Music to Write By #3 – Assume the Position/(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go

Writing in the last week has had a different sort of soundtrack, there hasn’t been much in the way of music coming through my speakers, as I have been following all manner of different paths from; film analysis, to the situation with the Italian government, and the bad news of the EU trying to pass Article 13, scientific testing of free will, and the wacky world of Flat Earthers.  Forcing myself back onto the music front, the gold started flowing pretty much instantly with this gem:

I first came across this funky tune thanks to its brief appearance on The Wire.  Then it was featured more prominently on the closing credits of The Deuce, another David Simon (together with George Pelecanos) created show which documents the legalisation and rise of the porn industry in New York, as well as the accompanying drugs, real estate booms, police corruption and the connected violence.  The first season admittedly feels like a – quality – prequel but I expect big things from season two.  Watching this as it came out was great, the whole of last year was exceptional for quality television and nothing beat grabbing a few beers and having a TV night with Tom, catching up on whatever had previously come out over the weekend, in the US.

The tune took me back to a totally different time and place – only eight months ago – but so much has changed.  Thinking back to that period now, it was such a good time and discussing the show as the end credits theme rolled, it was always interesting to get an alternate take on what we just saw.  Discussion was made more insightful by a few beers, of course, but I don’t think I have been challenged in such a sustained way by myself, my peers, or film and TV before or since. Continue reading “Music to Write By #3 – Assume the Position/(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go”

The Wire: The Thin Line Between Heaven and Here.

Thanks for reading this far, I’ll make this my last post of The Wire, with what I judge to be have been a reasonably in depth look at the show without going too overboard on the whole topic.  Summing up this show with all its depth would take up more blog space than I am prepared to give on account of books piling up but with such a wide range of things to mention I will venture to add a few more, just to make the show more enticing in case I have failed thus far.


The directors and writers are of a high calibre such as well-known authors like Dennis Lehane and George Pellecanos, David Simon and Ed Burns have the experience of being a journalist and homicide detective respectively.  It is worth noting that Simon wrote Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and with Ed Burns, The Corner:  A Year in the Life of an Inner City Neighbourhood which are both excellent reads, adding more to the real life inspirations behind the show.  There is an experienced excellence to all this work which demands more of an audience and from an audience in thought .

The lack of soundtrack means all those everyday noises are more distinctive and this adds to the realism allowing the actors to take centre stage rather than having their performances enhanced with emotive music.  It’s a case of showing how powerfully an actor can influence the viewer’s feelings without the crutch of any outside influence moving us, highlighting once again the exemplary ensemble cast.  There is music but it is part of the natural order, tunes blasting out from a car or on the radio and so on, the regular soundtrack to life.

Season One does not put a foot wrong, its impact not only on the TV landscape but on the audience has changed the way that police procedurals are viewed, not that The Wire sits easily in any genre, it transcends  the need for being pigeonholed by being all things effortlessly at once.  By the end of the first season it is easy to think that although it will continue to be a challenging watch it’ll also have an established pattern.  Simon is one for changing up his themes though and giving us something new to explore constantly.. Continue reading “The Wire: The Thin Line Between Heaven and Here.”

The Wire: The Dickensian Aspect

thewiresteasonthefourthSeason four is my favourite season purely because with all the other elements of previous seasons still vital to the storyline, education is introduced and central to that is the lives of a group of boys whose lives diverge dramatically throughout the school year.

The life of children in inner city schools can be brutal, that they have grown up with so much violence surrounding them, it is understandable that they see mortality as a very real thing, some not expecting to live past their mid 20’s.  Added to this is the cynical way that the education system is run and how it further entwines with the themes of previous seasons, showing how the problems are systemic and can’t be fixed by anything but radical moves by those whom we elect as our officials.

As with real life, we don’t get introductions and establishing shots of these characters, finding out who they are and there motivations are about straight away. The characters names and personalities become clear after an initial confusing overload but it’s that feeling of not being spoken down to that becomes one of the most appealing factors. It’s intelligent and assumes its viewers will be too.

The show demands that you pay attention and don’t leap to snap judgements because people are complex with often hidden motivations and a sense of morality based on their own internal rules. It’s this depth of character that really impresses and often, it is a small thing that elicits a change of response from the audience to how they respond to a character.

As I mentioned previously, I’m embarking on the story – for it is all one story with a different aspect shown in each series – for the sixth time and rewatching the series makes the stories more powerful and hard-hitting in my opinion.   Watching what seems now inevitable unfold has a greater impact as you watch the  ascent and descent of so many character arcs.  It’s a mosaic of richness that rewards over and over as newer aspects not previously considered come to light, showing the planning of scripts to be a work of majestic artistry.  You can focus on the nuances that inevitably get lost on the first watch in a programme with such ambitious intricacy.

