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Down to The Wire: When TV drama got real…

David Simon was uniquely qualified to write an uncompromising, grittily realistic crime drama, serving as he did for over ten years as a journalist on the Baltimore Sun newspaper, much of which was spent reporting on the vicious wave of drug-related crime in the inner city.
Not that he was any newcomer to the genre, he’d already had a hit with the NBC drama Homicide: Life on the street and also with his book which inspired the series.

But when he came to his next project, he wanted to produce something completely original. A new way of watching television drama” was how he described the format at the time and, despite not receiving rave reviews from the critics when it was first aired, The Wire has now been widely acknowledged as one of, if not the, greatest crime series ever made.
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But that’s just the thing, The Wire is so much more than just another police procedural, it has so many levels, so much to say about society and it isn’t always easy to tell which side you’re supposed to be rooting for.
The usual goalposts of “Good” and “Evil” are constantly moving, the lines defining the characters’ ethical boundaries forever blurring and flexing, to accommodate the impossible, rock-and-a-hard-place situations in which they find themselves.

Simon said that, at the start of the series, he wanted you to feel as though you were eavesdropping on a conversation and that you would have to pay attention to find out what was going on.
In fact he said he didn’t think it mattered if couldn’t follow all the street slang and terminology at first, it was something that you would get the hang of over time.
And he was right, I didn’t have a clue what was going on for the first couple of episodes, but that didn’t matter one bit, because before too long it all just clicked into place in my head and I found myself following the story with ease.

But even bearing that in mind, from the very first episode, I was still hooked.

Here’s the opening scene, along with the first of five different versions of that fabulous theme, one for each season.

Simon’s Baltimore crime saga is a masterclass in long-arc storytelling, the interwoven strands of all five seasons making a cohesive and satisfying backdrop to the five distinct themes that the series follows and this is one of the things which makes The Wire so different from other “cop shows”, the way the apparently distinct and separate investigations in each season are tied together so seamlessly.

The series follows the work of Major Crimes, a unit set up in response to the violent crime wave connected to the drug gangs who control the housing projects, high rises and street corners on the west side of Baltimore.
Season one focuses solely on the case surrounding heroin dealer Avon Barksdale and his right hand man, Russell “Stringer” Bell, their lieutenants, hoppers, runners, various young wannabe gangsters and of course, their clientele.

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Bell and Barksdale.

We see the way the Barksdale gang rule their territory, the casual brutality with which they enforce their own private form of justice and the jockeying for position amongst the lower ranks, whilst at the same time we follow the seconded, disgraced, or demoted detectives who make up the hastily put together squad, in their attempt to bring down the organisation and incarcerate Barksdale, putting all their efforts into a wiretap on the gang’s phone pagers, the “wire” of the title.

It makes for riveting viewing.
And the clever thing is, after a while you genuinely don’t know where your loyalty lies, with the cops or the corner boys.

Surprisingly, for such an distinctly American show, two of the lead characters are played by British actors.
Dominic West plays the self destructive, heavy drinking detective, Jimmy McNulty, in pursuit of Idris Elba‘s smooth but menacing Stringer Bell.

The Wire’s strength is in its characters. McNulty’s long time partner, William “Bunk” Moreland, played by Wendell Pierce, is the perfect foil to Jimmy’s brilliant but damaged Irish rogue persona, coming across like some sort of foul mouthed, cigar-chomping Barry White in a sharp suit, tough and smart but with more respect for the system than his insubordinate drinking buddy.
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Bunk and McNulty.

One of my personal favourite members of the squad is Clarke Peters‘ character, the dapper and thoughtful Lester Freamon, who spends much of his time making carved miniatures of period doll house furniture at his desk, much to the initial bewilderment of his fellow detectives.
It’s only when Lester thinks he has something worth saying that he gives the team the benefit of his wisdom and it isn’t long before he becomes the mastermind behind the all-important wiretap.

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Freamon.

As the second season begins, the attention of Major Crimes shifts to the local dock workers’ union and a case taking in sex trafficking, prostitution, corruption and murder, while at the same time, staying connected to the original story, the primary target, Barksdale and his crew.

This is also when we get to see more of the pretender to the drug king’s throne, the cold eyed, highly intelligent and deceptively quietly spoken young sociopath, Marlo “Black” Stanfield, played with a frightening ruthlessness by Jamie Hector.
Stanfield rules his people with an iron fist, mercilessly dispatching anybody he sees as having disrespected his authority in even the smallest way and making serious inroads into Barksdale territory, all of which leads to escalating violence and extra complications for the police and their operation.

