Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Wire

At my age and disposition, it takes a lot to excite me about anything, especially in the realm of culture, specifically television. As Ernie Kovacs once said, “They call it a medium because it is rarely well done.”

But tonight (or through the magic of “on demand” cable), don’t miss the first episode of the final season of HBO’s “The Wire.” It is universally reviewed by those less philistine than I as the best drama ever seen.

Its genesis was the NBC series of the ‘90s called “Homicide: Life on the Street,” based on a book of the same name by former Baltimore Sun crime reporter David Simon, who occasionally showed up in a reporting class I taught at the University of Maryland in the ‘80s. Once or twice, phrases from my lecture notes appeared in the scripts.

It is more than my connection to Simon or the fact that my favorite summer internship was as a police reporter for the Sun, it is that the series offers a view of life most of us never see, with no good guys or bad guys. Just guys -- and one young woman in the cast last year who played a credible androgynous punk killer not long after she was released from the Maryland penal system after having actually killed someone.

What commends this program is that each year it focuses on a different theme, and this year it is about the relationship between a dying newspaper and the dying on the streets. Thinly veiled, real people are skewered, including former editors and the former mayor of Baltimore, who is now the governor of Maryland and a future national figure.

Here are the Washington Post and New York Times takes on “The Wire,” which should bring you up to date if this is the first you have heard of it. But remember, HBO required. And a stomach for violence, most of it on the street and not in the newsroom.

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