You may or may not have noticed that — save Kingsman: The Secret Service — there have been a distinct lack of movie reviews these past few weeks. That’s partially because I went on vacation, partially because I got sick, partially because I’ve been writing other things, and partially because TV has been ruling the St. George household these days. One of the shows we’ve been watching?
The Wire has a reputation for being The Best Show to Ever Exist Ever Ever Ever. And while I’m not sure I’ll go quite that far — I’m unlikely to ever proclaim any show, movie, or book better than all other shows, movies, or books — I’ve got to admit, we just wrapped first season and so far, it’s pretty damn good.
When Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) complains to a judge that nobody is investigating drug kingpin Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris), even though his people keep getting away with murder, a special police detail is created to take Barksdale down. Absolutely NOBODY is happy with McNulty about this. Meanwhile, D’Angelo (Larry Gilliard Jr.), Avon’s nephew and one of those people who just got away with murder, is demoted to running the drug trade in one of the projects.
1. The Wire premiered on HBO in 2002. I didn’t watch it because I was 16 at the time and wouldn’t have access to HBO, Netflix, or Amazon for about a decade. But I doubt I’d have been all that interested anyway; even now, I don’t generally gravitate towards gritty stories about cops, drugs, and Baltimore. (Hell, it took me a good solid moment to remember where Baltimore is, only proving that either I am entirely hopeless or my elementary school teachers quite seriously failed me.)
But I’m glad I started watching it now. The Wire is probably one of the most cleverly structured television shows I’ve ever seen. It’s extremely effective at setting up small moments early on in the season and paying them off in big ways by the end. The balance between the cops and criminals is extremely well done and never goes the easy way out by making it a show about Good Guys vs Bad Guys. The plotting is tight, the dialogue is sharp, and the cast is supremely talented.
2. Which makes it all the more infuriating when you realize that The Wire was only nominated for two Emmys during its entire five year run, both of them for writing. And to add insult to injury, it didn’t win either.
Guys, this is just . . . it’s so utterly unacceptable. By this point in my life, I’m pretty used to all my genre shows being utterly ignored, but The Wire is like what the Emmys were fucking MADE for. The fact that it didn’t manage to garner a single acting or best drama nod is insane, and honestly, I can’t help but feel that if the cast had been primarily white, The Wire would have been positively drowning in Emmy love.
Cause seriously, can I just show you some of the other shows and actors who were chosen over The Wire during it’s 2002-2008 run? CSI got a best drama nomination in 2003. Anthony LaPaglia got a best actor nod for Without a Trace in 2004. Jennifer Garner got a best actress nomination in 2005 for Alias and lost to Patricia Arquette, who won for her work in Medium. None of these actors or shows are necessarily terrible — hell, I enjoyed a few of them — but c’mon. Who in the HELL is going to stand there and tell me that CSI, Without a Trace, Alias, and Medium deserved more acclaim than The Wire? It’s bullshit.
3. There are a LOT of people in this show, and we’re going to discuss many of them. Get comfy.
McNulty’s kind of a judgmental ass sometimes and a pretty terrible parent, but he’s also surprisingly likable. He’s sort of a deconstructed hero, actually — all the usual I’m-the-Smartest-Most-Reckless-Badass-Ever tropes are there, but The Wire isn’t afraid to call him out on his bullshit, either. It’s sort of a nice balance. This is easily the best performance I’ve ever seen from Dominic West, who usually plays total schmucks like Theron in 300, Jasper in 28 Days, or Fred Casely in Chicago. It’s a nice change of pace. He’s also fairly consistent with the accent, I think, although I’m seriously wondering if he and Paul Blackthorne from Arrow have the same vocal coach because their voices sound so similar to me at times. (Though I should stress that West’s accent is SO MUCH BETTER than Blackthorne’s. Sorry, Lance. I generally like you, but you’re not fooling anyone.)
So, yeah. I like McNulty. I do. But when he loses custody of his kids or his liver shrivels up and DIES, I’m not sure how sorry I’m going to feel for him.
