Mar 17, 2008
Posted by: Hitsville

Hulu.com—”The Wire” angle

So if, now that “the Wire” is over, you’re thirsting for a real journalism TV series, you can watch the complete “Deadline” over on Hulu.com.

deadline.jpg“Deadline,” starring an epically proportioned Oliver Platt as a columnist at a NY tabloid, was a Dick Wolf affair that lasted on NBC for, oh, i don’t know, four or five weeks in the fall of 2000 before being canceled. For reasons I don’t recall the network dumped the remainder of the season, a couple of episodes at a time, the following Spring. It’s never been out on DVD.

It was no “Wire”; it was no “West Wing.” I said it was a Dick Wolf production. But it had its charms.

Platt was based on a Breslin template but is given a plummy Upper East Side background (the digs, too) and a tendency toward nastiness. Each episode found him in a moral quandary over one of his crusades, intermittently helped along by a “House”-style band of reporter-assistants. There’s always a couple of good twists and fairly (I didn’t say “entirely”) reasonable journalistic knots to untie as well.

platt.jpgThe cast was pretty elevated: Platt; Hope Davis as an editor and his ex-wife, with whom he has a messy relationship; Lili Taylor as the gossip columnist; Tom Conti as the top editor; and Bebe Neuwirth as Platt’s editor. While no one involved had the stomach to accurately portray what goes on a paper like the Post, the producers made do metaphorically by just having most of the paper’s staffers—reporters and editors—follow a “boff first, ask questions later” policy with potential story subjects.

And Platt’s allowed to be Platt, and not always nice. In one early episode he’s implicated in a murder. We don’t realistically think he’s guilty, but within the confines of the show some of his colleagues actually think he might have beaten a woman to death. I guess that’s why it got canceled.

Mar 09, 2008
Posted by: Hitsville

“The Wire,” season five, episode ten:David “McNutty” Simon prints the legend

To end “The Wire,” the searching, searing portrait of Baltimore that has held us transfixed for five seasons, creator David Simon looked into his soul for an ending. What he chose is less important than what motivated him to choose it. In interviews, he is fond of talkinghbo-the-wire-final-season.jpg about the Greek tragedies, with their lessons of hubris, of talking back to the gods. But while hubris is definitely one of his faults, he has instead found himself, in this fifth and final season of this show, in a fix caused by a different character flaw.

Like James Stewart’s Scottie in that most modern of tragedies, “Vertigo,” he is caught up in an obsession. Scottie, having once had a glimpse of a dream of reality in the form of a woman named Madeleine, tries, when given the chance, when meeting her again, to turn his reality back into that dream.

As I recall, this plan does not end well for Scottie, and worse for Madeleine.

In this metaphor, David Simon is Scottie, and “The Wire” is Madeleine. We, the viewers, are Midge, fetchingly played by Barbara Bel Geddes, who I feel does us justice.

Barbara Bel Geddes

And it is unfortunately “The Wire” that ends up falling off the mission bell tower.

. . .

And so this entrancing series ends tonight, after three amazing seasons (one, three and, particularly, four); one quite good one (two); and, finally, one (five) that will forever be given an asterisk, which will lead readers down to this kindly, explanatory notation: “Mr. Simon took leave of his senses during the final season, making comparisons difficult.”

Indeed, after eight puzzling and frequently preposterous episodes, and one compelling one (the ninth, last week, which caught us off guard) we now have a tenth and final one, which reminded us a lot of episode five, about which we wrote: “Simon has presented us with a show divided neatly in two, leaving half the show to two ruinously silly plotlines and the other to ramped-up action and mordant plot twists as good as anything the show has yet offered.”

In point of fact, the scenes tonight involving the street, for the most part, remain reverberating and shocking. We see Michael reborn, the re-invented existential child of Marlo Stansfield and Omar Little. And as for Marlo himself, our last sight of him—alone on a corner, escaped from a civilized party, bleeding, grinning with some odd triumph—is a truly postmodern image, a man outside of our society, yet suddenly detached from his own as well, and suddenly exhilarated, recklessly, by the alienation. For caring enough about his personality to conceive of this portrait, Simon (and his amazing collaborators) must be given credit for a perverse humanism and a willingness to follow their creations to uncomfortable, challenging places.

