Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Truth be Told

I got a book in the mail the other day from a publisher in the UK. It's a thick, nearly 600-page hard cover about the show. Been flipping through it and it's a very impressive book. Lots of interviews with Wire actors, crew, producers, you name it. The most interesting part of the book is a long foreword by David Simon which sets the context for the show among television cop shows as well as in his own career as a journalist. I had not read much prose by Simon and it's very well written and elucidates all the themes and intentions very clearly. Also an 18-page interview with Simon by Nick Hornby.

The main reason to get this would be for the interviews and the hundreds of photos interspersed throughout. It's really a good addendum to the show with the interviews really shining a light on the myraid aspects of the show. It's got summaries of all the episodes, through from what I read, they're not always carefully put together - the summary for Season 4, episode 1 for example, inexplicably failed to mention the murder of Lex. But overall, it's a great resource for a Wire fan.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friday Night Lights

Other than sports, the Daily Show/Kolbert, "Mad Men" and "Family Guy" I don't watch much TV. But there's one show I think Wire fans would like, or at the very least appreciate.

NBC's "Friday Night Lights" has been, like "The Wire," a critically acclaimed and little watched program. It is about the travails of a team and their fans that live and die on their fortunes in fictional Dillon, Texas. Like "The Wire," the show has won a Peabody Award (awards issued for excellence in radio and TV broadcasting issued by the Univ. of Georgia - they do a great job of singling out great shows).

The subject matter is vastly different, the teen romance drama often gets annoying, but in its focus on regional mores it is aesthetically similar to the show. I have written in the past about how one of the great attractions about "The Wire" is its "regionalism" - it's ability to capture the mores, customs and language of a particular area. You usually hear this term to describe Flannery O’Connor and other Southern writers but its applicable to anybody who is able to capture the area they are writing about in such fullness. “The Wire” does for Baltimore what Raymond Chandler does for Los Angeles, what Dennis Lehane does for Boston, what “The Maltese Falcon” does for San Francisco: it lends the place a sense of mystery giving it a sense of place. It makes the place come alive by lending a sense of immensity to the unique details of the particular city.

Likewise, "Friday Night Lights" does a fantastic job of portraying conflict, ambition and daily life in a world far away from the happy-go-lucky cosmpolitania usually portrayed on the small screen. Life in hard scrabble towns like Dillon do not get much play on networks or in popular culture. The show has a little-known ensemble cast with a superb lead actor (Kyle Chandler) playing the paternal central figure of Coach Taylor. It is an earnest and serious show that deals with serious topics. It's fourth season starts at the end of the month but it's worthy of being placed at the top of your Netflix queue.

Watch the first episode at the very least. The first ten minutes of that first episode are expertly made.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wire Art

Don't know who this guy is exactly, but his art project is a pretty great use of time at work. I like Clay Davis's one at the bottom. But Bodie's "smart ass pawn" is the best quote.

• And here's an article about Sonja Sohn, aka Greggs, doing some work with at-risk youth in Maryland. Like Bunny's role in Season 4.

• And Poot can do a lot more than just sling and talk about "world going one way, people another." He's a scribe too with a new autobiography. Don't think it'll sell as many copies as Snoop's one though.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Quick Guide for New Users

If you are just visiting this blog for the first time, let me explain the history of the blog quickly to improve usability.

I started this blog in September of 2006 at the onset of the Fourth Season, writing up "decomps" and critiques of every episode in between September and December of that year. All blog posts in 2007 monitor critical reaction to the series as well as updates on the Fifth and final season which began airing on HBO in America in January, 2008. You can read my Season Five episode posts by clicking on the posts in between January and March of that year. Afterwards, I blogged only occasionally, linking to articles of interest to David Simon, about the various mystery writers on the show which I have taken a liking to and the myriad sociological aspects which made the show so fascinating.

Speaking of which, I just started reading "Lush Life" by Richard Price, a novelist who wrote a handful of "Wire" episodes. I highly recommend it.
The Wire and International Respect

Looking at Google news feeds for "The Wire," most stories are about characters that used to be on the show that are now striking it on their own. This one, about Felicia Pearson, aka Snoop, is par for the course talking about what the young actress is up to. I saw "Public Enemies" last night and was pleased to see Herc and the Judge make appearances.

More interesting have been articles in the international press in countries that are just now "discovering" the show. Here's one I found from New Zealand about the culture of "Wire bores" who talk about all the myraid details of the show to no end, sending their mates into a tizzy (I spent four months in NZ and can attest that Kiwis much prefer sports talk). These overseas chronicles attest to the resilience of the material and how far its themes of the complicated nature of urban life resonate.

- Also, after languishing behind Detroit for murder capital of the nation, Baltimore is back on top. The city had the highest murder rate for any city with over 500,000 people in 2008. All this despite having fewer murders in the city in 2008 than 2007.

The trend in the national homicide rate has been very interesting in recent years. Seattle, Los Angeles and New York have just seen 40-year lows in their homicide rate, whereas places like Memphis, Detroit and Miami top the list.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pelecanos in LA

Last night, along with perhaps 40 other individuals, I saw novelist (and Wire producer and writer) George Pelecanos speak with fellow novelist Lawrence Block at the Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles. Both writers spoke about their lives as writers as well as their current books. Pelecanos is on tour to promote his new novel “The Way Home,” which he told the audience was “my chick novel,” since it’s all about the relationship between fathers and sons.

Surprisingly, I was among perhaps four people under the age of 40 in the crowd with most questions directed towards Block. Pelecanos was very articulate and used the plain language that populates his books. Well-trimmed with a tightly clipped beard and clad in a black blazer over a light purple dress shirt, he looked just a little Hollywood for the night. He spoke very cleanly and directly when asked questions, his voice rarely emphasizing any words. He always made firm eye contact with the questioner and was effusive in his praise of novelist Block (I bought one of Block’s novels he recommended, “When the Sacred Ginmill Closes.” I must admit that I had never heard of him before that night.)