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Marlo (second left) and the Stanfield crew.

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Major Crimes.

With each new season, the corrupt “money trail” leads the investigators further into the Machiavellian world of city politics, with story lines set in city hall, the school system and, in a fitting fin de seicle, back to Simon’s old employer, the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

There are many side plots, involving the strained personal lives and relationships of players on both sides of the game; arguably the show’s most popular character, stick-up man Omar Little, played with evil charm by Michael K Williams; a serial killer of homeless people; a pair of amusingly chilled out contract killers and an awful lot of swearing, including liberal use of the oedipal compound noun and this scene, which consists entirely of variations on the word “fuck”.

You have been warned.

There is a lot of humour in the dialogue between the characters, on both sides of the law, most of whom we get to know well across the nearly sixty episodes, the sort of authentic, natural inter-personal relationships that ring true for groups that experience such intense and brutal daily lives.
Gallows humour maybe, mixed with much profanity and non-pc use of “the n-word”, but the way the show is scripted and the freedom given to actors to improvise parts of their own dialogue somehow makes the offensive seem everyday and usually unacceptable behaviour is portrayed in a sympathetic and non-judgemental way.

Although the world in which The Wire is set is a male-dominated one, that isn’t to say Simon didn’t provide us with some great strong female characters too, the main one being Sonja Sohn as Shakima “Kima” Greggs, a tough yet diminutive lesbian detective with a complicated personal life, who gives as good as she gets from her male colleagues and often acts as the squad’s moral compass during some of the more ethically ambiguous moments in the case.

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Kima.

Then there’s Deirdre Lovejoy‘s character, Rhonda Pearlman, the team’s appointed State Prosecutor. The feisty and ambitious lawyer doesn’t balk at going after corrupt politicians and state officials, but who occasionally gets frustrated by the squad, McNulty in particular, and their habit of bending the rules to breaking point, in pursuit of their continually adapting targets
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Pearlman.

And attempting, against all the odds, to hold the entire thing together is the team’s lieutenant, Cedric Daniels, played with a strait laced cowboy swagger by the excellent Lance Reddick.

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Daniels.

He seems to spend half his time fighting political battles within the department on behalf of his squad and the other half trying to keep the squad from tearing itself apart. It’s the loyalty and support he gives the detectives under his command, as well as the ability to turn a blind eye when necessary, that makes Daniels popular with his men and they in turn back him up when the bosses question his decisions.

The way that the series is written, the fact that it features cameos from real people who inspired the show’s characters, the way in which Simon manages to show us the vulnerabilities and insecurities in characters who are too often portrayed as two dimensional, it draws us in to a world that we would normally shy away from, a frightening and uncompromising world that we’re glad someone else has to deal with, but which ultimately is populated by human beings with the same frailties and imperfections as the rest of us.

If The Wire does anything but provide fantastic entertainment and impeccable storytelling, then it’s that it makes you realise that these people aren’t just statistics, soundbites and news stories, they have lives and families and all the things we all take for granted, it’s just that they are living them in what amounts to an urban war zone.
And that kind of environment will inevitably breed the sort of disenfranchised anger and unrest that Simon shows us in his groundbreaking series.

I got so much more out of watching The Wire second time round, maybe because I was already tuned in to the street slang and unfamiliar accents, maybe because I was paying more attention to the nuances of the brilliant cast, but I cannot recommend it highly enough, whether you are already a fan of hard edged police drama, or just searching for a brilliantly acted drama with plenty of heart, give The Wire a try, you won’t regret.

To finish this post and to give you a more in-depth background to the series, here’s Simon talking to president Obama himself, about the impact of The Wire and the US “war on drugs”

{Check out David Simon’s blog HERE.}

 

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Spring windup and the persistence of The persistence of memory…

Yesterday…

As is predictable for an English bank holiday Monday, it is now grey and raining outside, but the rest of the weekend has been very pleasant indeed, not least because we had an unexpected guest on Thursday evening.

Old friend and co-star of my Wales watching… posts, (about our pilgrimage to Portmeirion, the home of psychedelic, spy-paranoia fixated cult TV show, The Prisoner) Trevor arrived on the doorstep not long after I got home from work, ostensibly on a short break to try his hand at some fishing on the rocky North Devon shoreline, but as with many weekends that I’ve spent with Trev, plans tend to be rather elastic.

While I went off to work on Friday morning, after a late-ish night of catching up and reminiscing, Trev went in search of a suitable fishing spot and somewhere to pitch his specially purchased tent.
When I returned home at lunchtime however, Elaine had already put him to work in the garden and there were a few more jobs lined up for us too.