And yet, from this abstract, shuddering tableau we are jerked back by Simon’s infantile obsessions with his old employer, the Baltimore Sun. While we were pleased, last week, to see some of those obsessions held back, if only for 58 minutes or so, they are arisen again this week through much of the 93 minutes HBO allowed him to close out his series.

His fabricator, Scott “Smeagol” Templeton, claims to have seen the imaginary serial killer of homeless men in the very act of abducting a new victim, into an unmarked van right outside the Baltimore Sun offices. (While the front of the Sun faces busy Calvert Street, the rear seems to open back into a Boschian scene of homelessness and depravity. Sort of like the wardrobe in “The Chronicles of Narnia.”)

Now, our man McNutty in the police department invented one serial killer; Templeton, not to be outdone, invented his own as well. It’s not clear from his story which of these two imaginary characters is the one committing this particular imaginary crime. Anyway, Templeton’s nemesis, intrepid city editor Gus Haynes, is believing none of this, as would any other sentient being. Since Simon has populated the upper Sun management of his show with fancypants effetes who, being cartoons, are not sentient, they eat up everything Smeagol says with a spoon.

Having to watch these scenes next to those of Stanfield and the rest of the drug-gang developments is disconcerting, like flipping between “The Godfather” on one HBO channel and, oh, I don’t know, “Beethoven’s Third” on another. (Or “The Godfather III.”)

Talk on the internets is that Simon had to crunch a normal 13-week season down into ten, and that’s why so much of the plot developments this seasons have been so rushed. Many threads are being wound up tonight, with complex emotional and political responses being limned almost too quickly to grasp or challenge. It kinda went like this:

Gregs tells Daniels and Perlman about McNutty’s fake serial killer; they tell the mayor, who tells Rawls and Daniels they must cover it all up or they will be forced to take the fall; Daniels is willing to do so, but Perlman, his lover, reminds him it will cost her career, and his ex wife, also, says –

Wait a minute. Why would Rawls and Daniels have to take the fall? They say, “Hey we caught a cop falsifying evidence. Indeed, he even abused the bodies of dead people to do so. (Ew!) Lock him up and throw away the key!” Why would they be implicated? And Perlman? She is in the city attorney’s office. What did she do wrong? It’s not her fault the cops misused a wiretap.

OK, anyway, Daniels’ ex wife, too, says if he makes a stink the city council president will bring up that slip from his early career and it will sink him and her career on the council. Meanwhile, Levy, Marlo’s lawyer, smells something wrong in the prosecution case, and forces Perlman to offer a deal, so Marlo gets off. So McNutty and Freamon go have a drink, and –

Wait a minute; why would Daniels’s ex wife be compromised? How come Clay Davis can get away with wholesale corruption and remain a viable political figure, but not the ex Mrs. Daniels, for some unspecified crime twice removed from her? And how does Marlo get off scott-free? Why is public or political pressure a factor in an imaginary homeless killer (as if folks cared what happened to homeless folks) but not when the mastermind of the city’s drug underworld and a mass murder of no small skills himself walk way from this lineup of heinous charges?

OK anyway, then-

Wait, we have more questions. Why aren’t McNutty and Freamon more incensed at Marlo’s getting off? Of all the bureaucratic foul-ups and absurdities over five seasons of “The Wire,” isn’t this by far, by far, the worst? And … why doesn’t Perlman just use her incriminating tape-recording to get Levy summarily arrested, removing him from Marlo’s case and leaving the gangster at the mercy of a less-sophisticated representation? And… why doesn’t the state use the threat of the death penalty to try to turn Chris Parlow against Marlo? And … to get back to McNutty’s fake serial killer, don’t so many folks know about it at this point that it would be impossible to keep it a secret? Would a meeting of fully half a dozen people, including the mayor and the two top police commissioners, convene to discuss an obstruction-of-justice conspiracy? And …

. . .