One audience member asked him about the differences between writing novels and screenplays. He made it sound like a mixed bag. Your writing often would get tore up in screenwriting and you’d have to accept the fact that you didn’t have final control over the product. He said the writing room at “The Wire” was sometimes contentious with competition among the show’s bevy of talented novelists (Lehane, Price, himself) to write certain scenes or episodes. However, working with such talented people though also improved the quality of one's own writing.

I asked him how he came to write the second-to-last episode in every season and about his influence on the show. He told me that he had originally been brought in to the write the episode where Wallace was killed, and every season after that he and David Simon had an unwritten understanding that that’s the episode he would write. Pelecanos said that David wanted to keep him on as a producer and writer for the second season because he was going to have a lot of Greek characters in the season at the docks (he made a humorous joke about this that everybody laughed about in regards to this). From that point forward, he was on the staff.

Pelecanos spoke about how he was instrumental in introducing a character on the show who would win. The character of Cutty was his idea. Much like his novels, where the hard-working man usually emerges triumphant, so too does Cutty navigate the drug world to come out on top with his boxing gym.

Finally, one audience member asked him how he was able to portray the character of Derek Strange, a black cop turned private eye, who is the protagonist in several of his novels. “He is so different than you, how did you look through the world through his eyes?” He talked about how his parents put him to work at their diner when he was 11, and how he rode the bus in the D.C. at a time when the city was 80% black. He would just sit on the bus and listen to people, much like he says he sometimes goes into a bar and just listens to people. Someone then asked, “Do you go home and write it down?” Pelecanos said no, it’s just something that he can remember and call up. It didn’t seem like he was a very methodical in making notes and said he didn’t use outlines in his novels. Overall, he came across as a hardworking, empathetic straightforward guy.

At the end of the night I approached him and told him about the blog. “Yeah, I’ve read it,” he said. “David read it. He brought in that stuff.” That made my day. His matter of fact reply though masked whether he and the staff liked the blog. I made an off-hand query into that but didn’t get a solid response. That’s cool. It was enough, and a lot, to be acknowledged. He did tell me, “You’re gonna love ‘Treme,’” the forthcoming Simon series on HBO about musicians returning to post-Katrina New Orleans which he’s also working on.

After that I drove to Hollywood and saw the Decemberists play. A good night.

- Speaking of Simon, he was a featured panelist on the last week’s episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO. Haven’t watched it yet. Sometimes those panels are a too awkward of a mix like that time Mos Def kept interrupting Christopher Hitchens and Salman Rushdie to make some pedestrian point.

(photo is of me, Block, Pelecanos from left to right)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Back in the Game

It's been many moons since I posted anything on the blog. The show is over, grad school life is intense... what else can a man say about the show?

But a few weeks ago, I was driving up through Westwood past the W Hotel on my way to campus when a familiar figure caught my eye. It was Wood Harris, hanging out in front of the hotel with a small entourage. "Avon!" I yelled. "What's up baby," he said (seeing him and two of Claire's boyfriends from "Six Feet Under" have made up the core of star sightings down here). The sighting brought back the living reality of the show to me and that maybe my Wire blogging days are not all behind me.

George Pelecanos on tour

I'm very excited about this. His tour, which launches today in D.C., swings through the country this month. Pelecanos is a D.C. crime novelist who was a producer and writer on "The Wire," penning every several episodes, including the second-to-last episode in every season. I've now read about five of his novels - his latest, "The Way Home" came out Tuesday - and the more of his novels I read, the bigger his stamp I see on the show. An interview in the L.A. Times is here.

People always talk about Simon and Burns as the genius behind the show, but there are so many similarities between the themes of "The Wire" and Pelecanos' novels that I think that his contribution to the overall product has been minimized and overlooked. The street language, the love of the city no matter how broken it appears, the interest in the mores of contemporary urban masculinity, the portrayal of villains as individuals whose lives took the course they did as a result of societal dysfunction and injustice rather than personal failure - these are all aspects of the show that one finds again and again in his novels.

I recommend them and stopping by and seeing him speak. I'll be at the reading in LA on Tuesday.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

I found two interesting interviews with David Simon on the web site for Baltimore magazine:

One is about Generation Kill and his next project, Treme. Money quote from the interview:

Interviewer: What’s next?

Simon: Treme. A story set in the musical culture of post-Katrina New Orleans. The title is that of a historic and predominantly black neighborhood just back of town from the French Quarter. We have a green light from HBO on the pilot but will have to wait until next summer to know if we are to film the first season.

Here's another one from back in February.
Wire Cast at Museum of Moving Image

Sounded like a nice night. I would have liked to have been there.

And the Season Five DVD box comes out on Aug. 12.

- I've watched the first two episodes of "Generation Kill." I think it's very good. It's a little hard to tell all the characters apart though. But it has great dialogue and shows the perspective of the soliders very well. I'm not enraptured by it, but I enjoy watching it.

- And George Pelecanos' new novel "The Turnaround" just came out. I've read "Soul Circus" and "Hard Revolution." Very good. I enjoyed them better than Dennis Lehane's "Shutter Island." Pelecanos' novels just do such a great job of capturing a sense of place - of driving around a city, listening to music, seeing people, hearing and seeing things. It seems to me to be a particularly unique form of urban American realism.

There's a lot in his novels. I recommend picking one up. I'll have to check out some the Richard Price novels at some point too that one of this blog's readers recommended.

- Lastly, I am now the articles editor at Check it out!