Connect with us

TV

15 Years Later, The Wire’s Genre Filmmaking is Still Unmatched (Part 1)

Published

on

Since The Wire ended in 2008, much has been written and extolled upon the HBO series, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this summer. It’s a Greek tragedy. It’s a sprawling Dickensian novel. It’s a mirror to our institutional failures. A treatise on toxic capitalism. On the racial and tribal impact of socioeconomics. It’s the ultimate cop show. It’s the anti-cop show. It’s the greatest show of all time.

And it’s all true. The Wire should be anointed a place on your shelf next to your complete collection of Shakespeare. It is the ultimate expression of the television medium. Of storytelling. Of acting. And especially of filmmaking.

For 6 years and 5 seasons, no other show on TV could match The Wire for its traditional yet modern aesthetic. While the social drama has been a staple of TV, everything from teen issue shows like My So-Called Life to prestige dramas like The West Wing to the recent American Crime, The Wire committed to a versatility behind its storytelling and filmmaking that ranges from the requisite grounded and gritty to the more artful and adventurous. By playing to the conceit of each season highlighting a different societal institution, the show was free to explore a bevy of directions. From the very beginning, it eschewed the trappings of the police procedural, then leaned into its social message, flirted with pulp, and dipped its toes into American independent cinema, before finally reaching realms of absurdity in its final run.

Wendell_Pierce_and_Domninic_West_in_The_Wire_Season_1
Season 1: The Procedure of Procedural

From its first scene, The Wire announced itself as a cross between an anti-procedural and the ultimate procedural. Much of Season 1’s marketing keys in on crime show details like cops hunched over wiretaps, drugs being passed off, precinct bureaucrats buttoning up their suit jackets, and junkies roaming the streets. The series premiere opens with Homicide Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) sitting on a stoop with a corner boy who discovered the neighborhood fuck up shot dead. Jimmy doesn’t hound him for information or belittle him with what he might know, he just sits, listens to him as a human being, and furrows his brow at the cycle of violence before him. There are no witty quips standing over the body, no shocking piece of evidence, no tough cop talk, just another body on the street.

The Wire is absolutely a third person show. We never literally enter the minds of its characters for dreams or memories like The Sopranos, and even stylistically we never flashback or flashforward like Lost or Breaking Bad. Save for one instance in the pilot–a studio mandated note–where the audience is given a cutaway regarding the episode’s closing murder, we always stay in the present and move forward. It’s a restrained approach not unlike creator David Simon’s Homicide: Life on the Street, which started as a gritty docudrama but unfortunately lapsed into overwrought, almost Spike Lee-esque expressionism as it went on.

The Wire is the perfected Homicide and Law and Order, sticking to the procedural facts and the mundane day to day while probing its characters’ hang-ups, fuck-ups, and general ups and downs. The only cop to fire his weapon in Season 1 is Officer Pryzbylewski (Jim True Frost), the department dolt who accidentally discharges a round into a desk. And even then, he has to write up a mountain of paperwork for that one bullet.

But the show doesn’t overwhelm the viewer with boring minutiae. Once it’s lead investigation on drug boss Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) gets underway, the procedure becomes about not tracking clues but building a case. The guilt has been established, now it’s time to set the trap, and that simple conceit elevates the proceedings beyond a network series case of the week. It’s a frustratingly linear narrative, but one which milks dramatic irony for all its worth. Simon has likened his series to the Greek plays, where characters come up against forces beyond their control. In this case, the institutions and systems of our modern day cities are the present day Gods. But unlike Greek plays or even big network crime shows, Simon and company never cheat the audience by withholding information. We know what the characters know when they know it. It’s a recognition that to change the system–in this case, the TV landscape itself–one must work from the inside out.

the-wire-season-2-tv-show-image-nick-frank-sobotkaSeason 2: Neo-Realism Gets Real

If season one set the verisimilitudinous (yes, that’s a word) stage, then season two is where the show leaned into its social message. Naturally, this meant doubling down on its “realism” by bringing in other genre influences, most notably neo-realism. Contrary to popular belief, neo-realism doesn’t preclude professional actors or genre-leaning. Federico Fellini was a pioneer of the form after all and experimentation with the quotidian, most notably on display in mosaic films like Amarcord, is a key trait of the genre.

Season 2, however, takes much more from the American neo-realism of the 50’s, mainly the works of Elia Kazan, whose On the Waterfront is the de facto cultural encapsulation of an urban port and its dock union. And much like Kazan’s film, the show begins to wear its Marxism on its sleeve. The class struggle of present-day Baltimore is on full display here, and this time from the predominately white working class perspective. The very opening scene sees Jimmy McNulty, now relegated to boat duty, performing such noble tasks as towing in a booze cruise of bourgeois socialites so they can party after hours.

The main thrust of the plot follows lowly stevedore Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer), as he grapples with the political machinations of repairing the grain pier, which would increase traffic and money flow into the docks, as well as the criminal machinations of receiving aid from the Greek, a shady foreigner who pays Sobotka to “lose” shipments every now and then.  “We used to make shit in this country,” Sobotka laments, and much of season two copes with the loss of American manufacturing seen through the eyes of its once bustling proletariats.