Unfortunately, the questions about the police department thread pale next to those in the newsroom. The silliest thing about the episode is a shot in the closing montage, as Smeagol accepts his Pulitzer, while the Fancypants Duo look on proudly. It’s telling that, over ten episodes, Simon never got around to telling us what Templeton would get his Pulitzer for.

After the homeless serial killer becomes big news, we are told that Templeton is out covering the homeless, focusing on “the Dickensian aspect.” But we never hear what stories, exactly, he’s working on, or how the paper expects to win a Pulitzer behind it, besides a reference that in some way the governor (!) has taken action because of something the Sun wrote. (Homeless is such an over-covered story that it’s hard to imagine why a big-city paper would take it on as a Pulitzer project. The idea that a paper can win a Pulitzer for merely writing about quote-unquote the homeless is another example of the crayons Simon is using in his portrayal of the newsroom.)

The intrepid Haynes collects a file on Templeton’s offenses, but we never see him present the evidence, and we never hear how the editors respond. Instead, various Sun staffers are disappeared, like the bodies in the vacants. (You can see Simon in the corner of one shot in the newsroom, seemingly unconcerned about his inadequate plotting.) The problem, here again, are the crayons Simon is coloring with. The mini-scandal at the Sun that he got his panties in an uproar about involved a few small but disturbing stories by a reporter named Jim Haner; in “The Wire,” Templeton is making up quotes, characters, whole stories; he invents calls to himself from a serial killer, embellishes war stories from a homeless vet and even puts himself at the scene of an attempted kidnapping! And then Simon sets all of that against a pair of mincing top editors who beam with pride at everything Smeagol does.

. . .

In the end, Simon let his didacticism, and his knuckleheaded leftism, get in the way of his show. Besides our last glimpse of Marlo, there was the clever scene of Syndor chatting up Judge Phelan, an homage to the conversation McNulty had with the judge in the very first episode, so many years ago. Those few seconds made us happy; but that just makes us think about how Simon pulled his punches with the fate of McNulty, his grimy alter ego. (Why is Simon still out for Haner’s head, so many years on, but Greggs so quick to forgive McNulty’s crimes?)

We’re sorry to say we’re glad ”The Wire” is over, and we hope Simon will chill for a bit on the subject of the Baltimore Sun. That’s to much to hope for, however, based on this just-posted interview with Simon on Salon. Here’s a key passage:

The issue that’s being debated here is whether or not a second-tier regional paper—that once covered its city, that was trying to get better at explaining the nuances and the particular details of life in the streets of its city and in its boardrooms and its council chambers and in city hall—is becoming thinner and thinner. And what they’re able to capture of the city is thinner and thinner. That’s what we depicted. And incredibly, the entire onanistic, self-absorbed, psychically wounded, worried-about-tomorrow world of journalism had nothing to say about that.

But of course, Hitsville and many other places explained that Simon’s vision of journalism was narcissistic and blindered. Simon wants the Sun to have foreign bureaus and not care about the Internet. In this regard, his vision coincided perfectly with the Sun’s management and that of its corporate owners for many years. It was only after that became financially untenable that the cuts came. Simon attributes the drop-off in younger readers to the Internet, when of course that has been a steady trend in newspaper for decades.

Simon also tries to portray those who criticize his show as journalists touchy about criticism of the industry. That, too, isn’t true: actually, his critics have said, almost uniformly, only this: That his obsessions have created bad art.

————

If you’re interested, Hitsville’s analyses of this season of “The Wire” are available below …

Episode one: As a journalist, David Simon is a pretty good showrunner
Episode two: David Simon continues to go crazy
Episode three: David Simon and the obsession that passeth all understanding
Episode four: “They call me Mr. McNutty!”
Episode five: David “McNutty” Simon and the Quantum of Solace!
Episode six: McNutty says, “I drink your milkshake!”
Episode seven: Preposterouser and preposterouser!
Episode eight: Whenever I call you friendo!
Episode nine: The Passion of the McNutty

… with additional tangential expatiations on David Simon’s growing leave-taking of his senses here and here.

Finally, there’s a list of a lot of the ancillary reading of this season of “The Wire” here.