I’ve seen Wood Harris pop up now and again on TV, most notably as a guest star on Justified, where he was underused but kind of delightful anyway. This is a much less comedic performance overall, but I like Avon. He’s sort of an interesting character too, mostly because he actually has character. He’s not a horrifying stereotype. He’s not some Fiendish Criminal Mastermind. He’s just the dude in charge — kind of a hothead but not a total idiot. I like that about him.
My God, Idris Elba is a good looking man. I know that’s not really relevant right now, but DAMN. Good. Looking. Man.
Okay. Stringer is Avon’s right hand man and basically seems to be the real brains of the operation. (Again, it’s not that Avon’s dumb, but between the two of them, I’d be way more scared of Stringer.) I don’t know if I have anything really insightful to say about his character right now — I’m not going to talk too much about Idris Elba’s talent because OBVIOUSLY. But I’m really interested to see how his storyline develops post Season 1 because it seems like he’s going to have more to do.
Larry Gilliard Jr.
I know Gilliard Jr. from The Walking Dead — one of three Wire alums to join in on the zombie action thus far — and I definitely like him better here. Which only makes sense, as D is a pretty big player in this show, whereas Bob never really felt like a fully developed character to me. But this is good stuff. I don’t know if I exactly like D, but I do grow to feel sorry for him. His arc from beginning to end is pretty damn solid.
Sohn may be the only actor in this whole cast who I was unfamiliar with prior to the show, and so far Kima is definitely one of my favorite characters; in fact, she probably is my favorite character. (Admittedly, it’s a pretty close race. Lots of good people abound.) While she does occasionally makes mistakes (like, arguably two mistakes), Kima actually owns up to them, which is kind of refreshing, honestly. And the rest of the time, she is super competent, which I think everyone knows is something I like in a fictional character. Competence is write up there with a manic smile and daddy issues for Qualities I’m Just Ridiculously, Hopelessly Attracted To.
Between her relationship with her girlfriend, her relationship with her CI, Bubbles, and her relationships with all the other cops, Kima is a strong and fully developed female character. MORE OF THIS, PLEASE.
Bubbles is fun. Rojo is very expressive, and I’m interested to see where his character goes over the course of the show. I loved watching his undercover work — who knew that colorful hats could be so useful? I absolutely put a red hat on Mekaela while we watched this, by the way.
The only problem with Bubbles is that I find his junkie friend — who refuses to take life lessons, even when they violently try to bash their way through his skull — pretty annoying, and I was kind of bored during all the scenes where they’re just hanging around, getting high. If said junkie friend could just go away in Season Two, I would definitely appreciate it.
Michael Kenneth Williams
Oh, man. Omar is the BEST.
You don’t get a lot of badass gay characters in Hollywood. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t any good gay roles, of course, but — there aren’t, like, tons of them, and they’re rarely of the Ominously Whistling, Let Me Just Kill This Motherfucker variety. But Omar is that guy, and he is delightful. I’m super happy with him so far.
The only thing I’ve seen Michael Kenneth Williams in prior to this is Community, which he guest starred on a couple of times. Now I absolutely HAVE to watch the Law & Order parody episode again. Cause, you know. “A man’s gotta have a code.”
Freamon is pretty excellent, too — he and Omar are probably Kima’s main competition when it comes to Carlie’s Favorite Character. In fact, I liked Freamon almost immediately, especially in a scene early-on when most of the cops are totally failing at this semi-simple task, and he’s just sitting back, smirking, because he’s already figured out what they’re doing wrong. Freamon is also exceptionally competent, and it’s sort of enjoyable when you realize that despite having worked in the Pawn Shop Unit for a bazillion years, he’s actually a superior detective to McNulty.
I do wonder about Freamon, though. Maybe it’s just some residual impressions from Peters’s run on Person of Interest, but towards the very end I couldn’t help but wonder if Freamon might eventually become corrupt or go a little Dark Side. Honestly, I’m not really sure where that’s coming from, though. Maybe I’m just naturally suspicious of people who make tiny doll furniture.
I’m primarily familiar with Lance Reddick from Fringe, and in a way, Daniels doesn’t seem like such a huge stretch from Broyles. You know, they could be cranky, taciturn cousins, only Daniels deals with bullshit police politics and Broyles deals with mad scientists who use LSD to enter the minds of unresponsive FBI agents. He’s a bit more sympathetic here, though, because (like Gilliard Jr) he’s a bigger player in The Wire and we actually get to see a few more sides to him. Including — and this was shocking — a smile.