The show is able to expand its scope by touching on the Baltimore immigrant experience. There’s Sobotka’s steadfast Polish roots outmatched against an increasingly homogenized capitalism which values neither tradition nor culture. There’s the globalization of American industry as exemplified by the Greek and his vast network. And there’s the cost of that globalization with the discovery of a container of dead immigrant prostitutes, which springboards the main case against Sobotka for the season. In many ways, season two is a “sins of the father” tale, as Sobotka passes down the failures of his industry to his nephew Nick (Pablo Shrieber) and his biological son Ziggy (James Ransome), who both fall into the drug game we encountered from season one.

It’s this approach that makes season two the unquestionable outlier of the show. The focus shifts from the black urban experience to the invisible “plight of the working man,” ie the white working man if we’re going by coded American language, and it’s a jarring one for many. But by playing with some new creative avenues (there are no less than three musical montages this time, ranging from Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” to Stelios Kazantzidis’ “Efige Efige”), Simon and company dig deeper into the tapestry that is present-day Baltimore, underscoring, as Italian screenwriter Cesar Zavattini put it, “the necessity of the story” as “an unconscious way of disguising a human defeat.”

PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR

Shane Ramirez is a professional actor and videographer, as well as a budding filmmaker and novelist residing in San Marcos, TX. A life-long film enthusiast, Shane has written for everyonesacritic.net and examiner.com, and has produced his own short films. He is versed in the arts of cinematography, photography, and editing. His favorite directors are Andrei Tarkovsky, Terrence Malick, Christopher Nolan, Michelangelo Antonioni and Krzysztof Kieslowski. Contact Shane at ramirezs316@gmail.com.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

TV

The Boys Season 2 Episode 3 Review: “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men”

The Boys’ marks an improvement and pays big dividends in an explosive, violently revealing hour.

Published

on

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

Half bottle episode and half coming out party, “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” is a sneaky little showcase for The Boys, and just how big its world’s suddenly gotten in season two. Though ostensibly an episode designed around two events – the boys getting stuck on the boat, and Stormfront revealing her inner racist sociopath – “Over the Hill” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion. With a nimble script and a game group of performers, The Boys‘ second season is turning out to be a distinct pleasure – albeit one heading down a gruesome, dark path I sure hope it’s capable of navigating.

“Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion.

It does take a little while for “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” to get going; beginning three miles offshore with The Boys and the reunited super-siblings, the first quarter feels like it’s simply restating the stakes. It’s a nimble trick, though; led by Kimiko and Kenji, The Boys begins to feel like it is approaching a true moral quandary for the group. Which door descending into hell will they choose?

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

While The Boys often likes to posture its presenting characters with complex dilemmas, the show’s unnerving nihilism often upends any sort of nuance it looks for in its debates around “necessary” violence. Here, Kimiko’s presence throws a fascinating wrench into the proceedings; with most of the group’s members clinging to whatever mirage of family they have left (save for Hughie, who has… forgotten his dad exists?), even Butcher can’t deny having conflicting feelings about what to do with Kenji, and the deal that’s been offered to him if he turns him in.

Elsewhere, “Over the Hill” throws the brazen personalities of The Seven into their own little blenders, as Stormfront begins to sow discord through Vought, and abuse her powers to casually murder a lot of people – nearly all of them minorities, in a way that feels like an explosion of character, rather than an unpeeling of some complicated identity. Stormfront simply doesn’t give a fuck; and with her supernatural ability to manipulate feminist views (her speech to the reporters is magnificent, both in how it develops Stormfront’s character and nods to the simplistic ways in which the evilest people in society disguise themselves among the “good”).

While she’s kicking up tornadoes and electrocuting everyone that gets in her way, characters like The Deep and Homelander continue to benefit from the much-improved writing of season two. The show is still struggling to make Becca something more than the Ultimate Mother Protector trope, but Homelander’s warped sense of responsibility to his son is interesting, surely a bad sign for the upbringing of this world’s Superboy (will he also don a cool leather jacket and weird cyberpunk sunglasses? Who knows!). It’s clearly not going well; even he seems to recognize the danger in bringing his son’s powers to the surface, as its the first time in his life he’s facing a challenge as the world’s strongest hero (that is, until Stormfront doubles that total later in the episode, further frustrating Homelander’s attempts to hold domain over everything in his grasp).

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

It’s not going well for The Deep, either, as his slow descent into cult life is bringing his desperation for acceptance further to the surface. Like with Homelander’s stories, I wish The Deep’s story was a little tighter and more thoughtful (some of the body image stuff seems to be treated trivially, in a way that borders on insensitive and uninformed for the sake of easy jokes), but there’s no denying his character is infinitely more interesting this season, a test case for what a superhero trying to learn their own limits would struggle with. The Deep works best as a pathetic character, but not when it’s a pathetic character The Boys just kick around with bad punchlines; when he’s treated as a byproduct of a deeply flawed human being trying to find a path to good intentions, his fumbles and weak-minded rhetoric is much more amusing – and at times, the tiniest bit empathic (his sadness over Billy’s, well, butchering of his whale buddy was such an earnest, raw and twistedly funny moment).