Mar 02, 2008
Posted by: Hitsville

“The Wire,” season five, episode eight: The Passion of the McNutty

hbo-the-wire-final-season.jpgMuch as we hate to admit it, the penultimate episode of the fifth and final season of “The Wire,” shown tonight on HBO, was a true and brilliant return to form for David “McNutty” Simon, the crackpot genius whose comic failings we have been charting with such gusto in this space. The show was full of drama and pathos; chilling images, absurdist red herrings and the thrilling plot turns; marvelous acting, complex political maneuverings, and loose ends brought together mordantly. Indeed, all of the things we have known and loved about this show—all of the things that have been so irritatingly absent this season—were back.

The universe is a ticking clock; but the earth is, as the poet said, an old chaos. We are accordingly buffeted by precise mechanisms and random events; each of these forces play their roles tonight. It is a delight to see the various pairings here—Daniels and Perlman; Levy and Herc; Marlo and Chris—ponder their workings and their mischief. And clocks, too, play a role in Marlo’s downfall, Freamon’s redemption, even McNutty’s foolish imaginary serial killer, as the time runs out on Kima’s forbearance.

Watching “The Wire” this season has been much like a succession of painful dental procedures. We know, we believe, it will end sometime, but it scarcely makes the individual steps on the journey less discomfiting. And it hasn’t helped as own suspicions grew, with each passing visit, that the person in whom we’d entrusted ourselves—David Simon—was taking leave of his senses.

We don’t know whether it is due to a Dostoyeveskian moment of lucidity or an accident; a respite, sheer chance, or a incipient mutiny on the part of his crew or perhaps his masters at HBO as the fifth season progressed; but we are just happy that this particular episode didn’t suck beans the way the others have, and we are suddenly and giddily optimistic about the last.

(The last episode, according to the HBO schedule, will be 93 minutes long; if you are Tivo-ing, it might be smart to record the immediately following program as well, so you don’t lose the final three minutes. The TV sites are reporting, incidentally, that there will be no on-demand version of the last episode available the week before its formal showing.)

The bad old days of the dual imaginary serial killers are behind us. The aftertaste lingers, but we have distractions. Now that the absurd and unbelievable plot contortions of Scott “Smeagol” Templeton’s abuses are past, we can savor a chase: Intrepid city editor Gus Haynes is out to expose the fabricator, and the hunt is limned with a great deal of style and intrigue.

Similarly, over in the police department, we hear almost nothing of McNutty’s own serial killer itself, though he is now dealing with the consequences of his creation. But we’ve forgotten about it in any case, because Freamon’s wiretapping of the Stansfield gang produces the information the department needs to haul in the whole lot—Marlo, Chris and Cheese among them. This too, is handled with drive, economy and panache of “The Wire” of old, like the cop lying in a field doing surveillance slapping bugs.

After episode after episode of utter foolishness surrounding Clay Davis, even that thread of the show pays off, in an underplayed but powerful tête-à-tête between the mountebank state senator and a very cool Freeman. After several episodes in which he chewed the scenery, delighting his partisans but not impressing the rest of us, actor Isiah Whitlock Jr. here gets to play Davis down: reflective, sharp and lethal. We’re delighted to see as well that the Davis plot strain is brought back into the main action.

Now, not everything is hunky dory:

° Since David Simon’s bugaboo is the Tribune Company, we are forced to listen to more of his proselytizing. One character utters this cludgy line: “These newspaper chain guys just don’t give a fuck, do they?” It’s amazing how the ear of Simon and his writers, generally so resonant, go tinny in the newsroom. Indeed, the show still flirts with the narrative incoherence that has been driving us batty this season, all because of Simon’s nostalgia for the good old get-me-rewrite days. For example. Haynes asks a veteran reporter at the paper to look into Templeton’s stories. “Quiet, subtle, discreet,” Haynes says. So the reporter walks into the paper’s library and announces, “I need you to give me a global printout of everything under Scott Tempelton’s byline… all of it, every edition!” You can also see how far back in the past Simon is living, as well. Neither Haynes nor the reporter was familiar with the internets, a mysterious contraption that lets one read the work of newspaper reporters in the comfort of one’s home, with the help of a newfangled device called a “personal computer.” (Every newsroom in the world, incidentally, also has an in-house computer database of the stories it publishes.)