It would be remiss as a book lover not to mention the episode in which a journalist is told his work is not Dickensian enough because that is how the news needs to be, there has to be a human aspect we can sympathise with, otherwise why the readers people care?  The streets of Baltimore and the characters who, through brilliant storytelling face both brutal lives but also have their comedic moments does feel very Dickens-ish, however his need to tie things up, for resolution was often furnished with a handy plot twist to sort things out.  This perhaps diminishes the overall power of the message of social inequality but Dickens for all his flaws was a genius writer and The Wire will stand up to comparison of that man’s name for the 21st century.

Continue reading “The Wire: The Dickensian Aspect”

The Wire: All in the Game

The Wire centres on ‘The Game’, which is the colloquial term for the drugs trade but in reality has a much wider scope as an overall set of rules used by drug dealer and politicians alike.  Played by subtly different rules within each group, it’s all about social advancement and the pursuit of power, money and of being remembered.  There are codes that everybody sticks to, unique in their line of business; the internal logic, no matter how disagreeable adheres to rules which reward blind loyalty but also demands a strong sense of self-preservation.


The disconnection of the people at the top end of politics who make the decisions, from the rest of the populace is palpable, the failing system does more harm than good yet voter indifference seems to perplex these people.  On the side of the drug dealers, it is generally accepted that anybody in the game faces the consequences of their employment, mortality being high and emotion seen as a weakness to be exploited.

The futility of the drugs war – at least as it is fought now – allows institutions on all sides to treat it as nothing more than a contest.  For example the interactions between street level dealers and police are viewed by both sides as ineffective but a routine in which the rules are adhered to blindly, (the inevitability of prison, parole, back to the street). it is expected despite no real conclusion forthcoming but as a form of going through the motions with little respect and no hope of a finish which makes it all the more tragic.

What The Wire does best is offer detachment,  its lack of compromise or sentimentality allows the viewer to debate the morals of the players which are often conflicted but all too painfully real.  The apathy of both sides on the front line is harrowing; especially in terms of the offhanded nature with which murder and overdose are greeted, which is now just accepted as an inescapable consequence of street life. Continue reading “The Wire: All in the Game”

The Wire: The game is rigged, but you cannot lose if you do not play

AllWiredUpOn the drug-infested streets of West Baltimore, there are good guys and there are bad guys.  Sometimes you need more than a badge to tell them apart.

From David Simon From David Simon, creator and co-writer of HBO’s triple Emmy-winning mini-series The Corner, this unvarnished, highly realistic HBO series follows a single sprawling drug and murder investigation in Baltimore – one that culminates in a complex series of wiretaps and surveillance.  Told from the points of view of both the police and their targets, the series captures a universe where easy distinctions between good and evil , and crime and punishment are challenged at every turn.

The Wire is hands down the best TV show I have ever seen, partly because it’s the closest to a novel that you can get on a televisual scale but saying that doesn’t really cover just how much depth the viewer is treated to throughout its five seasons.

Now on my sixth watch through, it’s about time I tried to put down – to some degree –  why this TV show is rightly regarded as one of the best shows ever and for me the greatest.  It’s hard to know where to begin, especially as I will be avoiding spoilers throughout so I shall begin with the opening scene which is posted at end this part of the overview.

In under three minutes the viewer is sucked into a story about a street murder as well as being introduced to some of the key themes, revolving around the street and ‘the game’.  Within 14 seconds it’s already established that young children show little horror or surprise about a death so close, the offhand way it’s dealt with is frightening in its own way and the overall feeling is that business must go on.  It’s as powerful an opening as one could want and but a taster of the masterpiece yet to come.

First time viewers need to know that this is a slow burning show that you will need to stick with for a few episodes in order to fully appreciate what it does so stylishly, not to mention working out who everyone is.  It demands the viewer’s attention by not giving an easy ride or compromising its artistic integrity,  which happens so often in the mostly down format of Television.  The plot in itself takes its time and as such culminates into a realisation of just how clever it is when season one ends; the impact is perfectly pitched

The Wire’s way of telling a story was not really suited to TV as it is a medium that demands instant gratification  and the complexity of this show doesn’t allow for such simplistic outlooks. Now it is out on DVD and streaming on the internet, watching a handful of episodes at a time is by far the best way to watch it.  One can only imagine how challenging it would be to watch an episode a week and try to remember who everybody was and what was going on without the benefit of the all the episodes to hand, hence the initial poor ratings. Continue reading “The Wire: The game is rigged, but you cannot lose if you do not play”

Piecing It All Together

Lester Freamon of The Wire, possible jigsaw fan, tells it like it is.