Obviously there were some memories to be mulled over, some bollocks to be talked, some cider to be drunk and some pool to be played along the way, so what with buying and fitting a replacement for our suddenly defunct electric shower, fitting a new ceiling light in the bathroom, drinking some more cider, laying a couple of paving slabs, making and consuming a pan of,..ahem..herbally enhanced Hyena Soup, (enabling you to make a “laughing stock” of yourself) repairing our front door, reading all the e-mails and blogs I’ve got behind with, and drinking some more cider, I haven’t had a lot of time to do any blogging.

And Trevor never did go fishing.

The upshot of which is, this post is like one of those cheap-to-make TV episodes which recap a character’s back-story for no discernible reason.

Except this is really interesting.

Honest.

Ok, now I’m worried I’ve built it up too much.
All I was going to do was give you a bit of an update really, nothing earth-shattering.

{Note to self: comparing posts to crap tv show formatting is not sensible or effective blog promotion}

Back in February I had a bit of a rant about the rise of stupid nomination challenges on social media and how it would be nice if people used the same communication technology for doing something positive for a change, suggesting BlogNominate as the way forward.
As with a lot of these things, there was plenty of support for the idea but I’ll be honest, I hadn’t really considered all the logistics of the plan and it kind of fizzled out.
But not before two friends at work had rebranded the idea as EggNominate, the idea being that people would contribute either cash or Easter eggs to the appeal, to eventually be distributed among the residents of Little Bridge House children’s hospice and the local children’s cancer ward.
The final total was over 150 chocolate eggs, which were delivered personally to the children, and nearly £200 in cash to be donated to the hospice.

But one event I probably can shoehorn into the “Random act of kindness” category is the fundraiser we held at work, whereby myself and the two erstwhile EggNominators, Mike and Shane, challenged ourselves to raise the modest sum of £45 between us on the Friday of Breast Cancer Awareness week.
There was a catch however; should we reach our target in the two hours or so before our morning break, we would allow a couple of our female colleagues to give us a makeover (our version of the “make-up-on selfie” that became a popular male response to the campaign of women posting photos of themselves without make-up on social media to promote breast cancer awareness) which we would wear for the remainder of the working day.

It seems as though there is an unhealthy urge for people to see grown men made up like the world’s least convincing transvestites, (although a disturbing number of people told me how good I looked as a woman) because by ten o’clock we had raised nearly £130.

Ok then, let the plastering begin…

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Me, getting a bit of slap on, courtesy of Gemma, one of our volunteer artistes.

…and yes, apparently I have to let my hair down..

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That “Cher / Max Wall hybrid” look in full.

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“The Sugarblokes” – Shane, Mike and I, with our make-up artistes Gemma and Naomi.

Possibly the most worrying part of the day was, having driven back from work in full make-up, with my hair by now a tangled mess, I stopped at our local shop on the way home and……nobody batted an eyelid.
Which only struck me as strange until I remembered that over the past few years I’ve walked in there dressed as a cowboy, Elvis, a native American chief and a pirate, amongst other things, so perhaps it wasn’t that strange after all.

(additional makeover photography by Vernon Smith, cheers Vern)

And finally in this random round-up of stuff that’s occurred to me this Spring, I have a puzzle for you;

What is the connection between a 1931 surrealist masterpiece by Salvador Dali and a blog post about the horrors of war?

Well, this is The Persistence of Memory, a painting by Salvador Dali…

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..and this is The Persistence Of Memory, a blog post by dalecooper57.

I pinched Dali’s title because it went with the theme of remembrance and the importance of keeping memories of terrible events alive for future generations to learn from.
I was pleased with the post and I got some good feedback from it.
Ok. Happy with that.

(At this point I should say that my previous best day’s traffic on the whole blog was 269 hits, and that was on a day I posted three times. Very rarely do I get anything like those numbers, especially on a day that I haven’t posted anything)

So imagine my surprise when, over a week after publishing the post, which got a respectable 100+ hits on the day, I suddenly got 385 hits on that post alone, ending the day on an astounding 409!
Now this was amazing enough a month ago, but ever since then the same post has been getting many more hits than any other, to the point that on one platform alone it’s passed the 2,000 mark, something I doubt anything else I’ve written has come close to.

All of which would be fine except for one thing.
No comments.