I’m serious, guys. I’ve watched Lance Reddick in one season of The Wire, five season of Fringe, and a few episodes of both Lost and The Blacklist, and this man does not crack a smile, ever — except here where in one episode he full on grins and reveals that he actually has adorable bunny teeth.
I was utterly delighted by the revelation.
John Doman pops up all the time — most currently, he’s starring as Falcone on Gotham — and he is well-versed in the art of playing an asshole. Still, I think he might master his craft here. What makes Rawls so particularly great is that he isn’t as one-note as you might initially assume. I actually find him pretty funny, and I am a huge fan of how his and McNulty’s storyline plays out.
Michael B. Jordan
Ack! It’s baby Michael B. Jordan! I first saw this guy in Chronicle, where he is DEFINITELY more grown up. It was kind of a trip to watch him here. (Wallace is 16 but looks 12 to me — although maybe that’s because I first watched him as a 25-year-old playing an 18-year-old. Oh, typical Hollywood.)
And I like Wallace. I think he is monumentally stupid at some points, but I can’t help but feel for the kid. He doesn’t have it easy, in this show, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for him, even if he does brings some of that trouble on himself.
Carver & Herc
Seth Gilliam & Domenick Lombardozzi
Finally — and that’s only because I’m giving up and skipping several other key players for Time Constraints/Fear of Carpal Tunnel — here are the guys Mekaela and I dubbed the Wonder Twins. Let me assure you that we meant this in the most sarcastic sense possible.
The thing is, in the pilot? Mek and I both liked these guys. They worked with Kima in Narcotics, and it seemed like they were a pretty solid team — until the second episode when they turned into a couple of incompetent dickbags. Which was disappointing — I so wanted to like Deaton. (And can I just say, Seth Gilliam has had the strangest TV career? He starred in critically lauded shows like The Wire and Oz, only to go to . . . Teen Wolf? I mean, The Walking Dead, I get — it’s genre, but it’s critically acclaimed enough that non-genre fans can assure themselves that they enjoy it because “it’s not really about the zombies; it’s about HUMANITY.” But Teen Wolf is about bad werewolf makeup, good character dynamics, and homoeroticism — no one’s watching Teen Wolf if they’re closeted SF and fantasy fans. Anyway, I just think HBO to MTV is an interesting career leap.)
It’s fair to say, though, that — on the rewatch — I discovered their bullshit actually is brought up in the pilot. I just took it as all talk. It’s also fair to point out that I enjoyed the Wonder Twins more by the end of the first season. They’re certainly not my favorite characters and they consistently continue to make dumb ass decisions, but they do begin to function as the task force’s main comic reliefs and not just as asshole fuck-ups. So I could at least somewhat enjoy them in that capacity.
4. I will say this: The Wire is like the anti-PSA for drunk driving. Good God. Between this and Cougar Town, I’m actually concerned for my liver. (She says while trying a hard cider. Verdict: it’s not bad. Hey, maybe I’ve finally found a pub drink!)
5. Finally, there’s a limit to what else I can say without Spoilers, let me just offer up a list of scenes that I especially enjoyed in the first season:
The Desk Dilemma
The Great Pet-Sitting Misunderstanding
The Exploration of How Many Different Ways Two People Can Use the Word “Fuck” Whilst Investigating a Homicide
The Complete Verbal Shutdown of Ervin Burrell
The Most Badass Whistle of All Time
The Search For a Missing Officer, and . . .
The Profanity-Laced Absolution Offered From the Most Unlikely of Sources
If you, like me, have also failed the Television Gods by not watching The Wire, I’d suggest that you don’t read on any further and give it a try. For my money, it’s pretty impressive, or at least the first season is.
In no way am I going to try and write a recap of everything that happened in Season One. I have zero interest in doing that. But I would like to discuss a few things I couldn’t talk about earlier, like how watching television in the current “Holy Shit Did You See Who Got Killed Last Week” era may have ruined Mekaela and I for watching any television show that aired before Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
Case in point: Mek and I made a bet during the pilot about which cop would be killed by the end of the season, a bet we both lost because none of the cops were killed. I mean, shocking, right? Although I guess Mek would ultimately have to be declared the winner because at least her choice (Kima) did come seriously close to dying. The only thing that happened to Bunk (Wendell Pierce) was that he got hugely drunk in one episode and set his clothes on fire in a bathtub. Oh, classic Bunk.