° We have refrained from mentioning this in the past, mostly from exhaustion at charting the manifold exasperating plotting this season. But we will note here that the chances of a lawyer like Levy hiring an ex-cop like Herc and making him part of his inner circle of drug-ring conspirators is slightly less than zero. However this plays out, whether Levy figures out that Herc gave the cops Marlo’s phone number or not, the initial implausibility of this makes the whole thread a joke.

° And Simon can’t resist getting in some new Pulitzer digs at his fancypants top editors. Simon is so wrong on the subject of newspapering that you just want to smack him. Does he really think that trying to win Pulitzer prizes is a bad thing? You can chuckle at the process, but the same sort of routines go on at the NY and LA Times and most other good newspapers. The editors at the Sun are just getting their staff into the game, trying to get them the national recognition they deserve. In “The Wire,” as the effete editors smack their lips, it’s like something out of “I, Claudius.” Simon remains a knucklehead.

Some other interesting aspects of this episode:

° The word “evacuate” turns up again, this time in its scatological sense. In the first episode, Simon’s mouthpiece, Haynes, makes a big deal about a reporter’s using the word “evacuate” incorrectly. Simon and Haynes were wrong about that, on about five levels. There’s a certain justice here in the word being used here again in this sense, because Simon was full of crap the first time he used it.

° There are two plot threads to watch next week. One is Levy: Who is his source in the court house? What will become of Herc? The other is the internal police investigation that we assume will occur after Kima spills the beans on McNulty’s crazy scheme.

° Something must be done about Steve Earle’s facial hair.

° There was a dig at Showtime’s “Dexter.” “Check this out,” Dukie says to Michael, pointing at a show on the TV. ”There’s a serial killer, but he only be killin’ other serial killers!”

° We have to note the passing of Snoop. If memory serves, we first caught a glimpse of her spraying a corner from the back of a motorcycle. Her arresting presence came again at the start of the fourth season, buying a gunpowder-driven staple gun with a street patois that was both touching and filled with menace. As Chris’ horrifying sidekick, stoic and frighteningly amoral, she embodied the show’s most degraded humanity, but also one of its most elegant tropes: Amid this unfortunate city’s thousands of unfortunates, she was an urban success story, performing admirably in a position perfectly suited to her talents.

* And we say goodbye to Bug and Dukie as well and perhaps Michael too. While in this season Simon has gotten a little precious about it, there is an enormously touching strain of humanism that has run through the portrayals of many of the supporting characters, no matter where they end up. (Part of this is due to the participation of novelist George Pellicanos, who has shown himself a master of this in his crime novels.) While our glimpse of Namond is two pat by half, there is something truly Dickensian, in the most elevated, and bleakest, sense of the word, as we see Michael and Dukie part, one a child and one with no more childhood to fall back on. Dukie recalls a moment he and Michael shared from one of the first episodes of last season, a moment any child might invest with deep significance: an ice cream after a scary run-in with an opposing gang. Michael is sad about parting with his makeshift family, and does his best to humor Dukie. But in his face you can see something missing as he endeavors to conjure up in his mind the moment from his childhood. He tries, but he can’t remember.

————

If you’re interested, Hitsville’s analyses of this season of “The Wire” are available below …

Episode one: As a journalist, David Simon is a pretty good showrunner
Episode two: David Simon continues to go crazy
Episode three: David Simon and the obsession that passeth all understanding
Episode four: “They call me Mr. McNutty!”
Episode five: David “McNutty” Simon and the Quantum of Solace!
Episode six: McNutty says, “I drink your milkshake!”
Episode seven: Preposterouser and preposterouser!
Episode eight: Whenever I call you friendo!

… with additional tangential expatiations on David Simon’s growing leave-taking of his senses here and here.

Finally, there’s a list of a lot of the ancillary reading of this season of “The Wire” here.

