A great TV double feature: The Wire & Lost

01Feb08

Last night I had the pleasure of the best double bill of new TV possible in the midst of the writers’ strike – this week’s Wire and the season 4 premiere of Lost. Spoiling comments beneath the fold, but first a few links of note.

Slate has been running a nice conversation breaking down this season’s Wire eps. They’re a bit hard on the journalism plot (as many journalists have been), but I particularly liked this quote from David Plotz:

The Wire is in many ways the useful counterpoint to another cultic TV show that began around the same time, 24. In 24, conspiracies are everywhere and institutions are corrupt, but technology is omnipotent and the individual can triumph. In The Wire, conspiracies are everywhere and institutions are corrupt, but technology always betrays us, and the individual can never triumph. All anyone can hope for is sheltered, private happiness. Needless to say, I find The Wire much truer to the world I live in. (Hmm, does this help explain why 24 is revered by Republicans and The Wire by Democrats? I have to think about that.)

Even more, this lack of redemption via individuals & technology helps explain why The Wire cannot transcend a cultish audience – most people don’t want to be reminded of the limits of hope in today’s world, preferring a more heroic potential out of Jack Bauer’s rugged individualism, or even Tony Soprano’s possibility of rising out of his amoral swamp. McNulty’s never going to find redemption and solace, and thus his show will never find a mass audience.

David Simon is refusing interviews during the strike, but is writing a bunch of articles – anyone understand the logic that a striking writer refuses to speak but is willing to write? Here’s another good one from Baltimore Magazine, explaining the show’s relationship to city hall along with some simultaneous boastful and self-deprecating comments about Simon’s pride.

And one Lost link, an interesting interview with Damon Lindelof about new storytelling strategies and responding to critics & fans.

Wire first: a strong episode, with nice parallels between the storylines about leadership transitions – Rawls/Daniels over Burrell, Marlo over a to-be-missed Prop Joe, Alma as “senior” police reporter, Carver emerging as a true leader for his unit, and even the shift from newspapers to TV as the go-to place to leak a story.  I liked that Prop Joe got a lot of play before his departure, with the great scene with Herc, a nice co-op moment, and his plan to “respect Omar’s skill set.” And Marlo & Omar had nice contrasting scenes holding people at gunpoint, highlighting Omar’s moral code and Marlo’s cold-hearted amorality.

I’m still not sure where the newspaper and serial killer storylines will be taking us, but the build-up has been mixed – at times, things feel like wheel-spinning or digressions. But I’m sure I’d have felt the same about the docks, Carcetti’s campaign, and the schools had I not been binging on those episodes. With a full week between installments, the slow pace of the story developments feels heightened – although many critics & bloggers are saying that this season lacks previous years’ deliberateness, as the 10 vs. 12 episode structure forces things to move too quickly. I don’t see it, but this is the first time I’ve watched weekly – viewing context is crucial in serial narratives.

Whereas Lost has always been a weekly pleasure for me. This season has gotten off to a great start, with a clear demonstration of how the flashforward mode enables more active engagement with the plotting, rather than flashbacks for pure character backstory. It feels like this season will try to fill the gap between the seeming rescue on the island, and Jack’s future bearded breakdown, offering nice enigmas and revelations along the way. This type of cryptic plotting is what keeps me hooked on the show, and it appears that the producers are focused on moving things forward, both literally and temporally.

Plus we get Lance Reddick as a menacing representative of… something, trying to figure out the status of the island’s inhabitants. Here’s hoping he sticks around for awhile to ease the coming loss of Cedric Daniels after The Wire‘s finale.

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3 Responses to “A great TV double feature: The Wire & Lost”

  1. 1 Sunspotted2

    Simon has said that he won’t do interviews that promote the current season of the Wire because Time Warner/HBO is a signatory to the collective bargaining agreement and WGA members don’t want to be promoting programming by signatories while they are walking a picket line.

    Simon’s prose pieces for magazines and newspapers have not referenced the current season of the show and are issue-based about journalism or, in the case of Baltimore Mag, a thank-you/exposition to Baltimore for having filmed The Wire there.

    But the pieces themselves don’t lend themselves to directly promoting The Wire. Nor does prose writing violate the strike rules. (No one is on strike against Esquire or the Washington Post or wherever…)

  2. Thanks, Sunspotted – that makes sense. Although I think the prose pieces do function as promotion, in the sense of encouraging people to talk & think about the show is inevitably a “promo” for the show. But I see how it’s a useful, if not ironic, differentiation for Simon to make between writing & talking. And the result is more opportunities to embrace Simon’s prose, which is always appreciated!

  3. Tim Goodman, TV critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, is also posting weekly “deconstructions” of The Wire on his blog. Both he, and some of his commenters who appear to work or have worked in newsrooms, often have a less critical take on the Sun storyline.


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