I’ve always avoided watching television series, particularly those billed as “dramatic”, since the writing is generally shallow, the directing formulaic, the editing frenetic, and the acting rarely more than passable. But I recently started renting the DVDs of HBO’s “The Wire” series to distract me during my winter treadmill hours, and I have to admit I’m impressed. I just finished the first two seasons, and I’m looking forward to getting on to the third.
David Simon’s dystopian view of contemporary Baltimore starts from a microscopic study of drug pushers in the projects and gradually telescopes out to encompass all sorts of social and political corruption. The show sets out to convince naive middle-class viewers (such as myself) that the corrupt economy of the street is but a pale reflection of the corruption infecting more “respectable” social institutions. But for all its pessimism about the state of the nation, its characters are never one-dimensional; even the worst (and some are very, very bad) are never portrayed as merely bad. Business is business, and the game is the game, at all levels of society; the players did not make the rules. Not that this lets them off the hook, though: they still make their choices, however circumscribed their situations may be. And a few – mainly the better cops – manage to come across as moral exemplars, if only by finding ways to minimize their compromises.
Here’s a Bill Moyers interview with David Simon, but don’t let their explicitly political banter mislead you into thinking that the show has a dogmatically liberal point of view; like all truly insightful fiction, its characters transcend socioeconomic generalizations. And, most importantly, don’t think that the show is humorless; tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin, and the writers of this show know that quite well-
If you’d like to see the second half of this interview, click here.