Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Shield and The Wire: Part 2

Dang. OK. I said in a previous post that I’d probably finish The Wire over the summer and then post my thoughts. Well, I just finished it two weeks ago.

I’ll start off by saying that I enjoyed the fourth and fifth seasons. I always wanted to see what Bunk and Lester were up to. I got a kick out of Omar. I wanted Gus to catch Scott in a fabrication and kick his ass to the curb. But once the episode was over, I rarely dwelled on it.

The Wire maintained its eagle-eye approach throughout the series, but the later seasons took more steps to humanize the institutional dysfunction by focusing on the effects it had on first the school kids (season 4) and then the reporters/editors (season 5). At the beginning on season 4, Namond Brice is running a corner (at the behest of his mother) and acting out in school (to gain the respect of his peers). Namond and several other troublemakers are placed in a special program overseen, in part, by Bunny Colvin. Colvin recognizes Namond’s intelligence and tries to get him to apply himself, only to be rebuffed by the boy’s mother. At the end of the season, Bunny becomes Namond’s legal guardian and Namond eventually becomes a model student and participates in a city wide debate tournament.

On the other hand, the system completely fails when dealing with most of the other students. After season 4, Randy Wagstaff (a bright kid with good intentions) is placed in a group home and appears to start down a path that would lead him to a gang. Michael Lee drops out of school and becomes first a gunman for Marlo and later a stickup artist (much like Omar). Dukie is transferred to another school, but doesn’t like it since he is no longer with his friends. He drops out and takes care of Michael’s younger brother until Michael stops working for Marlo. Dukie turns to the streets and possibly to drugs.

In the fifth season, the newspaper industry is hurting (sound familiar?) and starts to lay off employees. Gus Haynes, the Baltimore Sun’s city desk editor, is an old-school newspaper man who wants to put out the best product possible even with limited resources. Most of his reporters are worried about their jobs, but still follow his lead. The one exception is Scott Templeton who starts to embellish and later fabricate stories to raise his profile – in part to save his job and in part to raise his profile and land a job at another paper. Gus raises concerns about Scott’s work and later confronts the bosses with evidence of fabrications, but he is chastised by management since Scott is raising the paper’s profile and selling more copies.

The more human elements of the stories helped me enjoy the series more. But there were still times that watching the show felt like homework. In part, I think this is due to the goals of the creators (as I mentioned in my earlier post). The Wire strived for realism while The Shield was focused on being entertaining.

The Wire was very well done. Though of the two of them, I still say I prefer The Shield.

One last note, I mentioned that I would start The Sopranos after I finished The Wire. I’m already four episodes in. The best word to describe it so far is “compelling”.

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