The Boys has needed to accelerate its internal stakes for a while; the introduction of “super terrorists” to the world by Homelander, and Compound V’s reveal to the public might make the show’s world feel a bit smaller than intended – I think a lot about the “big” fight scenes at the end of Arrow‘s third season, where the ‘entire city’ is fighting, but there’s never more than six people around – The Boys does that on a narrative level sometimes. But as the stories of the show dig a little deeper into its characters – Maeve’s disillusionment, Homelander’s failure to emulate paternal behavior, A-Train’s desperation, it’s beginning to feel like the writers have a deeper understanding of its characters and world, and how to wield its inherent sadistic cynicism to more interesting ends. “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” benefits massively from that, setting up a number of intriguing dominoes for the back half of season two to knock over (in bloody fashion).

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Look, I’m bummed how the Kenji character played out; he was such an interesting character, an examination of everything horrible about what power and war can do to a human being. It’s sad to see The Boys dispose of such an intriguing presence, especially as its a death of a minority character in service of mostly white-related stories – however, with such a hateful, nasty character like Stormfront waiting in the wings, it is easy to see how the writers found their way down that path. (like, she could’ve killed Black Noir and this show would’ve literally lost nothing… just sayin’).
  • Can A-Train just collapse or whatever, so we can get this storyline moving? We’ve been doing this since the second episode!
  • Why haven’t we seen any reaction to Becca seeing Butcher in person at the end of season one? She hasn’t mentioned it or even had a longing look off-screen to violin music.
  • Man, I’m so glad they cast Aya Cash as Stormfront.
Continue Reading

TV

The Best Golden Girl is Sophia Petrillo

Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won.

Published

on

By

Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

A seemingly harmless little old lady with curly white hair, oversized glasses, and an innate ability to tell a great story shows up on her daughter’s doorstep when the retirement home she was put in by said daughter burns down. With a simple, “Hi there,” the world meets Sophia Petrillo. For seven years on NBC’s The Golden Girlsa show about the senior set—Sophia lived with her intelligent and extremely sarcastic divorced daughter Dorothy Zbornak and her two roommates, sexy, eternally horny southern belle Blanche Devereaux and sweet but dim-witted Minnesotan Rose Nylund. Each is memorable in their own way, but it’s Sophia, “feisty, zesty, and full of old-world charm,” that stands out the most.

When TV was full of generic, sweet grandma types, Sophia was anything but. Sure, she looked the part with her bifocals, pearls, and now iconic straw and bamboo-beaded handbag, but Sophia was always trying to make a quick buck. She conned Rose into going into a sandwich-making business that pit them against the mob, faked being paralyzed to try and collect insurance, and constantly “borrowed” money from Dorothy’s purse. Instead of helping Dorothy, Blanche and Rose get out of jail when they are mistaken for hookers (don’t ask, just Youtube it). She stole their tickets to go to a party and meet Burt Reynolds. She also stole Rose’s car, worked at a fast-food restaurant, and won a marathon. Not bad for a woman in her eighties. Sophia had a sharp wit and an acerbic tongue, blaming her stroke for leaving her without the ability to self-censor. She was always ready with a zinger or a comeback, some of which she saved for her very own daughter.

Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

Sophia Petrillo is the Secret Star of The Golden Girls

That’s not to say she’s all schemes and insults. Beneath her tough exterior is a kind woman with a big heart who loves her family and friends. Viewers don’t often get to see her softer side, which makes the moments they do seem that much more special. One of the best Sophia episodes showed her reaction to the death of her son, Phil. She put up a wall of anger which Rose was finally able to break down in the final moments of the episode, revealing Sophia’s true feelings of guilt over Phil’s cross-dressing as she bursts into tears. Another favourite was when Dorothy expressed concern about her mother not doing enough with her days. We then get to see exactly what she gets up to sticking up for her friend and causing a scene at the grocery store while claiming to represent a fictional senior citizens union, volunteering at a sick kids hospital and later, conducting a senior citizens jazz band. Meanwhile, Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche do next to nothing except sit around and eat. When she’s asked what she did all day upon her return, she simply says she bought a nectarine, and Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche are none the wiser.

But if Sophia has one claim to fame, it is her colorful old-world tales about Sicily, which often as not, contain a pearl of wisdom or embellishment of some kind. We would have loved to have known her during her “picatta period (a wedge of lemon and a smart answer for everything),” when she was the most beautiful girl at a resort and all the men fought over her (so beautiful, in fact, that she had “a butt you could bounce a quarter off of”). She was also once painted by Picasso and was best friends with Mama Celeste. But I digress. Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won. Her hunches were never wrong, and rarely, if ever did she meet her match. Sophia was, in short, a one-woman show. And thanks to re-runs and fan appreciation, that show will never be gone.

  • Dasilva

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under our old brand, Sound On Sight.

Continue Reading

TV

30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Published

on

By

30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Continue Reading

We update daily. Support our site by simply following us on Twitter and Facebook

Facebook

Trending