Wednesday, January 4, 2012

ON WATCHING AND REWATCHING THE WIRE: Just a few procedural comments for people approaching the series with some trepidation (which surely you are, since something had to keep you from the #1 prescribed television show of the last decade):
  • Train yourself to watch carefully. For one thing, with thirteen episodes a season (eleven in Season 5), there wasn't a lot of room for filler, for how-did-Jack-get-that-tattoo? or there's-a-black-market-in-the-convoy or I'm-having-this-weird-dream-of-being-a-salesman-in-Costa-Mesa or maybe-Joey-loves-Rachel-for-a-while-now. More importantly, though, David Simon & Co. subscribe to the butterfly-flaps-its-wings theory, in which seemingly unimportant acts can have significant consequences. So pay attention.
  • Having difficulty with the language? Some of you may prefer to think of the patois in The Wire as an invented language, like Klingon or Dothraki. Simon has said (chortle) that the slang on the street changes so fast that the only way to achieve verisimilitude without seeming archaic was to make up new slang. Favorite examples: the use of the word "behind" to mean "because of," and the drug names that the dealers use. In any event, the slang may be daunting at first, but once you internalize it, you'll really want to start using it itself.
  • Do not use Wire slang in public, unless you are an actor of the caliber of the actors on The Wire.
  • Except for Clay Davis's catch phrase. That one translates.
  • It was perhaps three weeks ago that you held the opinion that people who keep insisting that you watch The Wire should just shut up about it, you're not the boss of me, god, how annoying. Please remember this, because in a few weeks you will be insisting that your friends watch The Wire. And then you will be the one who should just shut up about it, you're not the boss of them, god, how annoying.
  • There is a corollary to the above point. Every succeeding group of viewers that comes to The Wire seems to irritate many of the people who have already watched it -- ugh, those Johnny-come-latelies, offering their belated analyses and to-be-disproven hypotheses, as if the show is going on right now instead of eleven-to-three years ago -- even if the newly irritable just watched the show three months ago. Those of us who have already seen the program should remind ourselves regularly that only the succeeding generations of Wire-watchers rescue us from being the last people to discover the show.


  1. You speak the truth, and I'm excited to see how this project unfolds.  I remember searching LexisNexis at school for articles on the show during the first season, because the initial reviews had been so middling and by the midpoint of season one I kept thinking "Is anyone seeing what I'm seeing?"  Thank goodness for the rise of television criticism on the internet.  Can't wait to read everyone's thoughts.

  2. On that last point, what Isaac is saying is that HE saw The Wire in a small dive bar in the Village, before it got popular and sold out.  (I kid -- he is of course saying the opposite:  that there's no value in hipster derision of newcomers here.  I agree.)

  3. I'm going to be a little late to the party because I'm borrowing the DVDs from a friend and I'm hoping to get them this weekend.  Looking forward to watching it and becoming an annoying The Wire-pusher.

  4. isaac_spaceman1:12 PM

    I watched the first three seasons just as season 4 was airing, but because I didn't record the first few episodes of season 4, I couldn't watch that one until the DVDs came out just before Season 5, which I watched live (after delaying the first episode to finish the DVDs).  In other words, I was very late to the phenomenon.  And yet I feel like an old-timer, which is precisely what is justifiably irritating both to people who watched before me and to people who watched after. 

  5. Matt B2:52 PM

    Screw you guys, I watched the first season as it aired!!

    In all seriousness, it's really awesome getting to see a new group of people be introduced and (hopefully) fall in love with the show also.

  6. I have disc 1 in hand. I will be more interested in how much slang i know already....

  7. Dan Suitor3:12 PM

    Just another logistical note: whenever approaching a cultural entity that has reached "artifact" stage-- more than two years after the release of that discrete unit of cultur (a season of TV or movie, maybe slightly longer for books), that's my line for when you can no longer complain about spoilers)-- be incredibly careful when talking to people about it. They might not immediately jive to where you are in the series, or the show may have become temporally jumbled/compressed in their memories, and accidentally spoil something for you.

    Wikipedia is even tougher, as spoilers are nested in right next to information that is otherwise helpful. I know that Game of Thrones is over a decade-and-a-half old, but I still carelessly spoiled a bunch of stuff for myself when trying to do a little contextualizing.

  8. TimofArabia8:35 PM

    I don't describe The Wire as the best TV show I've seen anymore. I generally refer to it as one of the best stories I've ever encountered. If pushed, I tell people The Wire is to America what the Old Testament was to the Middle East, The Iliad to the Greeks, Shakespeare's top tier tragedies to the British. 

    Is something wrong with me? 

  9. Only that your ideas aren't widely accepted as gospel truth.

  10. So, to sum up, we're agreed that everyone is irritating and no one should make a big deal about it because that would be irritating?

  11. Slate's Stephen Metcalfe describes The Wire as "American Tolstoy."  I think that's pretty good.

  12. I tend to avoid getting all over people about missing pop culture, in large part for the reasons explained by the awesome Linda Holmes in this essay:

    But I'm less likely to miss a piece of pop culture when it is discussed here, so at least y'all help me to filter....

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