Tonight I must say Good-bye to a very good friend. Well, lots of very good friends...Bunk, Michael, Bubbles, McNulty, Avon, Carver, Poot, Beadie, Prezbolyski, Marlo and Cheese, just to name a few. Of course I'm talking about all of the fantastic characters that assemble for HBO's best series to date: The Wire. Arguably the best thing that's ever been on the boob tube (and named so by many of the world's leading entertainment publications), no other television series has examined so accurately and non-obtrusively the make up of the modern American city. With close looks at life in a drug trafficking organization, an inner-city police force, in City Hall, in an urban classroom and in a big city newspaper, the show has created a virtual city while breaking down the inner mechanics of the typical, urban one.
I discovered this show in October 2006. I was a Senior at Howard and completely enamored with my seven HBO channels. I had heard of The Wire, but generally from the same sort of people that watched Oz, if you know what I mean, and didn't think it could ever be my show. But I stumbled upon an article in EW (which has the best Wire coverage ever, Slate is a close second) written by one of their contributors Stephen King that hailed it as the hottest thing smoking with those elusive qualities that only HBO dramas seem to possess: great writing + phenomenal acting - the overly dramatic touch of a major network. I found out that HBO was showing the first three episodes in Season 4 one night and decided to catch-up. It wasn't easy...
First off, those accents. Being in D.C. and befriending a few Baltimoreans, I knew it was authentic. But that didn't make it any easier to understand. And the characters, there were dozens of them. The police force, the police command, City Hall and its labyrinth of council members, judges and aides, the many drug corners of Marlo, Prop Joe and the independents and now, the schools. To add insult to injury, the producers played everything completely straight, no descriptive costumes in classrooms of 20 kids. Sex and the City only had four principle characters and we could still spot Charlotte, Samantha, Carrie or Miranda from a mile away just because of their distinctive looks.
Despite all of the obstacles, I became hooked. The show instantly made me feel as if I had been dropped on the West Side of Baltimore and given opera glasses to carefully move my gaze from Bodie's corner on Pacey to Mr. Prezbo's Math Class to Carcetti's campaign headquarters to Mayor Royce's office and back again to the streets to Marlo's lair near Druid Hill park.
Each week, I sat fixated for an hour, grimacing when baby Kenard called Micheal's mother a "f***ing dope fiend," screaming at the TV as Herc unknowingly outs Randy as a snitch, glaring as Carcetti's Chief of Staff says decisively, "Kids don't vote," and sobbing as if he were my own child when I witnessed Dukie on the corner selling drugs, wearing Micheal's old coat. I recently went back and discovered seasons 1-3, which were all as masterfully done as Season 4, but maybe not as heart wrenching, which is a good thing because no one can take the disappointment of Season 4 more than once.
The beauty of this show, is in the details. The glances, the gestures, the unspoken communications. My favorite moment of Season 1 is when McNulty and Bunk go back to an old crime scene and solve a cold murder case with nothing more than a series of "F***s" and the occasional "Motherf****er." The most poignant moment in Season 1 was D'Angelo Barksdale standing up to the vindictive Stinger Bell who walks out on D, but not before D begins to wildly ask, "Where's Wallace?! Huh? Where's Wallace?!" Over and over and over he screamed and I was weirdly gratified to know that the homeless, parentless corner boy was missed by someone. Seasons 2-5 have also been filled with these moments, which are pay-offs for regular viewers, who by now are trained to look for the nuances and file them away in their memory to be rediscovered in the season's ending episodes.
Season 5 has been pure Wire, building on prior storylines and setting us (rabid fans) up for the pay-off, or big let-down, however you want to look at it. I've had to say good-bye to some stalwarts over the past couple of years with The Wire...Bodie, Prop Joe, Omar, Snoop and I'm certain that at least a couple more will leave the world tonight. But who stays and who goes takes a backseat to the overall effect of the show as these people, that have managed to leap out of the screen and become 3-D forces in the minds of millions of viewers, have left their indelible mark on television and the world. And even though the real Dukies and Wallaces and "little bitches on the chessboard" will continue to be so, their stories have partially been told. This, I believe, has created a space for "the rest of us," the non-corner kids, to begin to understand the Why's and to question How we can change things. Hate It or Love It, The Underdog's Still On Bottom.