Category Archives: The Wire

Down in the Hole: Podcasting HBO’s The Wire with Alan Sepinwall and the /Filmcast

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Podcasting HBO’s The Wire

December 10th, 2008

For those who follow me on Twitter, or have visited my twitter page, you’ll know that I refer to myself quite realistically as a “Wannabe T.V. Critic.” This is the wonder of the internet: through sheer productivity and a few karmic turns of fate, I have managed to fall into a routine that is both personally satisfying and, I hope, something that adds to the internet’s critical discourse of television.

This week has been a reminder of both how those turns of fate have manifested themselves and how much I enjoy doing this. Since I’ve started appearing on the /Filmcast, with the gang of Dave, Devindra and Adam who I quite incidentally teamed up with in their podcasting days before the big time, I’ve found another outlet for discussing television. Both on the podcast and (perhaps most importantly) through the chat room, I have been able to meet some great people and have some really great discussions.

Ultimately, though, Monday night’s /Filmcast was the one that will likely always stick out in my mind. It was what I would refer to as an exorcism: a chance for the /Filmcast to get everything it needed to say about a certain HBO drama series which is highly critically acclaimed, unduly underappreciated by the Emmy Awards, a personal favourite show of every member of the /Filmcast, and the show that enraptured me this past summer.

The show is The Wire, and what began as a germ of an idea suggested by a few readers ballooned into an epic 3 1/2 ode to the series that should have changed the face of television and instead only raised the standards by which we rate shows which come after it and fail to pick up on what made it such an amazing feat from David Simon and Ed Burns. And if you don’t believe us, consider that we spent 3 1/2 hours and both never ran out of things to say and, worst of all, barely scratched the surface with certain characters and events. Recording the podcast, and preparing for it ahead of time, was a reminder just what the show accomplished, and being able to revisit that was going to be a lot of fun.

It was also a real honour: Alan Sepinwall, from the New Jersey Star-Ledger, is a fantastic (and real) TV critic who I often link to, and who I certainly view as a “role model” when it comes to developing a critical discourse in a blog setting. He’s also one of the most vocal and knowledgeable voices on The Wire, which made Monday’s discussion that much more monumental for someone whose first post on this blog was an indepth expose on violence in university broomball. I just hope that I held myself well enough not to bring a bad name to criticism from my perch in “Wannabe” land.

Overall, it was another sign of how grateful I am for Dave, Adam and Devindra having me on the /Filmcast and Dave, in particular, for egging me on to start watching The Wire this summer. I haven’t written as much about it as I would have liked, but you can find what I’ve written by clicking here. In the meantime, if I were you, I’d subscribe to the /Filmcast – it’s most certainly going to pay dividends to your critical future.

The /Filmcast Episode 29: HBO’s The Wire (f. Alan Sepinwall and I)

NOTE: There’s a forty-five minute discussion with Alan which is light spoiler territory, for those who want to know why we spend 3 1/2 hours talking about the show. What follows is a season by season breakdown, although I’ll warn you ahead of time that we sometimes spoil future seasons within discussions of other ones. So, if you’ve only seen three seasons, I’d still get through the whole thing before listening.

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Catharsis: Thoughts and Ruminations on HBO’s The Wire

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Thoughts and Ruminations on HBO’s The Wire

December 8th, 2008

I doubt that anyone has ever really thought about it, but I’ve been living in a state of shame since, earlier this summer, I reviewed the first two episodes of The Wire, Season One, and made the follow proclamation:

“I figured that the more people talk about what is (thus far, and by all accounts) a fantastic series the better for my readers, readers everywhere, and maybe even the show’s long-shot Emmy chances.”

That post, and a post comparing the show to The Dark Knight, were the only two times I’ve talked about The Wire on this blog. Now, this isn’t that uncommon in terms of other shows I’ve caught up on: I got through four and a half seasons of Six Feet Under without talking about it (no, I haven’t finished it yet. Maybe next summer), and until the third season started I didn’t fill you all in last summer when I caught up on How I Met Your Mother. Due to both the speed at which I burn through these episodes, and the relative age of the material, it doesn’t seem like something that is entirely necessary.

But the difference with The Wire is that it wasn’t a normal catchup session – stretched out over a number of months, experiencing The Wire for the first time was something that still hasn’t left me. While I’ve almost forgotten I’ve seen most of Six Feet Under, I can’t help but wax philosophical about The Wire at every opportunity. Those of us who have seen the series, admittedly, must sound like a broken record, but there’s a certain creed of sorts: in any discussion raising the question about television shows to recommend, or television shows that have made an impact, or television shows that deserved more awards attention, or sometimes even just television in general, The Wire is going to be our go-to suggestion.

