Re: For Wire Watchers In Withdrawal

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I don't know if I can handle this. We just started watching season one of The West Wing (eekbeat never watched, so I'm re-watching—only too gladly), plus we're staring down that gathering-dust disc of The Wire, season four. Too much good TV, I protest!


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 12:30 AM
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Is there really too much good TV? I'm always on the lookout for some because lately I've taken to watching TV on my iPod at the gym. The only good stuff currently on TV that I can think of off the top of my head is Gossip Girl and 30 Rock, with The Office an "if there's time". I watch Dexter and Mad Men but only once the seasons are done and they're on DVD. (I also have a strange fondness for Medium -- shut up! it's better than you think! -- but it's off until later this year.)


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 12:42 AM
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(Not to say that you're wrong in 1 that there's a lot of great stuff on back-catalog on DVD gathering dust in my iTunes.)


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 12:43 AM
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Tastes will always differ: I recently watched the second or third episode of The Office that I've ever seen, and wasn't taken with it, shall we say.

Josh Marshall says that Life on Mars is interesting; haven't seen it. The only current season thing that holds my interest is Heroes. Battlestar Galactica returns in January sometime. Dexter I found ghastly. So nope, unless you're watching reruns in the form of full seasons of past shows on DVD, I think there's nothing.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 12:49 AM
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2-3: I'm just complaining, because I feel like I'm behind. I mean, I don't even own a TV watch TV, except on DVD, after it's already aired.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 12:59 AM
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I don't even have a good TV.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 1:00 AM
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Shit.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 1:00 AM
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2:

Chuck is great, if you have a high tolerance for geek humor and can get over the idea that all of the nation's secrets were encoded into pictures and can now exist in one person's head. Oh, and the fact that the NSA and CIA are busy operating on American soil. With gorgeous operatives. But yeah, highly amusing show, with decent music, too!


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 1:02 AM
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5: Stanley, I don't think being behind is a problem.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 1:15 AM
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8: eekbeat likes Chuck, but I haven't watched yet. She's ahead of me on Big Love, too. I guess I need to be in grad school to watch TV.

I'm presently watching my roommate and his friend suck at Wii MarioCart, losing against people from throughout the world.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 1:16 AM
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Stanley, I don't think being behind is a problem.

We were behind the times before being behind the times was cool.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 1:20 AM
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She's ahead of me on Big Love, too

Never mind the low-hanging fruit, you're making tv watching into a competition! You're freaking me out!


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 1:22 AM
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10: I'm a huge evangelist for Chuck. I think it's great. So watch it!

And since I'm also in grad school, I'm another data point proving your theory. (Though, in my case, I'd argue that the tv watching marks me out as a lazy graduate student. I'm sure that's not the case for eekbeat).


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 1:24 AM
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Ooops, 13 was me!


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 1:27 AM
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I'm going to go to bed and leave this idea in the comments, and when I wake up I want someone to have made a million dollars with it:

combine Rock Band with Dance Dance Revolution to create an unstoppable spectaculavaganza game.

OK, hundreds and hundreds of dollars


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 1:55 AM
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spectaculavaganza

Spectacular wash peas? What kind of spanish is that?


Posted by: paranoid android | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 2:17 AM
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Or, more accurately, "spectacular wash a goose".


Posted by: paranoid android | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 2:19 AM
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Is there really too much good TV?

Yes. Although I don't watch any of it. In the house House, Chuck, Medium, BSG, Fringe, all sorts of things are watched. It's a small house, so I have seen portions.

Are all my TV's dead in January? I contend it really won't be implemented for years.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 7:28 AM
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Brief opinions on current TV:

House works best if you drink every time they say "sarcoidosis" (drink again at "granuloma") or "lupus".

Life on Mars is good for those "ha ha, they dressed funny in the 70s" moments, followed by those "wait, popular music used to be good?" moments.

Chuck is kind of great, in an I'm-embarrassed-to-admit-watching-this sort of way.

