I don’t know how much drug dealers make, but I wouldn’t have guessed a million dollars a month. It’s certainly not the kind of number I imagined while watching Barksdale and Stringer Bell closed up in the office above the strip club. A million dollars a month seems like Scarface money. But this is inner city Baltimore.
As Freamon unfolds the extent of Barksdale’s operations, Daniels asks something else that didn’t occur to me.
“So where’s it all go?”
Freamon is nonplussed. Barksdale doesn’t have fancy houses, cars, or jewelry. He owns business fronts and property. And he makes political contributions. Substantial political contributions. Legal political contributions. Freamon also mentions the senator’s limo driver caught with a bag of cash. The implication is that there are also less than legal political contributions.
As Freamon explains this, the camera pushes in on Daniels, lost in thought. And then a shadow passes across his face. Not a figurative shadow. A literal shadow. Continue reading →
The Wire is about what it’s about largely because of one character. Without this character, McNulty would be just another homicide detective, Avon Barksdale would be peddling drugs unsurveilled, Omar would rampage unchecked, Bub’s hat collection would be minus one bright red hat, and residents of the projects would have easier access to a payphone. Furthermore, without this character, there are now two points when the investigation would have come to a halt.
In other words, The Wire would have been a much shorter series. Continue reading →
All right, I know this is kind of petty, but I’m going to have to get it off my chest sooner or later. And I might as well lump in a couple of reservations I have about this episode. I figure there’s going to be enough effusive praise on down the line.
So let’s have a little naysaying, handwringing, and moralizing. Continue reading →
What do you show and what do you imply? What do you spell out and what do you leave to the imagination? What’s in the frame and what’s outside the frame? These are questions a filmmaker constantly considers. Every single moment is an answer to those questions.
The Wire has some interesting answers this episode. Continue reading →
In bad movies, the villain tells the hero, “You’re just like me!” The hero tends to disagree, or at least get upset about being in a movie with moral ambiguity. Now the hero is less of a good guy and/or the bad guy is less of a bad guy. Now the moral ambiguity is laid out for everyone to see.
The better way to imply moral ambiguity is what The Wire is doing. Continue reading →
One of the cases to be made for Better Call Saul being better than Breaking Bad is consistency of tone. Breaking Bad frequently strayed from family soap opera, to hard-hitting crime drama, to wacky character comedy, to drug cartel intrigue. You could argue that was one of its strengths, because it allowed for episodes like the one with the fly and the magnet heist. Breaking Bad went wherever it felt like going. From Mr. Chips to Scarface, as Vince Gilligan is on record as saying. But with multiple layovers.
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“This case is nowhere near anything we’re doing,” McNulty complains to his partner. They’re getting ready to investigate the scene of an old unsolved murder case. But we know he’s wrong. We know it’s directly adjacent to what they’re doing. We know the murder was committed by the very same person who put into motion everything that has happened.
Baltimore is a city with one of the highest murder rates in the world (one out of every 2000 people in Baltimore has been murdered this year), and yet McNulty and Bunk have been randomly assigned the one murder that relates directly to everything else they’re doing? I’m not sure how I feel about such massive coincidence in a procedural. But I know how I feel about the investigation scene that’s about to happen. Continue reading →
Chess has been around for well over 1000 years. It’s been played out as a metaphor in stories where people are trying to outsmart each other. Let’s call a moratorium on chess metaphors.
Oh, wait, I think we can hold the door for just one more.
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Superficially, this week’s episode was a courtroom drama. That’s going to happen sooner or later in a series about lawyers. But on a deeper level, this was an episode about the closeness of two brothers. Continue reading →
I could watch a full hour of Lance Reddick giving a briefing. And then I could watch another full hour of him at home being debriefed by his wife. He listens as she walks him through the dilemma he’s in. “You can’t lose if you don’t play,” she explains. For an officious hotel clerk in John Wick and a sinister government agent in The Guest, it takes an actor who can listen as well as he can tell.
