The second season is no different. It's riveting television that pulses with realism, intelligence, and harrowing drama. If by chance you've stumbled upon this review without having watched the first season, update your Netflix queue immediately, with The Wire: Season One at the top. Like nearly all of today's best hour-long dramas, its multilayered storytelling technique demands a great deal of attention to detail from the viewer. The show can't be fully appreciated without understanding each character's nuanced backstory and the history of interactions and conflicts everyone has with one another. So start at the beginning and enjoy.
Continue reading: The Wire: Season Two Review
Sadly, the most passionate and persuasive argument in recent years against the current disposition of the government's stance in the so-called "War on Drugs" came not from a think tank armed with stats and big ideas or a celebrity eager for a cause, but from a TV show. The third season of The Wire, which aired on HBO in late 2004, continued its sprawling and justifiably lauded Dickensian crawl through its web of stories centering on the inner Baltimore drug trade -- following, with an unusual focus to detail and character, both the gangs fighting for territory and the cops of a major case unit assigned to busting up their organizations. But where the show became more than just an abnormally well-made, balanced, and realistic law and order drama (and there's no need here to heap more praise on the show than already has been done), and became something entirely different, was in the fourth episode, "Amsterdam."
Police major "Bunny" Colvin (previously a supporting player on the show), desperate to see some improvement in his crime-ridden West Baltimore district and tired of watching his cops waste all their time busting street corner dealers to no larger effect, institutes a new policy: If all drug dealers move to three designated zones in the district and sell there, they will not be arrested. In effect, he legalizes the drug trade in a large part of an American city. The cops don't get it, the drug-dealing kids don't either, as it throws into question the entire reality of their limited universe where the kids sell drugs, occasionally they get hassled or arrested, but everything goes on without change; as one of the dealers says, "Why you got to go and fuck with the program?"
The point being made here by the two creative forces behind The Wire -- investigative reporter David Simon and veteran detective Ed Burns, both of whom know this territory better than almost anyone -- is quite simple: the drug trade has atomized vast and forgotten swaths of American cities, like West Baltimore, and decades of simplistic, head-knocking, "tough on crime" enforcement has made zero difference. So, take a page out of Amsterdam's book, where a blind eye is turned to the drug traffic in certain designated areas, and see if you can at least make some poor neighborhoods normal again by ridding them of turf-battling drug gangs.
Colvin -- a strange kind of revolutionary -- gives a speech using the "brown paper bag" analogy Simon introduced in his book The Corner: Men drinking on the street will carry their liquor in a brown paper bag -- the cops know it's liquor but don't arrest them for public drinking because the men are at least making an attempt at hiding the bottle. It's the same with pushing drug dealing to what Colvin calls the "free zones"; it's a civil truce. Call it legalization, call it a truce, call it dealing with reality, Simon's point is that drugs will be dealt, and the more you can keep the trade itself from ruining the social fabric of already distressed neighborhoods, the better. And if you can weave this message into a thrilling hour-long crime drama, all the better.
As for what the remainder of this season dealt with, it would be futile to go into much discussion of that, since The Wire's storylines rival Tolstoy's in their complexity. Suffice it to say that one must watch the show as one reads a book, starting at the beginning of season three -- even with that "previously, on The Wire" intro which HBO prefaces its shows with -- is next to useless. For those who have already been watching, of primary importance is that the show's quality remains undimmed. Simon's writing staff has been beefed up by the addition of top-shelf novelists like Richard Price (Clockers) and George Pelecanos (The Night Gardener), who bring some welcome flourishes of both character-driven realism and pulp crime drama to the proceedings. A few of the show's more central characters get their arcs reversed, with the classically rogueish cop McNulty (a wonderfully snarky Dominic West) coming to a crisis of self-destruction, and striving criminal mastermind Stringer Bell (the iconic and contemplative Idris Elba) finding himself stuck between worlds, too street for the business world and too thoughtful for the street. And although several long-running characters continue to pop up -- like free-range gunslingers Omar (Michael K. Williams) and Brother Mouzone (Michael Potts), and Bubbles (Andre Royo), the junkie who serves as the closest thing The Wire has to a chorus -- story is always sublimated to the overarching themes, with the focus never straying far from Simon's central conceit of the American city in crisis, and what to do about it.
The Wire has cast a sardonic eye on the efficacy of current drug law enforcement since the beginning. In the very first episode, a detective who just used the term "War on Drugs" gets a quick schooling from another detective on why the term just doesn't apply, with the world-wearied quip, "Wars end." By presenting an idea for how one might, if not win a war that has done so much damage to American cities and the economically disadvantaged, then at least call an honorable truce, the show became not just the best show currently on television, but also possibly the most important.
Anyone else see Charlie Brown's shirt?
Homicide and The Corner, in their concern for covering multiple aspects of race, class, and authority in an American city, made for some of the best television of '90s. The Wire, Simon's series about the intersection of police and the drug trade, ranks among the most nuanced television series in history; it is easily the best police-procedural show that's ever aired. That's in part because the show's writers stubbornly refuse to fall into the clichés of the usual police procedural. The bad guys -- in this case, the men who run the drug trade around Baltimore's housing projects -- are often as shrewd and smart as the cops, with characters just as layered as anybody else. The star of season one, to the extent there is one, is Larry Gilliard Jr., who plays D'Angelo Barksdale, nephew of Avon (Wood Harris), who runs the business out of an office above a strip club. (The show pretty much annihilates the notion of drug dealers living high-class lives in tony neighborhoods. The money's good, but you're always nervous about it, and you're still in the thick of the projects.) A tough-nosed but naïve adolescent, D'Angelo balances the day-to-day work of dealing with handling his friendships, girls, and his future -- to the extent he ponders something that abstract. Nothing in the formal structure of the show -- music, plotting, dialogue -- casts falsely melodramatic judgment on D'Angelo. He is what he is.
Continue reading: The Wire: Season One Review
Continue reading: Hendrix Review
The last bit aside, we've all seen this movie a couple of times before, so we know what to expect from the feel-good sentiment. To be sure, a lot of bigoted white folks are going to do a lot of mean things until they slowly start to understand that we are all the same on the inside. And a bunch of jaded and underachieving high school athletes will slowly learn what it is their coach is trying to teach them about becoming men and champions. Throw in the fat kid from the wrong side of the tracks who finds his inspiration and a little pride along the way, and we've got the most heartwarming film ever made.
Continue reading: Remember The Titans Review
As generic as a message movie can be, "Remember the Titans" is a stirring and gratifying "true story" which nonetheless plays like it was written by a computer and directed by someone consulting an instruction manual before every take.
Based on the life of the man who coached the first integrated high school football team in Virginia, circa 1971, it's a blatantly manipulative feel-good flick that is a virtual encyclopedia of racial strife clichés, sports clichés and unforgivably shopworn warm-fuzzy moments like the ubiquitous Motown-sing-a-long scene in which characters line dance and croon into hairbrushes or other substitute microphones. There's four -- count 'em four -- such scenes in this picture.
The football games are filmed so uncreatively they might as well be stock footage filched from 100 other forgotten big-screen gridiron yarns. Aside from being distinctively black or white, the ensemble of ballplayers are mostly nondescript, interchangeable broad-shouldered lummoxes from central casting.
Continue reading: Remember The Titans Review
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