Feb 17, 2008
Posted by: Hitsville

“The Wire,” season five, episode seven: Preposterouser and preposterouser!

hbo-the-wire-final-season.jpg

The fifth season of “The Wire” is David Simon’s Iraq. Backed with faulty intelligence and a cadre of wacked-out true believers, he picked the wrong target and went in unprepared. Slightly desperate, he gambled on a plot surge (I can continue this metaphor indefinitely, if I needed to) two episodes ago: the death of Prop Joe, a poignant a moment as the show has yet offered, which is saying something; and the menacing return of Omar. It can’t be gainsaid that things are slightly better; yet, as in Iraq, that just brings matters down to the realm of ongoing disaster, and there’s no end in sight.

I have, frankly, nothing new to say about McNutty’s invented homeless serial killer or the machinations of Smeagol of the Sun, the brooding fabricator whose “precious” is fame as a reporter. Their plot lines come together early on tonight. If McNutty had not created the killer, Smeagol, it turns out, would have had to invent him, which, actually, he does in any case. This is complicated, so I will go over it again: McNutty invented a serial murderer of homeless men, who does not actually kill people; Smeagol, independently, created a fake call to himself from his own killer, who, in addition to not actually killing anyone as well, doesn’t actually exist either. This creates the very real possibility that the two imaginary serial killers might bump into each other on the street while they were not killing people.

In this context, it makes perfect sense that McNutty would call Seamgol and pretend to be the serial killer and talk about the people he isn’t killing; fortunately, at the time he calls, Smeagol isn’t on the other line with his imaginary killer talking about the people he isn’t killing. Meanwhile, back at the police station, McNutty’s plan has finally paid off and he is suddenly dispensing manpower throughout the department. (Why the department would hand such responsibility to the guy who has systematically alienated every one of his bosses is not explained.) The other of the show’s cast members, meantime, politely refrain from asking any of the myriad obvious questions that would expose these quizzical scenarios, and from merely snickering in disbelief as well.

Those of us who watch with no little concentration each week are at a loss to explain what is happening; at this point it all involves helicopters, cell phones placed in kryptonite-lined bags, and a magical device, sported by Freamon, that looks like a cross between a Blackberry and a Kindle and … well it’s not clear what it does. Clarke Peters is looking slightly sheepish, these days. Forced to recite the worst lines of dialogue “The Wire” has yet proffered while explaining what the device does, he tries to keep a straight face by imagining that he is Alec Guinness in “Star Wars,” expatiating about the Force. But we can see it is hard on him. Like Bunk, Peters didn’t sign up for this.

Bunk is now coming into his own; he was the first character we saw this season, and his story arc suggests that he, along with intrepid city editor Gus Haynes, will ultimately be our hero. Bunk’s had at least two previous moments on “The Wire.” In season one, he and McNulty inspect a murder victim’s apartment, digging up evidence and piercing together what happened, uttering nothing but variations of the word “fuck.” And in season two, there’s a fabulous moment when McNulty gets called in the middle of the night to come pull Bunk together after a sexual misadventure. (Bunk had cheated on his wife; afterwards, at the woman’s apartment, drunk as a skunk, he tried to burn his clothes to hide any olfactory evidence of his actions. Bunk had, fortunately, taken the clothes off before embarking on this plan of action, but hadn’t quite thought through what he would then wear home instead.)

Bunk is now methodically trying to nail Marlo using good old-fashioned police work. The repercussions of McNutty’s plan confront him at every turn, however, and much of the time his eyes are afire with anger. His counterpart, at the Sun, is Gus Haynes, in David Simon’s universe a saintlike figure, now hot on the trail of Smeagol’s deceptions. Since he is Smeagol’s boss, he could just ask him about this in person, but “The Wire” is at pains to show that Mrs. & Mrs. Fancypants Editors, who lisp a lot and beam with pride whenever Smeagol is around, would take the fabricator’s side.

Haynes is left to grit his teeth when he sees his nemesis get front-page play with his latest self-aggrandizing story about getting called by an imaginary serial killer, so he goes to a corner watering hole to hang out with some cops and do some police work of his own. He doesn’t even notice Richard Belzer at the bar.