I can't decide if Gossip Girl is actually good, or if Kristen Bell's voice just lures me into some state of Veronica Mars-remembering bliss.

Big Bang Theory: an entire show devoted to viciously stereotyping me and my colleagues! Who thought that was a good idea?

Really, I could probably give up on television after BSG is over unless something else really brilliant comes along.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 8:12 AM
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The "Life on Mars" people filmed a giant scene near my house the other day. They posted signs all over the neighborhood alerting us to the fact that there would be smoke, that the FDNY knew all about it, and that it was going to be safe. I wasn't around to see it, unfortunately.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 8:15 AM
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18: If you have an old TV and use rabbit ears or an antenna attached to your house, it won't be able to receive much of anything after mid-February unless you get a converter box to hook up between the rabbit ears and your set. Most local broadcast stations go digital Feb 17 (not so-called "low-power" stations, but there aren't many of those). The deadline was set by statute (your legislators at work) so it would take an act of Congress to change it.

If you have cable or a satellite dish, no need to do anything - your provider will handle what needs to be done at their end. If ALL you do is watch DVDs or (amazingly) tapes, your player will still work with your TV, so no need to do anything in that extreme scenario.

Or you can just run out to the mall, buy a digital TV, and stimulate the economy, as the Man wants.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 8:21 AM
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30 Rock is great.

And sorry, I think it's total blasphemy to compare The Shield to The Wire. Shield is a total cartoon of a show -- wildly unrealistic, the violence, sex, and brutality amped over the top for entertainment purposes. Try watching an episode or two and counting the number of tabloid-worthy rapes, gang-related torture killings, and serial killers that occur in, like, a 48 hour period in that precinct. It's a fun adult cartoon, but that's it.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 9:07 AM
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House is still great and still has like 15 episodes left in the current season. I know that nay-saying about House has become fashionable among our out of touch elites, and I must fervently disagree.

19: They stopped suggesting lupus every time once they finally got an actual case of lupus last season.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 9:34 AM
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Also, specifically for Wire watchers, the most recent episode of House featured Wood Harris.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 9:43 AM
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House is much improved this season, but it's still on the decline.

We just discovered Entourage and it's one of the more entertaining bits of fluff I've seen recently.

And just to throw this out there: The Wire isn't perfectly realistic, just not formulaic.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 9:51 AM
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I just watched the beginning of 30 Rock for the first time last night (watched the first three episodes in a row). Very funny, particularly Alec Baldwin, but the running gag of Tina Fey's scruffiness and unappealingness was starting to give me a slight but annoying facial tic.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 9:52 AM
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The episode plots in Gossip Girl are of the "pull two characters' names out of the conflict hat and start writing" variety. The show should be unwatchable, but the cast is so attractive that the viewer doesn't care. At least one of the principal players has even scored a Hell yeah! at this very blog.


Posted by: Todd | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 10:43 AM
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27: and is it just me, or do Carrie Bishop and Blair Waldorf feel like the same character? Maybe I'm slighting Ms Meester, but I wonder if she can do anything but "haughty, snide queen bee".


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 1:33 PM
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Either we are living in a Golden Age of television, or I am entering a Golden Age of being marketed to.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 2:17 PM
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And just to throw this out there: The Wire isn't perfectly realistic, just not formulaic.

well, I guess, depending on what you mean by "perfectly realistic". I remember commenting here a long time ago on how The Wire felt much more like a standard TV drama-fest after seeing The Corner, the only slightly fictionalized show on Baltimore drug addicts that the same team did before they did The Wire. The Corner was so painful and depressing as to be almost unwatchable. There was some character progression, but it was so slow and haphazard that it was barely noticeable -- everyone felt trapped in stasis and despair. Like life!

