooked. We care mostly about Omar, but less so about McNulty or any of the other cops. I liked season 1, which focused mostly on the development of this special team of police misfits at war with drug lords in Baltimore. Season 2 brought the union story line and was moderately compelling, if you care about the struggles of underpaid dock workers who smuggle women and drugs for minor profits. Season 3 seems to be focused on the governmental arm of corruption and we're still not energized by it.

My guess is that much of its popularity came from the fact that it was the first of its kind, a show that followed a large cast of characters and points of view at a fairly slow pace, giving equal time to the investigative arm and the drug sellers side (both portrayed with equal sympathy). It set up a path for later shows that borrowed from the idea that single episodes weren't stand alone pieces, but tied together into more and more intricate story lines of a big cast, with no single character fixed at the center. Having seen some of those inspired programs first and this series later, it's hard to be blown away by the narrative. The pace is slow, and we're often confused by what's actually happening, especially with the various lieutenants and majors and officers and politicians doing underhanded deals, and the turf wars among drug sellers. The tech end of it isn't compelling, because it's basically about listening to phone calls, which may have been novel in the early 2000s, but is less fresh now. And for me, there's also the fact that you have only two major female characters (a cop and a district attorney), and the rest of the cast and story lines revolve around dudes. For some reason, though, we're reluctant to give it up; still moving forward under the persuasion of other viewers who loved it, but watching it seems more like a dogged commitment than a pleasure. 

I'd love it if someone who watched the show when it was on would go back and start it again to see if it has the same power today as it did when it first aired. Adam??

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