The Sopranos vs. The Wire

..and why not?
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Re: The Sopranos vs. The Wire

Postby The Write Profile » 19 Sep 2010, 00:20

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.
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Re: The Sopranos vs. The Wire

Postby Nolamike » 19 Sep 2010, 15:44

Excellent write-up, RGP.

The RightGraduate Profile wrote:What's really surprising is how many of the main cast are British (and Irish) actors! The Baltimore locals are often non-professionals.


Which plays in to one of the funnier moments on the show - McNulty, who is played by an English actor, going undercover, and adopting a terrible fake English accent as part of his disguise. :lol:

The RightGraduate Profile wrote: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.


I couldn't agree more.
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Re: The Sopranos vs. The Wire

Postby Owen » 19 Sep 2010, 20:26

The RightGraduate Profile wrote:What's really surprising is how many of the main cast are British (and Irish) actors! The Baltimore locals are often non-professionals.


Very true, even Clarke Peters is a UK resident. Not really sure why it ended up like that, I know when they were making Homicide a lot of actors really didn't want to go live in Baltimore for the shoots, maybe that is still the same and the brits were just more eager to jump at any US screen-time/cash

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Re: The Sopranos vs. The Wire

Postby Matt Wilson » 23 Sep 2010, 18:50

They were both fantastic shows, why choose?
And why no love for The Shield? You guys don't think that one was as good as the other two?

I like Twin Peaks a lot too.

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Re: The Sopranos vs. The Wire

Postby Qube » 24 Sep 2010, 09:58

The Shield was decent, I thought the first season was pretty generic to be honest but after that it was fairly engaging. They did always seem to find a way to screw things up for my favourite characters whilst leaving the ones I didn't like.

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Re: The Sopranos vs. The Wire

Postby The Write Profile » 24 Sep 2010, 11:41

Lance Matthew wrote:They were both fantastic shows, why choose?
And why no love for The Shield? You guys don't think that one was as good as the other two?

I like Twin Peaks a lot too.


The Shield
was/is entertaining, with some good acting and storylines, but essentially rather generic and had none of the human "reach" or "scope" of the Wire. It essentially feels and looks like just another gritty cop show, whereas the Wire seems to get to the heart of something, there's something almost novellistic about it (not surprising, most of the screenwriting team are either crime novellists or former journalists), and it has a very real sense of place and time. Not many television series achieve that. Twin Peaks was a total one-off in many respects, and ground zero for a whole wave of television- a lot of its tropes have since been absorbed into televisual (and even filmic) grammar, but I don't think there's ever been anything quite like it before or since.
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Re: The Sopranos vs. The Wire

Postby PENK » 24 Sep 2010, 15:32

The RightGraduate Profile wrote:
Lance Matthew wrote:I like Twin Peaks a lot too.

Twin Peaks was a total one-off in many respects, and ground zero for a whole wave of television- a lot of its tropes have since been absorbed into televisual (and even filmic) grammar, but I don't think there's ever been anything quite like it before or since.


I think the problem with Twin Peaks is that it was only great for about ten episodes - the second series doesn't match the first and fairly quickly loses its way almost completely. That first series is incredible, but The Wire maintained its greatness right up to the end of the fourth series (the fifth is good, but the weakest) while The Sopranos managed it for six/seven, being patchy sometimes but always pulling it back round.
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Re: The Sopranos vs. The Wire

Postby Goat Boy » 24 Sep 2010, 15:41

penk wrote:
The RightGraduate Profile wrote:
Lance Matthew wrote:I like Twin Peaks a lot too.

Twin Peaks was a total one-off in many respects, and ground zero for a whole wave of television- a lot of its tropes have since been absorbed into televisual (and even filmic) grammar, but I don't think there's ever been anything quite like it before or since.


I think the problem with Twin Peaks is that it was only great for about ten episodes - the second series doesn't match the first and fairly quickly loses its way almost completely. That first series is incredible, but The Wire maintained its greatness right up to the end of the fourth series (the fifth is good, but the weakest) while The Sopranos managed it for six/seven, being patchy sometimes but always pulling it back round.


The first half a dozen or so episodes of season 2 are pretty great actually.

Twin Peaks had problems due to interference from the network and the loss of Lynch for most of season 2. If the show was around these days on, say HBO, it would have avoided the pressure to reveal the killer (this was never Lynch's intention) and they wouldn't have to necessarily produce 20+ episodes to satisfy the networks greed. It would have benefited hugely from this.

The final episode is still a highlight of the whole show though.
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Re: The Sopranos vs. The Wire

Postby PENK » 24 Sep 2010, 15:56

Goat Boy wrote:The final episode is still a highlight of the whole show though.


It kind of is, one of the scariest and freakiest for sure, but part of me feels that many of the characters deserved better - Pete and Audrey, for example. That was perhaps never the point of the show, but it still feels like something of a shame.

I can't agree that the second series kept it up for as many as half a dozen episodes, though: the opener is great and it has moments throughout, but already after two or three episodes you've got the stupid plotline about Lucy's baby, the tedious stuff at the diner... all the hallmarks of the studio interference, basically.
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Re: The Sopranos vs. The Wire

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 30 Sep 2017, 16:49

I never saw either back when they were popular. But I binge-watched both last year.

Both are great. Both deserve their reputations. But The Wire endures more for me. I don't think any show has ever peeled off layers of meaning like it did. I think it started kind of slow, and the police that are supposedly at its heart are the least interesting thing about it. But the way it follows the lives of the people in that community and illustrates how entrenched the system they are trapped in is...is just breathtaking.
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Re: The Sopranos vs. The Wire

Postby Minnie the Minx » 30 Sep 2017, 17:00

Yeah, I could have watched The Wire till the end of time. Incredible televison.
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