The executives at the networks must really be worrying. At the
latest Emmy awards, the four broadcast networks were almost snubbed.
Cable shows, that once couldn't even get nominated, won the lion's share
of the major awards. Viewership at the networks is declining, while
cable's is on the rise. One of the reason for those facts is that
cable, HBO in particular, are consistently putting out high quality shows.
While the networks are still programing shows with single episode stories
for the most part, cable has been focusing on long story arcs. And
they have been airing the shows in several time slots making it easier
for viewers to catch the program. These tricks wouldn't amount to
much if the shows weren't good, but cable channels are willing to spend
money on good stories and actors, and to have high production values.
They are also willing to have very short seasons, 13 episodes often.
But most importantly, they are willing to fund new and different programing.
Shows that don't seem like a retread of the last successful show.
HBO's The Wire is one such show: A high quality program that delivers
an excellent story with outstanding actors.
The Wire is a complex story about a drug investigation, from
beginning to end. It all starts when Homicide Detective James McNulty
(Domonic West) sees a witness in a murder trial change her story on the
stand. Her change of heart lets D'Angelo Barksdale (Larry Gilliard
Jr.) walk. D'Angelo is a mid-level drug pusher in his uncle's organization.
Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) controls the drug traffic in the Baltimore
projects, and runs the area strictly. Anyone who testifies against
a member of his crew ends up dead.
This latest member of the Barksdale crew to get off really sticks in
McNulty's craw. He talks to a judge he knows, who makes a few phone
calls to get an investigation rolling. This lands McNulty in the
dog house as far as his superiors are concerned. He didn't follow
the chain of command, and now they have to redeploy their manpower on a
case they don't even want to pursue.
Coordinating with Narcotics, a small team is put together to handle
the case. A Narcotics Lieutenant who is up for a promotion is picked
to lead the team, since he won't cause any waves. McNulty is on the
case, of course, but the rest of the officers are the dregs of the department.
The screw-ups that no one wants on their staff. Together these underfunded,
unsupported cops have to build a case on a very careful drug lord, while
managing not to get shut down by their superiors.
This story isn't told only from the police's point of view though,
it is actually told from the prospective of the cops and the drug dealers
themselves. Like Boomtown, which premiered the same year,
this show puts a human face on all of the players. The cops aren't
totally good, and the drug dealers aren't all evil. They each have
their problems, with pressures from their family and their jobs.
This show does an excellent job of blurring the line between good and evil.
The strength of The Wire, is that the program takes the time
to show how the case is built one step at a time. There isn't any
smoking gun evidence or someone with a guilty conscience that solves the
case after an hour. This single case is told over the thirteen episodes
that make up the first season. That makes the show move a little
slow for some people, especially in the first couple of episodes.
The beginning shows can be confusing too, since there are a very large
number of characters in the show, and it can be a little difficult to put
a name with a face in the beginning. By the third or fourth show
though, things become much more clear.
The writing on the show is very strong. Created by David Simon,
of Homicide: Life in the Streets and The Corner fame, the
show has a very realistic and gritty feel to it. The dialog is superb,
the people in the show sound like real people talking rather then someone
reciting a speech. The show does a good job of holding your interest
for the entire thirteen episode run, without adding a lot of extraneous
plot twists just for the purpose of making it longer.
The acting was great too. There were several people in the show
that gradually changed over the course of the season, and for reasons that
were clearly spelled out. The change in these characters seemed natural
and logical, and the actors were able to play these complex persons very
convincingly. Domonic West did an outstanding job, filling McNulty
with contradictions. He was able to portray the officer's drive realistically
without making him a one dimensional charactrer.
This was a very interesting and thought provoking show that it both
complex and enjoyable. The creators did a great job on every aspect,
from writing to casting to set design. A top notch effort.
This five disc set comes in a book like case. The cover opens
up to revel five pages, each with a separate DVD. I really like this
design for multi-disc sets. It is more compact than having five Amaray
cases, and much more wieldy than the foldout type case.
This set has a good set of audio options. Viewers can listen to
this show in stereo in French, Spanish, and English, and there is a 5.1
mix in English too. The show sounded excellent. The show was
very busy with a lot of sounds in the background, from kids playing ball
and rap music to gun shots and screams. All of the sounds in the
foreground and background come through clean and clear. The mix is
very dynamic with a lot of highs and lows, going from a loud club to a
quiet alley with both sounding good. The 5.1 mix made good use of
the soundstage, throwing background noises and music to the rears to create
an enveloping sound. A great sounding show. There are also
subtitles in French, Spanish, and English.
The full frame video looks as good as the show sounds. There are
a lot of dark scenes taking place in project buildings and alleyways where
details are still visible. The colors are accurate and the flesh
tones look real. With only two or three hour long shows on each DVD,
digital defects are not prevalent, though some aliasing is visible.
The show looks very good.
The only extras on this set are audio commentaries accompanying three
episodes. Creator/writer David Simon gives his thoughts on the first
episode, director Clark Johnson comments on the second show, and David
Simon and writer George P. Pelecanos talk over the penultimate episode.
These were interesting commentaries, where the creators explained why the
structured the story the way that they did, and related some anecdotes.
Though they get a little dry by the end, all three are well worth listening
This is a very interesting and complex series. It doesn't insult
the viewers intelligence by endlessly repeating every major plot point.
The scripts are very tight and well crafted and the actors are superb.
HBO has come out with yet another fantastic series. Highly Recommended.