Sunday, 2 December 2012

Some thoughts on The Wire

I had The Wire recommended to me by a couple of friends independently of each other, so I thought I'd take a look. One of them suggested that the appeal of the show might not become apparent until ten episodes in, so although the first couple of episodes didn't impress me, that's what I set out to watch.

It seems evident to me that show creator David Simon was aiming for a highly naturalistic depiction of police work, populated by psychologically credible characters with complex motivations. I think that The Wire succeeds on all these counts. If its depiction of police work is not accurate then it is at the very least convincing to a lay person like me. And most of the characters are well developed and at least somewhat three-dimensional.

However, ten episodes is all of this that I'm going to watch.

Ultimately, the show just never told a story that I was remotely interested in listening to.

While credible, I found the characters to be thoroughly and terminally boring. I never became invested to the point of caring about the fate of any of them. (Oh, OK, D'Angelo maybe). Put another way: I've just come away from watching one of the show's protagonists shot (and, I thought, killed) and it made zero impact on me.

Ultimately, The Wire is the story of a bunch of characters I never cared about, busy doing stuff I never cared about, set in what must be one of parts of planet Earth I find dullest and least appealing. There's no argument from me that it is skilfully put together, but neither is there any reason why I would be interested in seeing the outcome of that investment of skill. It's like seeing those people who build large and highly complex models out of toothpicks or matchsticks: the skill and intricacy is unmistakable, but the end result is almost never what I would consider to be a very good model.

I don't know whom I would recommend this to: probably only people who are interested in police work and who value highly naturalistic storytelling.

While fact-checking the above before hitting the Publish button, I have learned that I was mistaken about Simon's intentions for the show. He didn't see it only in terms of naturalistic police drama, but:
"really about the American city, and about how we live together. It's about how institutions have an effect on individuals. Whether one is a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge or a lawyer, all are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution they are committed to." (DVD Commentary track, quoted on Wikipedia)
Elsewhere, he says:
"It's masquerading as a cop show, but I hope it's going somewhere else," Simon said during a phone interview from Baltimore, where the series is set"
"This is a testament to middle management in an era where the stock price matters more than the product. Where an employee's loyalty or innate human value matters less than how (they) can be used or utilized." (San Francisco Chronicle)
I can clearly point to specific instances in the ten episodes I watched where this intention shows through, but they are so few and far between that I cannot regard them as meaningful. If that was indeed what he set out to do, then I think he failed. 
In my opinion. The Wire stands or falls as a cop show.