Posts Tagged ‘The Wire’

The Best of 2008, 1: Television and Reading

December 30th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

Inspired by Mike Newman’s fantastic and highly recommend Faves, 2008 list, and as a pale imitation, here are some media highlights from 2008, in installments.

First, though, a word on categorization – if I saw it in 2008, it’s on this list, even if it came out earlier; and if I saw it on the Internet, it’s web video not television.


10. Chuck. The show is infinitely silly, but that’s the point. Like Pushing Daisies, it kept me sane in hard times. Adam Baldwin, Awesome, Lester – fun stuff.

9. Food Network in HD. I knew when I got my HDTV that I’d love travel shows all the more, and nature shows. But I didn’t count on how much food porn I could stomach on a daily basis, and how that threshold would increase with HD.

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The Alphabet Meme Chronicles

November 27th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

(First, note the new design and look. On Thanksgiving, let us all give thanks to the “silent” member of The Extratextuals, Ivan Askwith, who makes the whole thing possible and recently updated our Word Press. Thanks Ivan)

Caught up in a fervor of alphabetical list making, I decided to follow up on the Alphabet Meme with a list of best television shows. There’s a slight bit of cheating involved at S/Z (ooo — very Barthesian, no?), but I couldn’t bring myself either to nominate Zoey 101 as the only Z show I know, or to choose between the two best shows in TV history, both of which inconveniently begin with S. I also went only for series or continuing shows, not one-offs (sorry, 28 Up). Without further ado:

The Amazing Race

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The Cosby Show

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart


Freaks and Geeks

Goodness Gracious Me

Hockey Night in Canada

Iron Chef America

Jack & Bobby (neat idea, not super, but the J’s give little competition)

The Kingdom (the Danish one, not the American atrocity)


The Muppet Show

Northern Exposure

The Office (I’ll go with the American one, though Brit one gets a gold star too)

Pushing Daisies

Quantum Leap


The Simpsons

The Twilight Zone

Ulysses 31 (old school cartoon. Still have the theme song in my head)

V Graham Norton

The Wire (sorry, West Wing. You picked a bad letter to begin with)

The X-Files

Yes, Minister

Zesame Street

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Serial Television in an Age of Angst

November 3rd, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

I just finished reading Michael Kackman’s piece at Flow on quality television, melodrama, and complex narratives. One of his underlying points is that in the stampede to discuss quality television, we need to be very careful to consider what else is complex and high quality, not just The Wire, Lost, and friends.

Now, I love those two shows. But my sense is that I couldn’t enjoy them this semester. Meanwhile, though I intended to watch my way through Battlestar Galactica or Deadwood this summer, I ultimately didn’t. And while I realize that this isn’t quite what Michael was talking about, that’s because I’ve become totally obsessed with television’s grandest melodrama and complex narrative going: the election.

Talk about transmedia, this interest has overflowed into almost every spare moment on my computer, as I’ve trekked from to various other blogs, to news sites, to poll trackers, and onwards. I’ve rarely engaged in creative fan exploits in my adult life (childhood and Star Wars is a whole other issue), but my computer desktop is filled with Excel spreadsheets related to the various polls and poll composites out there, some of which I update often.

Meanwhile, I haven’t been able to concentrate on television serial narratives. I’ve found myself watching procedurals, or shows in which each episode is self-contained. And more comedies. I’ve heard the many criticisms of Heroes this season, and have myself struggled with it, but that has less to do with its quality (which, due to my newfound affliction, I can’t really comment upon) than with the fact that it’s asking too much of me.

I’ve come to realize, in other words, why some soap fans can only watch one soap. And why I’ve usually allowed myself only one or two fandoms at a time. The election, and its endless attack ads, multiple plots, new characters, and transmedia presence has been exhausting. If David Simon offered a sixth season of The Wire, I probably couldn’t have managed it this semester, even if it was about academia. I’m thankful that Lost is off till January, since that too would likely prove too much for me.

