The Wire Final Season

Week 1: I'm Worried
Talking television.
Jan. 7 2008 11:01 AM

The Wire Final Season

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Dear David,

Yes, I remember the time I had an awesome college girlfriend and I hadn't seen her all summer and it was finally the first day back on campus. I remember that time very well, because she had decided, over the summer, to start wearing black nail polish, stop shaving her armpits, and go to Nicaragua to help the Sandinistas pick coffee beans or some shit like that. Luckily, I didn't like her anyway.

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The way I felt when I made these unhappy discoveries is a little bit the way I felt after watching the first episode of the final season of The Wire last night. I was enjoying myself just fine for the first 20 minutes or so, becoming reacquainted with some of my favorite drug dealers—the intensely lovable psycho-killer Snoop most of all—and scandalous cops. But then we entered the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun, and it was straight-up whiskey-tango-foxtrot time for me. I thought the show stopped dead, just about the time we were introduced to the saintly city editor and the darkly ambitious white-boy reporter. But let me not get ahead of myself here. We are told that the collapse of big-city journalism is the show's theme this season, so the two of us will have plenty of time to discuss the thing that interests all reporters more than anything else—namely, us.

First, let me dissent from Mr. Weisberg's audacious claim that The Wire is the best show on television ever. I think that I would have agreed with his assertion, except that I recently watched, in seriatum, the first season of The Sopranos, which is just pure Shakespeare. Actually, it's better than Shakespeare, because Paulie Walnuts isn't in Shakespeare.

It has become a cliché to call The Wire Dickensian, because it so clearly is, but it's no insult to Dickens to say that he's no Shakespeare. Of course, TheSopranos has had more bad seasons than The Wire, but that is in part because it has had more seasons than The Wire. So, I would say that The Wire is perhaps the second-best series on television ever. Welcome Back, Kotter, of course, rounds out the top three. Talk about a realistic portrayal of urban school life!

In re: the comparison between me and Bunk: Are you calling me fat?

I agree with you that Bunk is a wonderful character, and I agree with you that the list of great characters is nearly as long as the cast list itself. My favorite, Snoop aside, is Omar, and I missed him last night. I'll take more Bunk, more Omar, and less of the Baltimore Sun. Why, you ask, have I had such a negative reaction to the Sun crew? The brilliance of this show is its complexity: Never before, apart from the novels of Richard Price or the genius George Pelecanos (both of whom write for The Wire, naturally), have we had such a fully realized, tangled-up, humane, and morally ambiguous portrayal of the black inner-city, and not only its criminal underclass, but the cops who fight the robbers: Bunny Colvin, the erstwhile mayor of Hamsterdam, was one of David Simon's greatest creations, and, in a just world, Clarke Peters, who plays Det. Lester Freamon, would win a bucketful of Emmys. (Of course, the show has won exactly no Emmys, which is insane and worthy of much discussion.)

In our early glimpse of the Sun newsroom, we're not seeing much in the way of gray: just asshole bosses, a fantasy-camp city editor, a brooding and envious general assignment reporter and his naive-seeming Hispanic colleague, who gave us the most unrealistic moment last night: After she is publicly humiliated by the grammarians of the city desk, she actually seems grateful. Give me a break.

I have to tell you, David, I'm worried about this: We all know that David Simon is obsessed by the injustices wrought against the Sun, his former employer, but I'm hoping that his desire for revenge hasn't blinded him to the need for dramatic complexity.

Best,
Jeff

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for the Atlantic and the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror.

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