Snarfyguy wrote:The Wire solved the problem inherent in these shows and that The Sopranos in particular suffered from, namely: how do you sustain a narrative arc over a multi-season drama when you never know if there's going to be another season? You can't. You can't have a big cliffhanger when your star wants a million dollars an episode.
What do you do with your characters? You can almost hear that question asked aloud and you can almost see the writers sitting around a table saying things like "well, we can send Meadow to college" and "such-and-such character can betray Tony," but there's actually no reason for any of that stuff to be happening. The writers are just making it up as they go along, and it shows.
One of the innovations of The Wire was for each season to be its own self-contained, fully realized set of narratives, with a clear resolution, or at least a clear ending. This allows the writers and viewers the satisfaction of enjoying a coherent storyline rather than just a sequence of events.
If only for this formal innovation, I hand it to The Wire, but it also pounds the The Sops on other fronts.
Yeah, I love both shows (and I think what's often ignored about the Sopranos is how genuinely surreal it got at times, I can't think of a major show since Twin Peaks to be more reliant on cryptic fantasy/dream sequences), but snarfy nails it there.
Regarding Modernist point about the Wire adhering to a lot of the genre conventions, I think that in an odd way that's part of its strength. It's able to leap out and depict this really broad, and interlocking aspects of society because it's grounded in something that's quite conventional in terms of narrative. Essentially, I think it was a show that really knew how to make use of television's longform possibilities. Although David Simon hates the phrase with a passion, it truly is Dickensian.
Snarfy's right about the fact that each season is contained, but there is also massive spill-over. So the first season is a cop show which deals with the fundamental ties between both sides of the law (and one thing that really sets it apart is how fluid it is in the depiction of the links), the second season is a cop show that deals with the breakdown of industry (specifically in nominally working-class port-towns such as Baltimore) and unionism post-Reagan.
The third season is about the "war on drugs" and the facile way it's manipulated by politics (and politicians) where the most obvious solutions are often ignored. The fourth season is about the education system and the effects that "No Child Left Behind" has on those schools "below the high deciles" (as we would say in NZ) (and it's arguably the one season which is the least reliant on the cop-show framework, the majority of that season actually takes place within the classroom, and I think Modernist would get the most out of that one), and where it just perpetuates the cycle of crime. And finally, the last season is how the media struggles to really deal with all of these connections because the current ownership and corporate models don't allow reporters to do the work they should.
But yet the strange thing is how although it has that overarching framework for each season, characters and situations spill over from the previous ones and add extra reasonance. There is a core cast that holds it all together, and that allows the show to spread its wings when it needs to. Regarding the dialect, I just switch on the subtitles, but I think the idea is not to try and understand everything (even the cop dialogue is ridiculously jargon-heavy), but just soak it in and eventually you'll get most of it. Mos Def. What's really surprising is how many of the main cast are British (and Irish) actors! The Baltimore locals are often non-professionals.
But really, I like the Wire so much not just for the stuff I've mentioned above, but mainly because it is genuinely gripping (and often blackly funny) story-telling. And it's interesting how some of the characters (McNulty in particular) seem really rote at the start, and then the show manages to pull the rug from underneath them and show them up. There is also the fact that no characters are perfect, and no characters are beyond redemption. This is still the best essay I have read about it.