My point? In part, I’m just venting that I want this to be over. Can Obama win already, and let me watch Lost or BSG or something like that? This whole ordeal has reminded me of why I don’t tend to consume much transmedia, even though I’m intrigued by it, since the overflow of melodrama is too raw, rich, and requiring. But I’d also like to reiterate Kackman’s point that melodrama and complex narratives are all around us. Here’s hoping that this one has a happy ending.

Now stop reading this, and go out and do what I as a Canadian can’t: line up and vote.

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His Name is His Name: Marlo and I

March 20th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

Marlo and Carver

[spoiler-free]. Thanks to the tip-off from Jason Mittell, I braved the wind and a long line forebodingly underneath a pigeon fly-over to see three of The Wire‘s stars today. The billing promised Seth Gilliam (Carver), Michael K. Williams (Omar), and Tristan Wilds (Michael), though we were quickly informed that “Tristan couldn’t be here, so Marlo is instead.” [I love the mixed register there: "Actor A can't be here, so Character B will be instead" ... but it's also fun to think of Marlo playing second fiddle to anyone] Fine with me: Michael’s great, but to be in the presence of Marlo? Cool. More below

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An Elegy to The Wire (Spoiler-Free), Or Between Simon, Ferraro, Wright, and Obama

March 18th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

This week, I’m mourning television’s loss of The Wire. I mourn the loss of its brilliant acting, its thoughtful exposition, its incredible act of balancing so many characters, its development of the possibilities for serial television, and its meticulous urban sociology. I also mourn the loss of some of television’s best characters (choosing favorites is easy with every other show I watch – Ben Linus in Lost, Homer in The Simpsons, Cartman in South Park – but impossible with The Wire – Snoop, Omar, Bubbles, Dukie, Stringer, Carver, Bunk, Freeman, Greggs, …).

But salting the wounds of Wire fans’ misery in our loss has been the last week’s attacks on Obama through the attacks on his pastor. What these have shown to me so clearly is how desperately in need this country is of shows like The Wire that understand and analyze the state of institutional racism. And it saddens me that I have to say “like The Wire,” yet can’t quickly add any others to a would-be list. I knew life post-Wire was going to sting a little, but did Fate have to follow The Wire’s finale first with Geraldine Ferraro’s stunningly, laughably ignorant comments on Obama having an advantage in his primary campaign against Clinton because he’s black, and then hit us with the attacks on Obama’s pastor’s sermons as yet more supposed evidence that, what, Obama is some white-hating, America-hating, undercover Somali Muslim super-agent hell-bent on bringing down the nation from the inside (?!!). This is a Chappelle’s Show skit, surely, not reality??

Putting aside one’s political convictions and preferences (since surely one could be shocked by the above and still think that McCain, Clinton, Huckabee, or even Gravel or Romney rule), if there are still people who won’t just dismiss Ferraro’s comments and the attack on Obama via Wright as anything other than laughably stupid, if some honestly believe that being black gives one an advantage in national politics let alone in the nation at large (which, of course, must explain the huge number of black senators and governors?), and if some can’t understand why Wright or many others might be filled with anger, disappointment, and scorn for a nation that has screwed him and his community over so thoroughly, and often without remorse or even honest acceptance, for so long, sweet baby Jesus do we need more shows like The Wire. To pretend that ending slavery, instituting affirmative action, and waiting a few years would deal with racism in its many forms, making it all go away, is an act of shocking naivety and foolishness.

Obama’s speech today may have addressed some of these tragic errors in logic and judgment, but I’m steeling myself for the sound-bite and scrolling ticker versions to lose all context (Faux News, for instance, is already getting good play out of his comments about his grandma, trying not so subtly to paint him as a disloyal grandson, as well as a white-hating, America-hating, undercover Somali Muslim super-agent hell-bent on bringing down the nation from the inside [?!!]). What The Wire offered, by contrast, was stories, characters, and lives that showed us on a weekly basis how the blight of America’s past overt and legislated racism continues institutionally to this day, alive and operating on many dimensions. I’m sure some would characterize the show, and my comments here for that matter, as “anti-American,” but it’s to them that The Wires of the future need to reach out.