Not that I’m saying nobody commented on the post originally, several of my lovely readers made valuable contributions via that little box at the bottom of the post (the one so many of you seem scared of. Come on in, I won’t bite) but after the avalanche of traffic began I haven’t had one single word of feedback and that does strike me as odd. And not just because I’ve had a lot of spam get past my filter recently either.
(Note: Before you ask, none of the search terms for the post were mistaken searches for Dali’s painting)

So if you’re one of the allegedly thousands of people who have read The persistence of memory… in the last couple of weeks, let me know.
Because much as I’d like to think that it was a moving, heartfelt, brilliantly researched and potentially award-winning piece of journalism, therefore attracting inordinate numbers of (very shy) new readers, I can’t help thinking that something maybe amiss.

Please feel free to prove me wrong.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of new readers, I’d like to welcome the flurry of new followers I’ve been honoured to receive in recent weeks (Diary of an Internet Nobody now has 320, thank you all) I shall attempt to justify your interest in my continuing total failure to find a theme.

Since I began writing this post yesterday, I think that I should now wind-up my Spring clean of the odds and sods from the blog and I shall leave you with two views of another fabulous Devon sunset from the weekend, along with the rainbow and ethereal clouds that appeared opposite it.

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{See, that was better than a flashback episode of Star Trek wasn’t it?}

 

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Into the woods…

The fact that David Lynch had chosen Kyle MacLachlan to play Special Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks was a definite plus for fans of Lynch’s earlier work.
MacLachlan had already achieved cult success in Dune, and more importantly, had gained critical acclaim for Blue Velvet, in which he played an awkward, shy young man, corrupted by the seedy underworld into which he is drawn, through his attraction to an older woman.

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As he arrives in town, we learn that Agent Cooper has been following the trail of a killer, and that he believes Laura Palmer is the latest victim.
After examining Laura’s body and finding clues to support his theory, he decides to stay in Twin Peaks, telling Sheriff Harry Truman that he will take over the investigation and that the police will assist the FBI.

Harry readily agrees, not used to dealing with federal murder cases, and one of the most memorable crime fighting partnerships in TV history is born. (Ok, so I’m biased, get over it)

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As episode two opens, we find Agent Cooper talking to the ever present, but never visible, Diane, to whom he dictates his notes throughout the series.

Cooper is the main reason the show works so well for me.
He manages to be earnest and sincere about the most surreal subjects, and the other characters just smile and nod as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.
And his methods of detection are far from conventional either, as we can see in this next scene.

Agent Cooper has gathered the Twin Peaks PD in the woods for a demonstration.
Having determined a list of possible suspects, he attempts to eliminate various people with the help of Harry, Andy, receptionist Lucy Moran (the fabulously ditzy Kimmy Robertson), and Deputy Hawk (the hugely impressive, and huge, Michael Horse)

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And a bucket of rocks.

And donuts.

And coffee, always lots of coffee.

This brings some other, uniquely Lynch-esque characters to our attention – Dr Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn, probably most famous for having played Tom Thumb), Laura Palmer’s deeply eccentric psychiatrist,

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Leo Johnson, truck driving good ol’ boy and all round scumbag, husband of RR Diner waitress, and domestic punch bag, Shelley Johnson. (Eric Da Re and Madchen Amick)

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We also hear about One Eyed Jacks for the first time, Canadian brothel and casino, owned by town bigwig Benjamin Horne, who also owns the Great Northern Hotel, (Richard Beymer, star of West Side Story)

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All these characters are woven into the various subplots which make the show so much more than a whodunnit.

There are also a great many romantic entanglements, not the least of which is the one between Sheriff Truman and enigmatic Chinese beauty and timber heiress, Josie Packard (Joan Chen)

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Josie, widow of sawmill owner Andrew Packard, is at constant loggerheads with her dead husband’s sister, the devious, scheming Catherine Martell (the gloriously melodramatic Piper Laurie).

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And as if that wasn’t complicated enough, Catherine is cheating on her husband, Pete, with Benjamin Horne, hotelier, corrupt businessman, and owner of most of Twin Peaks.

Somehow, the death of Laura Palmer has touched the lives of all these people, and it’s the intertwining of their respective storylines that leads us into the dark underbelly of a town where, we soon begin to realise, nobody is really innocent.

And there are two people who seem to be apart from the other peculiar inhabitants of this most peculiar of towns.
Although strange enough in their own ways, Major Briggs and The Log Lady (Don Davis and Catherine Coulson) seem to know more than they’re letting on.

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Here is a fairly typical exchange between the two of them in the RR Diner.

The only real lead is the traumatised and still sedated Ronette Pulaski, who wandered back into town down the railway tracks, after being abducted on the same night as Laura…

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…leading to the site of her murder, in the woods.

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8 Comments

Posted by on April 25, 2013 in TV, Twin Peaks

 

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