The Wire, the bad, and the ugly

After watching the return of late-night television last night, I can’t help but think that it is only a matter of time before the executives cave in to the demands of the Writers Guild of America and end the ongoing strike.  As usual, the funniest of the big three (Leno, Letterman, O’Brian) was Conan O’Brian.  Even then, it was like pulling teeth at times.  That isn’t to say he wasn’t funny – he was, and there was more “just Conan” than in your typical episode – but what made it funny was how obvious it became that he had a lot of time to kill, and few ways to do so (i.e. – trying to beat his 43 second record for spinning his wedding band).  I can’t imagine that being successful for very long.  

So, while late-night television will gradually sink into an abyss of time-killing unfunny-ness, get ready for a barrage of reality television during prime-time.  What is (semi-) surprising is that networks view this as a viable solution.  Instead of the return of shows that come with devoted numbers of viewers (24, Lost, The Office, etc.), not to mention finishing off a complete season of the few successful new shows that recently came (Pushing Daisies), now our televisions will soon live up to the term “idiot box” in new ways.  Get ready for groundbreaking shows like “Farmer Wants A Wife,” “Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann,” and other shows that, as the titles promise, are sure to be great moments in television history. 

Despite this bleak forecast, there are a few things to look forward to.  Law and Order returned last night, which was – well, it was exactly what I expected.  I am a Law and Orderjunkie, despite the fact that I don’t think it is a very good show.  The best parts of the show are always the “cop half” of the show, and even then it is always formulaic, lacking any element of “whodunit” or surprise, and very short on characterization.  I was really hoping the show would get somewhat better when Dennis Farino joined the cast, but that ended much too soon.  Of the spinoffs, SVU is by far the better show – in fact it tends to be the best of all three – if not for seeing Ice-T play a cop, then at least for its more developed characterization and tackling of rather gruesome issues.  All this being said, Law and Order returning isn’t much to get excited about.  But The Wire is. 

This coming Sunday marks the return of The Wire, not only one of the best cop shows on TV, but one of the best shows period.  In fact, it is why I just got HBO again.  I would be hard pressed to choose between The Wire and The Shield for which is the better police drama, but in many ways they are completely different kinds of shows, despite being in the same genre.  Let me interject quickly and add that a solid third place for best police-drama would have to go to The Closer, a show that I have really been impressed with.  Some don’t like it, but I think it delivers fabulous characterization, and the show is produced and directed in a non-gratuitous way that really makes the show shine.  Yes, it is certainly “lighter” than The Shield and The Wire, but still good.  As far as The Shield goes, right now, to be honest, this is probably the show I am most excited about, but that is still months away.  Regardless, I thought that last season was the best show on television period (and yes, that includes The Sopranos), and the ending was fabulous and left me still-eager to see what happens next. 

So, back to The Wire.  Part of me is hesitant to call it a “cop” show, because it is so much more than that.  It is like a microcosm of society, containing layers of plot for each level of the police, the drug trade, and politics.  Each season just adds a new “layer,” the last being politics and schools, and this new season is going even further and adding another: the media.  The realism of the show is amazing, even eye-opening at times.  From season one and on, you see things you don’t see in other shows, like police captains obsessed with closure rates over actually reducing crime, project kids drawn into slinging on the corner because it provides a more promising future than anything else, and cops negotiating with both in an attempt to do their job and not get fired.  Oh, and Omar.  I just can’t get enough of Omar.  If you don’t know who he is, trust me and watch the show (and go rent the previous seasons): you will never again see a shotgun-wielding, murdering street thug you like so much. 

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