I didn’t intend this to be a political blog, and I won’t usually dip into this mode. It just seems such a cruel instance of irony that The Wire’s finale was followed by such a depressing week in politics that so sorely dishonored the show’s memory.

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Valedictories: The Wire

March 5th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

Dukie from The Wire

I’m still reeling from the penultimate episode of The Wire, and thus I’m feeling the need to write about it. For all you not up to speed, look away now, and don’t go below the fold.

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From Whence Omar Came: The Wire’s Minisodes

January 17th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

Omar Little

First, a shout-out: the doctor is in. Elana Levine has started a blog, Dr. Television (no, that’s not the doctor above!), and already I’m really liking it. Dr. T has some neat posts on soaps and the writers’ strike in particular, but also in her first post insists that she wants her blog not to be so serious all the time. Thus, a brief post of hers about catching up on The Wire that I really relate to reads:

I’m having dreams about Frank Sobotka and cans missing from the stacks. I can’t fall back asleep at 2 AM after replacing the blanket of an almost-4-year-old because I’m too busy thinking about Stringer Bell. Am I really supposed to be able to work with these characters marching through my brain all day and night?

Which struck home today, as I spent a lot of time on the subway, without a book, and thus spent most of it thinking about The Wire’s minisodes released prior to Season 5. No real spoilers below, for those who worry.

Releasing the minisodes was a neat idea, and the concept behind each is kind of cool too. One takes us back to Baltimore in 1962 to see a young Proposition Joe, another to 1985 to see a young Omar (below), and the third to 2000 to see how Bunk and McNulty met. The best sequels nearly always involve prequel (think Godfather II to Godfather, or even the info gleaned about Luke in The Empire Strikes Back), so I like this idea more than the 24 direct-to-phone clips that create a different agent with a different case. If 24 had given us mobisodes that examined how Jack joined CTU, say, then I’d actually be interested. And the long-promised Lost mobisodes focusing on the other Lostaways pique my interest because they could perhaps tell me more about how everyone got to the island (symbolically speaking). So The Wire’s attempt to take us back in time is interesting.

But in thinking about them all day, I must object to the Omar minisode in particular (see below, and I promise this spoils nothing about the show). Clip and objection after the fold.
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Reading Between the Lines: The Wire‘s Poster Art

January 6th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

First, apologies for the lengthy time off. Grading. Stuff to write. Holiday without Internet. They all added up. Anyways, we’re back, hopefully with a slightly new look soon too. Wasting no time, let’s get down to business:

Today, I call Time Warner and resubscribe to HBO, not being able to care less about many of the shows on the channel, but eagerly anticipating Season 5 of The Wire. Amidst other bloggers’ stated goal to blog the season, I thought I’d start by commenting on its fantastic poster art.

The Wire Season 5

For the uninitiated, The Wire’s place in television history is already entrenched alongside Sesame Street and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as shows that challenged what the medium could and should do. If you teach television studies, you’re no doubt tired by having to repeat the line that most television only focuses on problems as individual, not/never institutional. If you study television studies, you’re probably tired of hearing it. And as a watcher of television, hopefully you’re tired of seeing the moral play out again and again. But The Wire is a show about institutions. Beginning as seemingly a serial cop show, Season 1 examined the street drug trade in West Baltimore, all the while interrogating the social system and structure of crime and punishment with considerable skill. Season 2 added the ports to the picture, Season 3 added politics, Season 4 added schooling, and now Season 5 promises to end with the media.

I could glow about The Wire all day. Its characters, writing, acting, directing, and filming all surpass much of what even the best television can muster. And yet each season’s just made the whole thing better, rounding out the story even more, adding nuance to characters and institutions.

And here the poster art brilliantly communicates the (bold) promise of a season that will conclude the series, and bring it to a head. More below the fold.

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