But I think the depth (and yes, realism) of the Wire goes far beyond "not formulaic". I mean, there's that question of when fiction attains a higher realism due to its freedom to introduce dramatic narrative that is a little neater and more structured than life tends to be. Bad art uses that freedom to give you lots of cheap thrills rooted in pure drama, good art uses it to magnify the same conflicts we really see in life so they can be inspected more deeply. I mean, Shakespeare is not realistic. The Wire isn't quite Shakespeare, but I do think it's one of the great takes on the collision between instituons / organizational imperatives and individuals.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 2:27 PM
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I argue against only the narrow position that conflates The Wire with a documentary (which often seems to happen in casual commentary.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 2:39 PM
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I just can't even begin to watch something called Gossip Girl. I protest: whatever it is, it's stupid. Unless the main characters are 12-year-old girls who gossip, in which case I would not be interested. Q.E.D.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 2:54 PM
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Some parts of the Wire are ridiculously unrealistic -- Brother Mazzone anyone? Plus many of the people who comment on its realism aren't exactly experts on Baltimore and the drug trade; if you're a 27-year-old overeducated yuppie, your exclamation of "OMG this is EXACTLY how it goes down" shouldn't carry much weight. That said, the show is extraordinarily deep, rich, complex, etc.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 3:02 PM
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Come on, professors. I don't think it's unreasonable that The Wire is the best realist drama on television and it is that realism that distinguishes it from (for instance) The Shield, a show that has other good things to recommend itself (like character development) but isn't realist art by a stretch.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 3:58 PM
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I am so much harder than you know, Barbar.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 4:00 PM
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Hey, so, why can't The Wire be realistic in terms of milieu, atmosphere, dialogue, location, and detail, and still be making grand gestures toward classical tragedy in terms of plot? This isn't allowed?

32: by contrsat, there is nothing more intelligent than to casually dismiss as stupid something you know nothing about.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 4:04 PM
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36: the presumption of stupidity is reasonable, given that it is regarding a TV show. Guilty until proven innocent.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 4:14 PM
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37: well, she'll never know, will she? You know what's a fucking stupid name for a TV series? "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 4:19 PM
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38: coincidentally, that show was terrible.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 4:24 PM
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I have some mental short circuit that makes me think people are talking about Gilmore Girls when they mention Gossip Girl.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 4:24 PM
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39: I never really watched it. It was arguably not as profoundly stupid as e.g. Manimal, a show with a fantastic name.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 4:27 PM
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41: that is nice.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 4:31 PM
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I think 30 Rock is a terrible name for a show, because it took me forever to distinguish it from Third Rock, and then it was much later that I finally found out it was short for "30 Rockefellar Plaza". But the show is awesome.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 4:33 PM
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Plus many of the people who comment on its realism aren't exactly experts on Baltimore and the drug trade; if you're a 27-year-old overeducated yuppie, your exclamation of "OMG this is EXACTLY how it goes down" shouldn't carry much weight

I'll cop to overeducated if not 27, and I know nothing about Baltimore but more than I'd like about parts of the drug trade.

Bits of this they really nailed pretty well. One thing they didn't portray at all was the boredom of the whole thing. At the street level, moving this stuff is mostly sitting around doing nothing much, punctuated by unpredictable intervals of action that can get pretty extreme. You spend a lot of time wound up but not doing anything, and time moves differently.

I don't know how you'd get that across on the tee vee.

These kids were in a harder neighborhood than I was, but from what I've heard, about right for the place. More deaths and fewer beatings than my corners were, but it smelled right.

It was surprisingly well done.


Posted by: John F. Kennedy | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 4:36 PM
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36.2: I was trolling, Sifu, GEEZ.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 5:12 PM
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45: well excuuuuse me for taking the bait.

Or wait, I guess, yeah? You should? Too deep for me. Back to Shasta McNasty reruns!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 5:28 PM
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Shorter tonight's Andy Rooney: my personal economy's doing just fine, because I steal rolls from the restaurants I dine at. That's not stealing, right?


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 6:54 PM
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44 was Mary Catherine.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 7:28 PM
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Looks like that was a thread-icide. Ooops.


