I learned a few days ago that HBO has re-formatted and re-released its five-season series “The Wire“.
The buzz the last few years has been all about “Breaking Bad”. For good reason. BB is stellar. Once it got its hooks into me a year ago, I was a goner. I binge-watched it with the best of them because it had it all–a great story, great writing, superb acting, irony, black humor, and–oh yeah–that funny thing about strong anti-heroes who can really take up space in a person’s head.
And yet. Before “Breaking Bad” there was “The Wire”. In addition to all of BB’s best attributes, “The Wire” had a social message that was impossible to ignore. Along with all the violence, drug-dealing, and gratuitous sex, this is more than entertainment. It provides viewers a hard look at our institutions and bureaucracies and exposes the rot.
This idea is not mine. I was running errands yesterday, and, as usual, listening to OPB. There was an interview with someone who noted that each season takes on a different institution. The setting is Baltimore, but the theme is universal. Law enforcement. Education. Journalism. Politics. Drugs. Yes, even Drugs gets its due as an institution with a failed bureaucracy.
Many, if not most, of my friends eschewed “The Wire”. There was the crime, poverty, ugliness, and of course the violence that was a part of everyday life for many of the characters–all made that much worse when children were involved. Once into the series, for me there was no turning back. How many evenings I spent with my late friend Andy eating ice cream and binging on “The Wire”! We watched because of the great story telling. We watched because the characters were so real they became a part of our lives. I even named my cat, Omar, after one of my favorite characters in the series.
The folks on NPR yesterday opined that re-watching “The Wire” is like picking up a favorite good book and rereading it. When I do this with books, I always find something new. They say that the series is at least as relevant today as it was 10 years ago, if not more so. I’m going to give it a whirl and see how it fits. Ten years later, the fissures in our system are more visible than ever. And even in a fictional series, truth is truth after all.