Kima, meanwhile, nearly died when she got shot in an undercover op. Pretty much everything about this was great — well, not the part where my favorite character got shot, but the part where she didn’t actually die worked pretty well for me. Also, the scene where the other cops are trying to find her is tense as hell, and I just downright loved the scene where Rawls comforts McNulty, primarily by swearing at him.
See, Rawls is mightily pissed at McNulty over the course of the first season and is looking to exact revenge in any way possible, including getting him thrown off the force. We’ve already seen Rawls ask another cop to spy on McNulty, looking for anything they can fire him over. (Drunk driving seems the most likely possibility.) When Kima is shot, you’re thinking, Okay, here we go: Rawls is totally going to blame this screwup on McNulty somehow. But Rawls — showing a surprising and absolutely welcome moment of character development — reveals that this is a line he won’t cross. It’s a really solid scene and great work by John Doman and Dominic West.
Of course, not everyone in this show makes it out alive. Save Kima, the cops are largely left unscathed — at least physically — but the same could hardly be said for Avon’s crew.
So, when I said Wallace doesn’t have it easy in this show? Yeah, well, what I meant was that his two of his own childhood friends murder him on Stringer Bell’s say-so. Mind you, some of this is his own godamn fault. Wallace ends up snitching to the cops because of all the guilt he feels over his part in this one guy’s death. Which is fine — he goes to live with his grandmother out in the country to keep himself out of harm’s way. The problem arises when he can’t hack it in the country — cause, like, crickets — so he decides to come back to the Pit.
This is so not okay. I mean, I get it — crickets can be loud motherfuckers. And I know that Wallace has left behind everything he’s ever known and it must be scary as hell, particularly when you’re trying to make a new start with a grandparent you barely even know. And yeah, this kind of thing isn’t my world. I’m a white girl from the sticks, so the hell do I know about drugs in West Baltimore? Still, I feel pretty confident that there’s really no going back once you make the decision to snitch on your crew. (To be fair to Wallace, Stringer never actually knows that the kid snitched on them. He only knows that Wallace is a potential loose end and that things are too shaky to be dealing with loose ends. Still. Why, kid, WHY?)
Despite all this, it’s really sad when Bodie and Poot murder Wallace, especially because the scene is intercut with the cops looking for him, like there’s a chance they might find Wallace in time. (There is zero actual chance of that.) Damn you, Bodie and Poot. Now how am I supposed to like you two? There’s something particularly cold about asking the kid’s own childhood buddies to do the deed. I am now imagining my own childhood friends having murdered me, and it’s just so much meaner than, you know, all my other friends murdering me.
Lindsey and Chris, don’t get any ideas. I fight back.
While we’re on the subject of children, though, let’s move on to McNulty’s because I’d like to think we can all agree that he deserves to lose custody of them.
McNulty — like so, so many protagonists — is going through a messy divorce and is fighting to see his kids more. And I was more or less sympathetic to his cause, right up to the point where he actually lost his children after asking them to track a dangerous criminal for him.
Yes. McNulty just happens to spot Stringer Bell while shopping with his two boys. McNulty knows that he can’t get close, so he tells his kids to follow him through the market. Cause, you know. Spy games. And while, sure, it’s daytime and Stringer Bell isn’t the kind of out of control psychopath who’s likely to kill a couple of children in the middle of the day (particularly if he knows they’re a cop’s kids), he’s still partially in charge of, like, a drug EMPIRE. He orders hits on people: little Wallace, for one, and also Omar’s boyfriend, Brandon — and Brandon, you guys? He dies badly. Stringer is unequivocally NOT a nice dude.
Maybe I wouldn’t have called an emergency custody session like McNulty’s wife does, but I would absolutely have fed that shit to my lawyer and used it to get my kids away from him. McNulty’s ex might seem like a bitch and, hey, maybe she is one, but until I see her use her children as baby spies? Yeah, I’m going to guess she’s the better parent of the two.
