Monday, January 7, 2008

'The Wire' enters like a lamb

Meh. That's my reaction to the first episode of the The Wire, Season 5, which premiered last night on HBO. I had debated whether to watch it at all, since Netflix had delivered the first disc of Season 4 only a couple of days before. The quandary: whether to watch the new season as it airs weekly, or hold off until I get through Season 4. I chose poorly. I regret tuning in last night, since it opened with one of those "previously on The Wire" montages that pretty much spoiled any surprise the Season 4 discs might have held. Aarrgh. Sometimes I miss the days of Dallas, when if you missed an episode, you were just out of luck until the show went into syndication years later.

But I'm still interested in this final season of The Wire, since it evidently focuses on the collapsing newspaper industry, via a fictional Baltimore Sun. As someone who escaped the real-world collapse (only slightly dazed and brushing off bits of debris), I'm happy to see it exploited for entertainment purposes. Corporate-run newspapers have never been more ripe for satire and criticism, and I am optimistic David Simon and company will not disappoint.

To start with, though, we get a stereotypical grizzled city editor -- think of a very profane Lou Grant -- bellowing for budget lines and lecturing reporters on usage and gleefully telling a council president to stuff it. I'm sure there are real city editors who match that description, but I've never met any in person. We also get a slick, transplanted editor who delivers the dread line "do more with less" -- and I have met a few of those. We get a newsroom crammed with overflowing desks and a lot of empty chairs. Check. We get a plucky young female reporter who ventures into a den of iniquity and returns with a front-page story about city corruption. Uh, hold on: In the real world, in the spirit of doing more with less, reporters tend not to leave the building unless something like 9/11 comes along.

The rest of the show offered few clues that this final season is headed anywhere in particular. McNulty is still a womanizing swine; Bubbles is still battling addiction; there's still trouble between the factions that rule Baltimore's drug trade; and the police effort against those factions is still crippled by politics. The theme of this show is dysfunction, I suppose, that in police departments or schools or city governments or drug gangs or dying newspapers, one step forward almost never comes without two steps back. No doubt this season will soon find its legs, but for now, the first episode left me with the feeling that I've seen it all before.

5 comments:

Peter said...

A certain Philadelphia newspaper is headed by an editor who formerly occupied a similar position at the real Baltimore Sun. This has been the subject of gossip and speculation in Philadelphia.

That city editor sounds like a joke, someone who wandered in off the set of the 652nd (or, as a certain newspaper would have it, 652d) remake of The Front Page.

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Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Jessie K said...

So the episode didn't start out with a bang, but they needed that first episode to setup the seasons dynamic. And I thought Marlo tapping his muscle Chris to get info on the imprisoned Russian was pretty interesting....Marlo is plotting to go over Prop Joe's head. Oh wait, you don't know who Chris is because you haven't seen Season 4. If I were you, I'd watch season 4 in tandem with 5.

Dave Knadler said...

Peter: No editor, real or fictional, will ever match Jack Webb in the unfortunately named -30-, which is sort of like Reefer Madness only it's about newspapers. I don't know if it was taken seriously in 1959, but it's sure funny today. Dave Bob says check it out.

The Inquirer's insistence on the single "d" haunts me to this day.

Dave Knadler said...

Jessie, I think I now remember the Russian from season 3 (wasn't he tied up with the Greeks somehow?), but thanks for reminding me. I was a little puzzled by the scene of the guy stealing the mugshot.

The plan now is to hit Season 4 as fast as I can get the DVDs, then catch up with Season 5 through the miracle of On-Demand (or On Hiatus, as we refer to our crappy Cox Cable service).

Peter said...

I should look for - 30 -. Thanks.

To be fair to the Inquirer, its insistence on 2d and 3d is no worse than two idiosyncracies of New York Times practice: uppercasing administration in, for example, the Bush Administration and, worse, the apparent belief that "The Giants beat the Cowboys by 35-28" is proper English syntax.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/