I have just finished watching the series finale of The Wire and I can now say without reservation that it is (was) the greatest piece of entertainment in the history of entertainment. (Is that too much?) I’ll start here…I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a big fan of the impact of television and movies (and even music) on our culture. I feel that too often these mediums are passive entertainment. They are meant to be consumed and forgotten. Americans are happy to sit back and be entertained instead of creating or thinking on their own.
First, if you do not know anything about The Wire, please read about it first because I’m not going to talk too much about the premise. That would require about 100 posts. Anyway, what makes The Wire different? When I think about all of the television shows and movies I like, I know why I like them. They are entertaining. They are smart. They are funny. The list could go on. The Wire is different simply because it makes you think in a number of ways. The show is based around the city of Baltimore and the people who inhabit it. While many forms of entertainment do this, The Wire does not bash you over the head with scenes and dialog that drive that point home. It makes the viewer put the pieces together of what the characters say and do in order to see how the city has impacted their lives. And since a lot of what is shown is open to interpretation, you really have to pay attention to everything the character says and does.
That brings me to my second point, the dialog is meticulously written. A lot of people have wondered if the actors in the show ad lib or improvise anything. From what I understand, they do not. Even though David Simon and Ed Burns are two old white people, they know the city of Baltimore and how the people talk. There is not one wasted word, phrase, or sentence. Now that I am finished with the entire series, I’m connecting dialog that was said in season five with dialog from previous seasons. It is like a huge movie that was chopped into 60 pieces.
Which brings me to my final point, this is a true serial series. When Lost gained so much popularity after it’s first season, a lot of people were let down when the second season wasn’t as good. J. J. Abrams had a vision for the end of the show, but since this was a big money making show for a large network, they weren’t sure when it was going to end. So, they had to figure out how to keep the story going while still keeping an eye on the end. Eventually, Abrams worked out an unprecedented deal with ABC to give the show a specific end date. Now, it is back on track in it’s fourth season. Why do I bring this up? It is customary to get as much as possible (read: money) out of a popular show. When you let a show go on forever that could turn into a well-created serial show, it tends to lose something because story lines get wasted that might not have happened otherwise. Simon has said that he always envisioned The Wire as a 5 season show. Everything was deliberate. I have read that before each season they mapped the storyline for each character. It is obvious that Simon had an end game in mind when he started each season. And when you bring everything together like that, it makes the characters and stories so rich that you will wonder why you can stomach any other television show.
One last thing about the finale, we have been so accustomed to the twist ending or the “go out with a bang” that I think some people weren’t ready for an ending like this. We have to be spoon fed everything in order for it to make sense. Some things can be too cerebral, but if it is written well, any person with an IQ can figure some things out. When The Usual Suspects came out, that was the ultimate twist ending. But even they bashed you over the head with some things at the end to make you realize what Verbal Kent was doing. As much as we hypothesized about larger things happening, I think David Simon played everything just right…no major drama…no major deaths…the circle continues. You can’t just put some people in a predicament, have something crazy happen, and then give a twist in the end. It’s all been done before. Stories need to be told differently. And as David Simon has shown us, it is possible to make television a worthwhile medium.