Posted by: John F. Kennedy | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 9:36 PM
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Actually, I rather liked 44.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 9:37 PM
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49: that's the way it is on the street.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 9:46 PM
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There was an article or post or comment somewhere that posited that The Wire did not present realism(?), but rather verisimilitude. I found this very astute. No, actual drug-selling does not conform to story-arcs, but yes, black people do talk like that. It's the first/only tv show to use that dialect in any serious way.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 11:38 PM
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52: I think the only resolution to this question will come when we all go buy and sell drugs all the time in the greater Baltimore area in all possible universes.

Oh, also when we sign our comments so as not to invoke the wrath of Omar LB.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-30-08 11:49 PM
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When you go at the king, you best be realist.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 12:00 AM
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39 is just not allowed.

Last night we were playing Celebrity, the game where you have to make people guess the name on the slip of paper.

First round: you describe the person.
Second round: you describe the person using one word, and hope people were paying attention in the first round.
Third round: you describe the person using charades.

Someone was pantomiming pissing -- I forget why -- and the best of all possible guesses came forth: "Pee, golden shower, Golden Girls...Bea Arthur!"

Tragically, it was not correct.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 1:22 AM
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So is Celebrity an LA thing? Because it's huge in LA, and I've never known anybody to play it anywhere else.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 1:30 AM
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Hmmm. I mostly play it with a friend from (not-LA) college, but I'll see if he picked it up out here.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 1:38 AM
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SPOILER ALERT

So, about The Shield finale. Others have pointed out the show is not really "realism," but is more melodramatic, even operatic. Perhaps the concept we're striving for is verismo, the heightened drama of opera in a nominally "realistic" situation, not all fairytale castles, princesses, swans, gods. (E.g., La Boheme, not Die Zauberflote).

In that tradition, I found the finale powerful: not as perfect as Six Feet Under (what is?), but more meaningful than The Sopranos. It most resembles the end of The Godfather, Part II, with Vic Mackey, like the Don, "victorious" but alone, having conquered his enemies but in the process having driven away his friends and family. Quite remarkable, and fitting . . .

. . . until/unless he takes his gun out of the lockbox and walks off into the night. Have the revelations of the rest of the day actually forced him to reflect upon himself, who he is, what he has done, as earlier closeups suggest? Or does the half-smirk (?) on his face in the final few seconds suggest that even this will wash over him, leave the essential Vic intact, and very much a danger to all around him? "Mackey's back"??

Your views - those who have watched it - appreciated.


Posted by: dr ngo | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 7:29 AM
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52: that is a weird way to look at it. If using story or narrative arc means you're not realistic, then there's almost no such thing as a realistic novel, plays, or movie. The realism of the Wire goes far beyond dialect/language into the narrative and characterization. Also, black people do not really talk that way -- as we were talking about in a thread recently, truly realistic representations of speech would so choppy and incoherent as to be almost incomprehensible.

My beef with The Shield isn't just that it's unrealistic, but that it make quasi-pornographic use of amped-up violence in a way that to me pretty much destroys nuance, depth, and humanity. It's like a drama set in the world of the Grand Theft Auto video game. But it is very effective for what it does. That "verisimo" comment in 58 was a good way to put it, although I'd compare it more to graphic comics than opera.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 8:59 AM
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I saw a movie with realistic representations of speech once. It was called "Funny Ha Ha".


Posted by: Cryptec Nid | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 9:03 AM
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I liked that movie. See also his follow-up Mutual Appreciation, shot in much the same style about people just a few years older (Funny Ha Ha is set immediately following college). The director, Andrew Bujalski, is reportedly adapting Benjamin Kunkel's book Indecision.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 9:29 AM
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The realism of the Wire goes far beyond dialect/language into the narrative and characterization.

I'm not sure about its claim to realism; or maybe I'm not sure what realism means. The show was extraordinarily well-written, and portrayed most of its characters as human beings, avoiding easy stereotypes. It's a cop show without the gritty veteran scenery-chewing cop, the hooker with the heart of gold, the caricatures of drug dealers.

