On Television: Tap into The Wire
A new day dawns in Baltimore as its hometown show begins a final season on HBO
Previewed by Diana Beechener
On New Year’s Eve, I rushed home to spend the last hours of 2007 atop a decaying roof in West Baltimore with Detective Jimmy McNulty surveying a drug dealer. That’s when HBO’s previewed its critically acclaimed and criminally under-watched series The Wire, officially going on air Sundays beginning Jan. 6 at 9pm. The final season started with such intricate plotting, grim realism and biting humor that I never regretted forgoing champagne and countdowns for television. But it’s not just TV. It’s HBO.
The Wire still contains all the hallmarks of HBO programming: coarse language, rampant violence and occasional nudity. What sets the program apart is the authenticity of all three in Baltimore story-teller David Simon’s bleak and realistic view of Charm City, which just ended 2007 with a whopping 282 murders. For Simon’s final look at the city he covered for The Sun before Homicide took him to television, he focuses on two institutions, both choked by budget cuts: the police department and newspaper.
Art and photos compliments of HBO
In Baltimore story-teller David Simon’s bleak and realistic view of Charm City, the dealers still have the advantage. Detective McNulty, (Dominic West, left) and Major Daniels (Lance Reddick) are still a step behind.
Tramping through some of America’s most dangerous streets, the officers of Baltimore’s West Side are underpaid and poorly armed. Despite the promise of the show’s Martin O’Malley-like Mayor Carcetti, instead of a new day, they get more of the old one. “I wonder what it’s like to work in a real (expletive) police department,” bemoans McNulty, played by Dominic West.
On the streets, usurptive drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector) controls his territory with ruthless enforcers as established East Side dealers lose territory to city planning.
As the major case squad comprised of perennial Wire detectives Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters), Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn) and McNulty watch Marlo, Simon shows us how little has been gained in four seasons on HBO. The dealers still have the advantage. The detectives are still a step behind. McNulty still drinks.
New to Simon’s city-scape this season are the reporters. Mirroring the woes of both the streets and the police, journalism is diminished by its own budget cuts and growing apathetic under the weight of incompetent leaders. Metro editor Augustus Haynes (Clark Johnson, recruited from the Homicide cast) struggles to invigorate reporters who type out perfunctory stories for the dwindling paper. Echoing McNulty, a reporter grumbles, “I wonder what it’s like to work at a real paper.”
In its final season, The Wire’s writing and acting are still the best television has to offer, but The Sun storyline is an initially jarring addition. After spending four years with cops, dealers, dock workers and students, we’re not hep to either new back stories or reporting jargon. But David Simon does not write easy television for lazy viewers. If you love The Wire, you’ll get used to it. If you don’t know it, now’s your chance to tap it.