What else — well, how about surprises? Like, who thought the awul cop who accidentally shoots walls and blinds kids for no reason would actually end up being hugely instrumental to Avon Barksdale’s takedown?
Less shocking, I suppose, is the identity of the mole, although I’m sad to say that I still guessed incorrectly.
I did consider Carver but initially discounted him for the other Wonder Twin, Herc. Then I had what I thought was a pretty awesome epiphany — in a twist, the mole was never on the team but would instead turn out to be Daniels’s wife. I can’t remember what the hell she does for a living (or if they ever said), but it seemed like she was pretty chummy at that big party with all the politicians and the police upper-ups. And we see a handful of scenes where Daniels tells her all about his case, so I thought he was inadvertently his own leak. Alas, it turns out to be Carver after all.
Damn it, Deaton. I’m so disappointed in you, man.
Of course, I’m also curious to see what happens to you — and to everyone else in this show. At the end of Season One, the task force is disbanded with everyone going their own separate ways, either back to their old departments (like Herc) or to new ones (like McNulty, who gets demoted, or Freamon, who gets promoted — and gets a near-sighted stripper girlfriend to boot). I feel like any attempt to get the whole band back together in a new task force would seem awfully contrived, and yet we’ve spent a whole season with these characters. While a few of them (like Sydnor in Auto Theft, for instance) could probably disappear with ease, I can’t imagine them getting rid of everyone — and that goes for the drug dealers too. Obviously, we’re not going to drop Stringer Bell now that he’s taken over Avon’s crew, but . . . we aren’t really going to spend four seasons trying to arrest him, are we? Because I feel like that’s going to get old long before the end of the show.
Which leaves me wondering — will there be new bad guys? A significant time jump? Will Carver take any of Daniels’s speech to heart? Will Kima come back to duty against the wishes of her girlfriend? (Uh, yeah. Pretty sure she will.) What about Daniels’s wife — will she divorce him because of all the backlash and passed up promotions? Will McNulty find someone’s dead body in the water, which will start the beginning of a new case that will somehow involve Homicide, Narcotics, Auto, and Stringer Bell?
Guess I’ll be tuning in to find out. Same bat time (well, anytime), same bat channel (or Amazon).
McNulty: “Teach you to give a fuck when it ain’t your turn to give a fuck.”
Bunk (to dead body): “You. Moldering motherfucker, don’t even think about coming back a murder. Don’t even think of that shit.”
Rawls: (flipping McNulty off with both hands) “You see these, McNulty? You see em? These are for you. These are for you for as long as it takes me to get even.”
McNulty: “Major, what — ”
Rawls: “No, don’t ‘Major’ me, you smart-ass, backstabbing piece of shit. What are you even doing at the courthouse anyway? Why are you talking to some shitbag judge? These are for you, McNulty. This one here is going up your narrow fucking Irish ass. And this bad boy here is in your fucking eye.”
Kima: “Fighting the war on drugs, one brutality case at a time.”
Carver: “Girl, you can’t even think of calling this shit a war.”
Herc: “Why not?”
Carver: “Wars end.”
D’Angelo: “Nigga, please, the man who invented them things, just some sad-ass down at the basement of McDonalds, thinking up some shit to make some money for the real players.”
Poot: “Naw, man, that ain’t right.”
D’Angelo: “Fuck right. It ain’t about right; it’s about money. Now you think Ronald McDonald gonna go down in that basement and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Nugget, you the bomb. We selling chicken faster than you can tear the bone out. So I’m gonna write my clowny-ass name on this fat-ass check for you’? Shit, the nigger who invented them things still working in the basement still thinking up some shit that can make the fries taste better or some shit like that.”
Kima: “How complex a code can it be if these knuckleheads are using it? Then again, what does it say about us if we can’t break it?”
McNulty: “Lester, are we still cops?”
Freamon: “Technically, I guess.”
Daniels: “I’m embarrassed for you all.”
Landsman: “Last night I’m at home. I’m sitting up buck naked and I got one hand wrapped around a cold domestic beer and the other wrapped around my magnificent flaccid four-and-one-half-inch wonder, and I’m trying with all my might to remember what Layla Kauffman’s nipples looked like when her bathing top slipped at the Hillandale pool party.”