But I'm not sure I'd say realistic. (Omar? Snoop? Mouzone?) Or at least I'd take "I watched the Wire so I know about the Baltimore drug trade and take the show as good evidence for my preferred policy positions on the war on drugs and inner city schools" about as seriously as I'd take "I watched ER so now I know about the dangers of modern medical care and MRSA."

It was interesting that some of the criticisms of season 5 were that Simon got the paper wrong, and that struck me as the one area that the demographic that watches the Wire might actually know something about.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 9:45 AM
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It was interesting that some of the criticisms of season 5 were that Simon got the paper wrong

And, ironically, given Simon's former profession, the one area that you'd think he would know pretty well?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 9:49 AM
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My guess, knowing nothing about the newspaper profession, just judging from the feel of the show, is that a) season 5 needed three more episodes to stretch out some of the character development and b) Simon knew it *too* well, and couldn't get the mental distance he needed to flesh out the newsroom characters (Gus and Templeton in particular) in the way he did with most of the rest of the cast.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 9:52 AM
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Omar and Mouzone were my least favorite characters on the Wire. Even there, though, there are people who make their living robbing drug dealers. And Snoop was based on a real person. Our distance

I frankly don't see why The Wire isn't as good a source on policy positions for the war on drugs and inner city schools as some think tank white paper. The authors and creators of the show were very experienced in those worlds (ex inner city HS teacher, ex-cop, ex-crime reporter, lots of experience in all cases). They are legit experts. It's pretty easy to adjust their portrait of the city to take into account the necessary exaggerations of drama.

It was interesting that some of the criticisms of season 5 were that Simon got the paper wrong

the editors at the Sun that Simon savagely criticizing were especially passionate in claiming he got it all wrong.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 9:59 AM
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I frankly don't see why The Wire isn't as good a source on policy positions for the war on drugs and inner city schools as some think tank white paper.

Well, just to start, it's based largely on their experiences in Baltimore in the 1980s.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 10:03 AM
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I've only watched the first two series so far, but I don't personally care that Omar and the like aren't 'realistic'. I'm enjoying it because it's a big multi-layered drama with some great characters.



Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 10:07 AM
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66: ha. OK, you got me. But their direct experience ran from the 70s through the mid-90s. That's a long period of time. I'll take the Wire as based on wisdom gained over a long period of directly observing events, and I'll take it as a powerful and realistic drama about that period. Perhaps stuff has changed since the mid-90s, they don't think so, but perhaps their experience is no longer a good guide. I can look to other observers for that. In the meantime, they certainly have a lot to say.

My larger point here is that our "policy positions" in almost all areas are based on second-hand (hell, third and fourth-hand) testimony, not direct expertise. I don't see why I should be prejudiced against evidence that comes in dramatic form. If you think that the claims of academic experts in public policy aren't filtered through all kinds of semi-conscious narrative conventions and ideology you have another think coming. It might even be better to have the drama out clearly where you can adjust for it.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 10:18 AM
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I don't think the Wire is super-realistic, but it is IMO the best TV show ever. Great drama, great characters, great actors, and great exploration of hierarchical organizations and how individuals behave inside them. The complexity of the plots -- the way the drama is built from interaction between individuals with different roles in different organizations -- is probably what people are referring to when they talk about the show's "realism."

68: it's true that virtually all of our policy positions tend to be based on third- and fourth-hand testimony, and the Wire is no worse than anything else in that regard. However, I take this to mean that virtually no one who discusses policy actually knows what they are talking about, including myself. Someone's thoughts on a subject that they don't have first-hand experience with, and that they haven't thought much about, can probably be boiled down to a simple narrative that they find plausible for whatever reason.

For the couple of things that I do know a lot about, it seems clear to me that a lot of the plausible stories that people tell each other are simply false, or at best very incomplete.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 12- 1-08 10:52 AM
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