Tonight at 9pm EST, I will be joining Dave, Devindra and Adam of the /Filmcast for a live indepth discussion of The Wire, which will be the first time that I have truly entered into a dialogue about this amazing series. [To listen in to the live podcast, click here at 9pm] Considering this I felt like, even if I don’t have the substantial back catalogue I wish I had and that could have pulled you as readers into this universe sooner, I could at least offer some brief thoughts as I (if not through watching it) revisit the Shakespearean journey that is David Simon and Ed Burns’ The Wire.

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On a Grand Scale: The Similarities between “The Wire” and “The Dark Knight”

As has been noted many times when my guest spots on the /Filmcast (Which, excitingly for Kevin Bacon potential, has Kevin Smith as its guest on Monday night) end before the group gets into discussing the latest new release, I’m not much of a moviegoer. When my own visual media renaissance hit a few years ago, Television was just what I gravitated towards – it happened in such a way that I’m still one of those people who has to pretend I’ve seen various classics I haven’t. Just last night I pulled I “I think I’ve seen parts of X” when, in reality, I’m clueless.

But, like a whole boatload of other people, I headed to the theatres last evening to check out the biggest film of the summer. And like any multi-layered epic film of this nature, I do have a lot of things to say, but I don’t really want to write a review. Cultural Learnings is, at the end of the day, a television blog, and part of my life’s curse is comparing everything I read/watch to some sort of television example.

So, I decided that I’d kill two birds with one stone. I’m halfway through Season Four of The Wire, David Simon and Ed Burns’ HBO masterpiece, and I see a lot of connections between the construction of that series and what Nolan has accomplished with The Dark Knight. I’m not suggesting that the two shows are identical, or that Nolan achieves the effect or quality of The Wire’s five season long story arcs within a single two and a half hour film, but rather that some of the decisions and emphases he makes render this story as much an exercise of scale as Simon’s visionary work.

And both in the world of television crime series and superhero cinema, this type of scale is unprecedented.

[Note: Yes, believe it or not, I am going to try to discuss both of these examples without any major spoilers. This means that, while I’m going to talk about themes and characters in both series, I don’t plan on going into major details on either of them. So, people who have seen both can fill in the blanks, and maybe those who’ve only seen one may be intrigued by the other.]

In Terms of Scale

What sets The Wire apart from other crime shows on television is its emphasis on all impacts of a particular event or scenario. It is not a story of the police fighting against the Baltimore Drug Trade, but a show about the expansive impacts of that trade on the people fighting it, the people trapped inside of it, and the people who are simply innocent bystanders caught up in a game they’re not playing.

Similarly, The Dark Knight isn’t a film about one man’s crusade against crime. It is, instead, about Gotham’s reaction to the rise of crime and, in particular, the introduction of the diabolical terrorism of the Joker. Batman is but one of the many players we see – whether it’s new district attorney Harvey Dent, Lieutenant Gordon, Rachel Dawes, or even the people of Gotham themselves. The Joker’s terrorism impacts all of them, and such a broad viewpoint takes this from being a traditional story of good vs. evil to a whole new level of social inspection.

In Terms of Character

While some have criticized The Wire for lacking traditional character development, what it allows is for later seasons to go beyond its set of main characters into something deeper and more thematically interesting. Because the expected actions and reactions of various characters were already in place, Simon and Burns were able to use their time in establishing new characters in relation to them. By constantly adding to the universe, you get a very complicated but rewarding structure wherein heroes are not always playing the hero and villains are not always plotting villainy.

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The Wire – “The Target” and “The Detail”

“The Target” & “The Detail”

Season One, Episodes One & Two

In my year and a half of television criticism here at Cultural Learnings, I have run into a number of roadblocks due to my lack of knowledge with a particular era of television. As I noted back when The Sopranos was finishing, I never got into the HBO drama – not only am I slightly too young, but my TV addiction is still a relatively recent phenomenon. I am a network television viewer of the Lost generation, and sometimes that hurts.

No better example of this than was earlier this year, when David Simon’s HBO series The Wire was entering its fifth season. I couldn’t go to any of my usual TV criticism sites without hearing about how amazing the series was, and how wonderful the fifth season would be, and how there was absolutely no way anyone could jump into this novel-like series in its fifth season. I, knee deep in thesis work, was unable to commit to watching four seasons in the spring, and as a result I had to be the odd man out when it came to the powerful conclusion to this epic Baltimore tale.

But I’ve come to make amends: just as the magic of DVD is allowing me to revisit Six Feet Under (Which I’ll probably save for when I complete the series), The Wire has officially entered into my rotation. Normally, I might keep such an old catalogue title to myself, but Alan Sepinwall is currently revisiting the first season as part of his summer blogging schedule. And while I’m going to have to stick to his “Newbies” posts in favour of keeping myself free of serious spoilers for what’s to come, I figured that the more people talk about what is (thus far, and by all accounts) a fantastic series the better for my readers, readers everywhere, and maybe even the show’s long-shot Emmy chances.

For now, however, time to dig into the first two episodes of the series like I’d dig into an order of Chicken McNuggets.
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