Rawls: “Layla Kauffman?”
Landsman: “Yes, sir. It’s the summer of ’72. I’ve got the saucy wench in my gun sights, so to speak, and uh, I’m dangerously close to engorged — when all of a fucking sudden, out of fucking nowhere, fucking detective fucking Jimmy McNulty pops into my head.”
Landsman: “Obviously I’ve got to open my eyes and admit that my whole night is ruined. At which point I’ve got nothing to do but think about the problems of Jimmy McNulty. Because clearly this guy and his problems are standing between me and worldly pleasure.”
Avon: “How come you wearing that suit, B? For real, it’s 85 fucking degrees out here and you trying be like fucking Pat Riley.”
Wee-Bey: “You pretending to take money out this truck I didn’t even know was there.”
Carver: “You know, I know how that shit is. The other day, I took off the sofa cushions off my couch? Found a buck forty I didn’t even know was there.”
Judge Phelan: “McNulty, I hold you in contempt.”
McNulty: “Who doesn’t?”
Kima: “Anyway, what took you so long getting up in here? Shit, no cards, no flowers. I mean, what the fuck, Jimmy?”
Jimmy: “I couldn’t, I . . . I felt . . . well, a case like this, it’s always you or Sydnor or some other black cop who ends up going undercover. I swear, if I could do it over? If I . . . ”
Kima: “If I could do it over, you know what I’d do? Put more tape on that fucking gun.”
Jimmy: “I’m sorry, Kima. I’m sorry.”
Kima: “Anyway. Since I got you up in here acting like my bitch and shit, with all your guilty ass crying and whatnot, maybe you can do something for me.”
Carver: “See, that’s why we can’t win.”
Herc: “Why not?”
Carver: “They fuck up, they get beat. We fuck up, we get pensions.”
Daniels: “You do what you feel. You wanna pull Avon in on half a case, you go ahead. You wanna put my shit in the street, feel free. But the Eastern had a lot of stories — mine ain’t the only one. A lot of people came through that district. If you were gonna do me, I’d already be done. But there ain’t nothin’ you fear more than a bad headline, is there? You’d rather live in shit than let the world see you work a shovel. You can order warrants, and I’ll serve ’em. But as long as I have days left on those dead wires, this case goes on.”
D’Angelo: “I just wanna go somewhere where I can breathe like regular folk.”
Carver: “Kima, if you don’t mind my asking, when was it that you first figured that you liked women better than men?”
Kima: “I mind you asking.”
Rawls: “Listen to me, you fuck. You did a lot of shit here. You played a lot of fucking cards. And you made a lot of fucking people do a lot of fucking things they didn’t want to do. This is true. We both know this is true. You, McNulty, are a gaping asshole. We both know this. Fuck if everybody in CID doesn’t know it. But fuck if I’m gonna stand here and say you did a single fucking thing to get a police shot. You did not do this, you fucking hear me? This is not on you. No it isn’t, asshole. Believe it or not, everything isn’t about you. And the motherfucker saying this, he hates your guts, McNulty. So you know if it was on you, I’d be the son of a bitch to say so. Shit went bad. She took two for the company. That’s the only lesson here.”
Kima: “You know, sometimes things just gotta play hard.”
McNulty: “Why’d you ask out of homicide?”
Freamon: “Wasn’t no ask about it.”
McNulty: “You got the boot?”
Freamon: “Uh huh.”
McNulty: “What did you do to piss them off?”
Freamon: “Police work.”
Freamon: “Detective, when they ask you where you want to go — and they are going to ask you where you want to go — do yourself a favor: keep your mouth shut.”
Rawls: “I want to see you land okay, Jimmy. So tell me: where don’t you wanna go?”
Damn good first season of what I expect is a damn good show through and through. I think I had one small problem with the whole thing, a scene that I thought we should have actually watched instead of heard summarized. But other than that, really solid stuff. I’m looking forward to watching more of it.
I’m giving it to Sonja Sohn today, but Dominic West was a close contender.
If you make the hard decision to snitch on your friends, you’re gonna need to man the hell up when it comes to crickets.