Skip navigation

Category Archives: the wire

Plenty of online discourse regarding Friday Night Lights‘ fourth season has centered on its increasing resemblance to The Wire, which seems inevitable considering the appearance of not one but two Wire alums who have shown up alive—and, well, if not happy then at least breathing—in East Dillon, leading Vulture’s Andy Greenwald (my favorite FNL recapper by a longshot, because who else but the author of Nothing Feels Good can snark that Julie’s Habit for Humanity guy looks like someone in All Time Low?) to christen it The Wire: West Texas. The comparison is valid, of course, as no other show has picked up The Wire‘s mantle of entwining community politics, various societal issues, and personal dramas in concurrent, reflexive narrative strands. The only difference really is that The Wire‘s resolutions have always seemed neat (which is fitting considering the show is influenced by Greek tragedy), whereas FNL has always been much messier (which is fitting considering the show is influenced by, what, Austin indie- and post-rock?). I would like to say that I saw this happening last year, though. But it’s easier to point out when there are black people on the tv, eh Variety?

Aside from that faux pas, Brian Lowry’s article is full of so many on-the-money insights that it makes you want to shout “Hallelujah!” One of my favorites is this comparison between the two shows:

As for other areas of overlap, the fact that the two series have been largely ignored by Emmy voters speaks to a kind of myopia within that organization. While it’s impossible to collectively put members on the couch, the TV academy has historically had trouble identifying stand-out work by younger or minority performers — two categories represented in abundance on each of these shows.

Aside from large ensemble casts that make it difficult to single out individual players, these programs are so sharply executed by the casts and writing staffs as to make the characterizations look almost too easy, as if the performers must be barely acting at all.

Which is absolutely right on. But as with both shows, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that, by the end, both will have had five glorious seasons of impeccable drama (my two favorite shows ever), and considering FNL‘s start, that’s as much of a miracle as the show’s expansion from great television to great art.

Advertisements

No spoilers, but there are only two episodes remaining in the third–and likely final–season of Friday Night Lights (which will be re-aired on NBC starting in January), and as the season has progressed I feel safe in saying that something magical has happened: it has become less sui generis than it was in season 1, less far-fetched than season 2, and rather has resembled a sort of ethnography of life in small town America, 2008.

There is no show better equipped to portray some of the rampant social crises in contemporary America better than FNL, because its emotional and situational verisimilitude has always been its strongest calling card–part of the reason why season 2 failed was the introduction of salacious storylines that rang dissonantly against the delicate timbres scored elsewhere in the episodes (though I will say that even a lot of the melodrama, especially Landry’s dad turning into Lady Macbeth, was remarkably well-done and entertaining, if entirely ludicrous). FNL has managed to take the problems regarding economy, affordable higher education (not to mention the failing public school system), the job search, real estate, and the politics of change and effectively portray the effects they have in the lives of Americans, the strain our contemporary society has on individuals, how they influence the dynamics within families. There is no other show on television engaging with societal problems–not Mad Men, not Dexter, not Pushing Daisies, not fucking Boston Legal. The only other show that ever attempted to honestly critique and dramatize our actual world was The Wire, and even on that show it was only the final two seasons that felt actually concerned with contemporaneity (the first three seasons, to me, felt couched in early-90sisms). And FNL does it without the polemics and sporadic didacticism of The Wire. FNL has always been, first and foremost, about the arcs of its characters versus The Wire‘s arc of narrative.

This season of FNL has also approached Wire-levels regarding the push-pull dynamics of its storylines–one person’s actions sets off a chain of events whose negative effects will soon be irrevocable (think back to season 4 of The Wire, and how Herc’s various bumbling enabled the decline of Randy’s situations at home and in the street); one character will experience a great gift of fortune while another character will pay in kind by losing their previous privileges; characters will step into paths that other characters have already worn, as if there aren’t any options in treading a new road (and in small towns, there almost never are). All the various narrative strands in season 3 of FNL are woven together tightly but seamlessly–much like The Wire, but FNL seems much looser (you can breathe in their threads) because of the lack of overt politicking and the focus of its characters, as well as its homier mise-en-scène. Although far less brilliant (the writing can go through creaky spots, some of the acting not up to par), FNL has taken up the mantle of Most Important Show (if not Greatest Show Ever) from The Wire because of these elements, and I dare say it’s far warmer and more human than The Wire ever was.

Oooooh look I said “cinema” instead of “movies” or even “film” because I am a douchebag who studied film theory and watched cinéaste crap like Daughters of the Dust which only exists to be taught in feminist film theory classes. After we saw Milk the day after Thanksgiving (it’s really good though redundant if you already know the story, but still undeniably powerful thanks to a) the social and moral uplift of Milk’s story, b) Sean Penn’s best performance since Dead Man Walking and the first time he’s been actually likable since Spicoli yes everyone has said that sorry, c) I have no idea why people are falling all over themselves to praise James Franco since he just sits there looking pretty and/or having a sourface in Michelle Williams’ Brokeback Mountain role when in fact the second-best performance is by Josh Brolin, giving tremendous depth to an underwritten role–the whole screenplay is problematic), George and I somehow brought up DotD, because we always do, and I fucking still remembered the director’s name: Julie Dash. I don’t know why this is relevant. We also decided that we absolutely need to watch Revolutionary Road, because OMG that shit looks boring. How many fucking movies need to be made about the soul-crushing ennui of middle-class white America?