Okay, this is really dumb, but I might as well get it off my chest before it fades into technological obscurity along with phone cords, typewriters, and Crown Victorias. All of which appear in The Wire, by the way.
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Here I am, finally watching The Wire. How long has it even been? How long did I miss out? How long have I had to endure people prattling on about how good The Wire is? Ten years? Twenty years? Who knows. I saw a pager in the title sequence and my mind shifted into “okay, now you’re watching something from the 90s” mode. It certainly has the cinematography and the aspect ratio of the 90s. To think we used to watch TV is a narrow square box. Then there’s a scene with McNulty and an FBI guy about how the feds have been “getting out of drugs” since the Towers fell. Oops, okay, not the 90s.
My mind’s 90s mode explains why I thought the kid who plays one of the drug dealers looks like Michael B. Jordan. He does a thing where he knits his brow while he licks his lips, and then pulls his lips in, like he’s thinking really hard about something. Just like Michael B. Jordan does. He also has a funny bit where he points out that Alexander Hamilton was not, in fact, a President even though he’s on the $10 bill. And this from a time when most people associated the name Manuel with a Panamanian dictator instead of a Broadway sensation. Then the credits roll and, hey, it is Michael B. Jordan! Well, yeah, that’s about the age he would have been ten years ago, when The Wire began its run. I guess this is the dawn of TV getting good enough to have actors worthy of being movie stars. And there’s Idris Elba, who I used to think of as the guy from that British TV series about vampires. That’s how most people know him, right? From Ultraviolet? Or was it this Wire thing that really kicked his career into high gear?
See what happens to your perspective when you go twenty years not watching The Wire.
You don’t have to have watched Breaking Bad to appreciate Better Call Saul. But you have to have watched Breaking Bad to appreciate it fully.
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The unique problem for television as a medium is that it has so much space to fill. A typical series is at least 10 hour-long episodes. By my math — I’ve worked it out on the back of this Talking Dead transcript — that’s ten hours of television. Ten hours of me sitting, watching, listening, presumably being entertained. Ten hours of storytelling. But the average script simply doesn’t have ten hours of storytelling. So the average television show fills out those ten hours with padding. I can think of very few TV series that wouldn’t be better off trimmed of their fat and compressed into movie-length features.
But then there’s Better Call Saul. Continue reading →
“Did you ever hear about this alligator who went into a restaurant?” Lamar Thigpen took them by the neck and drew them close as lovers.
“No, I didn’t,” said the courteous engineer, though he had. Jokes always made him nervous. He had to attend to the perilous needs of the joke-teller.
–Walker Percy, The Last Gentlemen
Two minutes into this excruciatingly long ten minute video, I’ve seen all it has to show me. But I’m still watching it because my friend thought it was funny. “Oh, let me show you this,” he had said excitedly, typing the words “nightclub mashup” into YouTube.
Instead of telling each other jokes anymore, we show each other videos. Continue reading →
I have a problem with the first season of the UK sitcom Catastrophe. It sets itself up as two people making the most of a difficult situation. Presumably a catastrophic situation, hence the title. Rob has unintentionally gotten Sharon pregnant; they decide to give it a go. It superficially resembles Knocked Up, the Judd Apatow comedy in which Seth Rogen unintentionally gets Katherine Heigl pregnant and they decide to give it a go. Knocked Up is indeed a catastrophe. She’s a woman with a promising career who behaves like an adult. He’s Hollywood’s typical manchild stoner out-of-shape slob loser whose shortcomings are entirely excused because he’s funny. Obviously, Hollywood says, he’ll make a great dad. Oh, and husband. Never mind what Heigl’s character could have gone on to do with her life, pregnant or not.
But whereas Knocked Up pretends it’s not a catastrophe, Catastrophe pretends it’s not a perfect match. But Rob and Sharon are as perfect a couple as you could ever hope to see on TV.
They’re the opposite of a catastrophe. Continue reading →