I like doing the odd jigsaw, not the ones with a lot of sky in though.  In fact I don’t mind those so much if there are different hues or clouds or an aeroplane or some such other item of interest to break the monotony of the mass of atmosphere that is just there.  I especially enjoy doing jigsaws that feature the Taj Mahal, but that is a personal preference and should not be used in a psychological profile of me. Just in case any of you doing profiling for a hobby.

Coincidentally enough, I tend to live my life based around the rules of jigsaw, not that I separate the corner pieces out first, although that may help in the long run, but would be rather time consuming.  I mean in the way that I interpret life. Each day we get bombarded with words and images from various media.  In fact noise everywhere, radios, TVs, then there are billboards, magazines, I-Pods and all that other stuff. Isn’t it all just a bit distracting?

The variety of references coming from every direction, does on the positive side always keep our brain active, I mean we have to filter that 90% of superfluous rubish out, all the celebrity news, throwaway pop culture and Saturday night TV.  There is however one stock TV phrase that always seems to pop up, most usually in shows that have some fantasy element and that is: ‘the world is more fantastical than you can imagine’ , which is all well and good until you remember you have work in the morning. Continue reading “Piecing It All Together”

The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-city Neighbourhood – David Simon & Ed Burns

  Earlier this year I reviewed the brilliant Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets which detailed a year in the life of the Baltimore Homicide Department. And now, having missed the actual tenth anniversary date of The Wire’s first airing in the US (June 2 2002, (thanks Tom Robinson for that)) it seems totally appropriate to have a look at the sister book which chronicles the people living and surviving in the urban slums of Baltimore city circa 1993.

The age of the book though, makes no difference to what is a startling and extremely relevant subject, shockingly despite the book being first published in 1997 a lot of the issues contained within are still endemic today.

The cover quote saying this book is ‘a devastating portrait’ and that isn’t the half of it.  For those who have seen The Wire, then this is season 4 but with only a thin sliver of humour. For everyone else who hasn’t watched one of the most powerful and true to life dramas ever produced, I shall give a brief description of what this book deals with.

The treatise is set around some of the areas notorious open air drugs markets.  The narcotics culture has pervaded all over the district and we are introduced to the many diverse individuals who coexist together, everyone from addicts, dealers, the children growing up seeing all the money associated with drugs and community workers.

The portrait of each individual really made me feel close to them, and I was really rooting for everyone to come good throughout, of course with a book like this, there is plenty of adversity and affliction and not nearly as many happy endings as I hoped for.  But this is real life, none of that Disney happy endings for everyone nonsense, it doesn’t happen and people really should stop kidding themselves that it does.

Some of the people, (most of the names haven’t been changed, interestingly) who appear in this book, have me in mind of the tragic characters that Dickens was so successful in creating in all their intense sadness and hopelessness.  To give more depth to each individual, extensive interviews were carried out by the authors over three years chronicling their thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams etc.

As you may have guessed this isn’t the lightest read you will ever come across, and it is certainly more heavy going than Homicide was, yet it is never less than compelling,and when finished it is a book to be endlessly refered too and contemplated.  The subject matter and challenge of the book are a small price to pay though for the understanding that can be gleaned about the social iniquity of one of the most powerful countries in the world. Continue reading “The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-city Neighbourhood – David Simon & Ed Burns”

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets – David Simon

The Wire is perhaps the best show ever to grace the small screen, Gritty, realistic, a no holds barred look at the different facets of Baltimore, from the drugs trade, the school system through to internal machinations of the police force and newspapers, amongst others.

This accompanying tome is an absolutely compelling beast of a book. David Simon creator of The Wire narrates his journalistic account of life in Baltimore’s homicide department (which would later provided the basis for his excellent (and aforementioned) TV show) in grim and sometimes harrowing detail.

Amongst some fascinating and often senseless stories, my highlights would have to be stories of the jury,  Geraldine the life insurance woman and Latonya Wallace. However to go into any detail of these stories would perhaps be unfair to anyone who is willing to engage in one of the finest sociopolitical books of the last century in any genre.

That is not to say the book is without humour albeit mostly of a gallows nature, but working in a city with almost more murders than days of the year (at the time of writing) will probably do that to you.

Simon spent a whole year with the Homicide department and gradually introduces you to all the detectives, how they think and work and their cases, yet remains detached enough to show you everything in detail without Continue reading “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets – David Simon”

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