Which brings me to Mad Men. There was an article in New York magazine recently regarding “Quality Show Fatigue,” which I pretty much agree with except I never watched The Sopranos. I definitely went through this after season 4 of The Wire was done, and then I fell in love with Friday Night Lights. The Wire‘s final season and FNL‘s second season were both disappointing, the latter’s much much MUCH MORE so. So I needed a new temporary Greatest Show Ever, and thanks to a birthday present month-free subscription to Netflix from George (as well as prodding by my roommate), I enjoyed Battlestar Galactica until the end of season three when I just got so tired of its melodrama. And then there was this hoopla surrounding Mad Men, reaching peak level in the fall due to: winning the Emmy, Jon Hamm’s buzzed-about appearance on SNL, and the notice that Hamm would appear on 30 Rock (another Greatest Show Ever moment, but that’s a comedy so it’s in a different category?…certainly Greatest Comedy Ever since Arrested Development) as Tina Fey’s love interest. So I thought, what the hey, might as well give it a shot, and got the first season from Netflix.

When I finished it, I thought the same thing I did after I saw the first season of Six Feet Under: there’s a lot to love, but mainly I just find it irritating. What I love are the tiny details of the period captured in the set and costume design, how GOOD everybody looks even if they’re not conventionally attractive, Christina Hendricks’ curves (I watched that woman and was like “wow, bonerz”), and a fascinating sense of power dynamics w/r/t gender that I initially thought would be glossed-over. Glossed over because this: Don Draper is not that interesting, and the whole show centers on him. WOW the successful white male feels trapped by his successful perfect whiteness so he acts like a successful white male conquering women and booze and jobs and life like they’re the American West and Indians and Algeria and Vietnam, oh WAIT to give him depth let’s go into his Ayn Rand-aided backstory don’t you guys SEEEEEEE???!??!!!!! he’s tormented and conflicted! boohoo the travails of white men. Which looks exactly like Revolutionary Road. And I understand that we’re supposed to be critical of Don Draper while still finding him sympathetic and relatable, but there are far too many times it feels as if we’re being nudged into seeing him as a hero in his antihero-ness. Also annoying: those LOL-in-retrospect! jokes, like about how there’s no machine that makes copies of paper. Zing ’60s!

The most interesting facets of Mad Men to me are the women’s stories (and part of my interest in the show was seeing if it would compare somehow to Far From Heaven), and how their lives and dreams are affected by the rampaging masculinity surrounding them, especially Draper’s wife (who gains increasing depth over the course of season 1, from doe-eyed naif to hellzapoppin’ no-shit-taker) and Peggy (who is severely disserviced by that ludicrous plotline that took all of two minutes to be revealed even if episodes earlier it was apparent to everybody BUT the character, which is fine except **WEE OH SPOILER DRUDGE SIRENS WOOOOO** how do you not know you’re preggers?! **END OF SPOILERS I SHOT DRUDGE JUST TO WATCH HIM DIE**). Also the absolutely most fascinating character to me is sniveling bastard Pete Campbell, because THERE. There is a story about the suffocation of privilege and status of the white American male that is told with a new and interesting slant. We see his complete emasculation time and again, and his machismo is off-putting not just in that “ugh, sexist” way but in a way that the viewer can understand–he’s all act, and a joke of one at that. Everyone sees it but him, and there he still is trying on Don Draper’s cock-of-the-walk pants. His lack of self-awareness is touching and its attendant repercussions are delicious while Don Draper’s expositions are all smoke and fire that somehow manages no heat.

*

I started rewatching The Wire a few weeks ago and have now begun season five again, dreading its ludicrous twin storylines of LIES AND FAKERY, though this time around I appreciate it more, and can delight in the shit in there that’s funny. While watching season five, I realized why I despise this hipster weiner guy at work so much (not just because he talks about Grizzly Bear or says shit like “I don’t empathize with the criminals or the poor because I’m a classic American narcissist”) who will thankfully be leaving soon: HE LOOKS AND SOUNDS LIKE FUCKING KLEBANOW, who is like top 5 most hated Wire characters ever. Seriously that dude popped up and his whiny clipped voice boomed from my speakers and it was all Eureka-time. Thanks to The Wire, I will always hate dudes who look and sound like this.

*

Lastly, I had a dream last night that Kyle Chandler died! 😦 I woke up and was relieved, especially considering how there would be no Friday Night Lights without him. Seriously I even dreamed of an opening credits sequence where Connie Britton’s name was first, not Kyle Chandler’s! WTF is wrong with me, for real.

I have to say that I am elated about season three thus far, that it has redeemed the awful simplicity and sensationalism of season two by returning to the roots of its quality: the spectre of football over a small town and its inhabitants, the optimism of promise and the wrecked broken humanity that accompanies the beauty of faded dreams and glories, and the organic and REAL push-pull dynamics of interpersonal relationships. This season has seen the pleasures of disparate pairings, new/old faces causing untold ripples in their wake, and especially the memories of the familiar: we know so much about the citizens of Dillon, TX because we’ve lived with them, and the actions of the characters–while sometimes maddening and frustrating and terrible, like those of old friends–always feel right this season, like Well Of Course You’re Being Stupid, Tyra/the Rigginses/Buddy! (as opposed the horrible fever dream that was season 2). Here’s to welcoming back old friends.

Oh yeah, GREATEST SHOW EVER.