The Clay Davis story line comes to fruition this week, abruptly, amid a compressed time frame so extreme it seems like Davis hires a lawyer just before court that day, sits through the trial—voir dire, testimony, deliberations and verdict—that afternoon, and gets out in time to get on that evening’s news to crow about his exoneration. This sequence may be the most cartoony, unbelievable event in “The Wire” thus far this season, which is also saying something.

Our last best hope is Omar, who is now … God, wrathful and omnipotent. His most compelling scene comes when he grabs one of Marlo’s henchmen on a side street. He recognizes him as former muscle for Alvin Avon Barksdale, now shuffling drugs around for Marlo. Omar’s modus operandi right now is merely to wound Marlo’s myrmidons, leaving them to deliver his taunts at Marlo back to the boss. After what might be described as an intriguing disquisition on the difference between the practical and transcendental concepts of free will and moral responsibility, Omar shakes his head with irritation and spatters the guy’s brain against a wall.

Making an appearance on Michael’s corner shortly afterward, Omar seems frail and vulnerable. (Whether this is a feint remains to be seen.) Omar is thinking large about the world he inhabits in a way he didn’t before. In the past he has been an articulate defender of “the game”’s rules. He seems now to be losing patience with it.

Marlo, incidentally, is MIA this week, as are Chris and Snoop. Their absences aren’t building the desired tension; rather, given the tediousness of the fake serial killer story and the Clay Davis trial, we just feel a bit ripped off. One of the many sadnesses of Iraq is the resources squandered. In David Simon’s quagmire, Omar and Bunk are all we have to remind us of what we are missing.

————

If you’re interested, Hitsville’s analyses of this season of “The Wire” are available below …

Episode one: As a journalist, David Simon is a pretty good showrunner
Episode two: David Simon continues to go crazy
Episode three: David Simon and the obsession that passeth all understanding
Episode four: “They call me Mr. McNutty!”
Episode five: David “McNutty” Simon and the Quantum of Solace!
Episode six: McNutty says, “I drink your milkshake!”

… with additional tangential expatiations on David Simon’s growing leave-taking of his senses here and here.

Finally, there’s a list of a lot of the ancillary reading of this season of “The Wire” here.

Feb 10, 2008
Posted by: Hitsville

“The Wire,” season five, episode six: McNutty says, “I drink your milkshake!”

Watching “The Wire” these last few weeks is like dealing with a bad case of mental tinnitus. Try as you might, you can’t get that racket out of your head.

The racket is your brain saying, “… but, that just makes no sense!”

Since David Simon, the creator of “The Wire,” went down this crazy trail, he’s left so many open questions that it’s hard to focus on what’s happening on screen. Each week, the insane stuff that had left you quizzical last week gets trumped by whole new implausibilities. For example: As we have seen, Detective Jimmy “McNutty” McNulty has invented a serial killer of homeless men. He’s done this because the city is not giving the department enough resources to continue to pursue Marlo the supervillan and his two horrifying familiars, Chris and Snoop. McNutty’s logic has been unclear from the start; if the powers that be didn’t care about all those bodies in the buildings, why would they care about a few homeless guys?

That was the annoying buzz in your head from last week’s episode. This week, there’s a new one. McNutty’s serial killer has (fictitiously) killed five homeless guys thus far. But during the same period, Snoop and Chris have dispatched six! (The three in the home invasion, Prop Joe, Hungry Man and Omar’s backup.) Why does McNutty have to invent a serial killer when there are already two running around?

“The Wire” still has a lot going for it. The screen shudders whenever Marlo or his gang are present. And Omar is back, too.

But is it just me or are the episodes increasingly becoming dominated by the parts of the show that are implausible? And is the inferior stuff beginning to seep into the good parts? Tonight, for example, we see several characters come to hear that Prop Joe was killed. Everyone just takes the news in stride. But wouldn’t the death of one of the city’s major drug lords be of some interest to, you know, the police who are pursuing the drug dealers? Bunk is chasing a drug dealer, Marlo. He hears that one of the other city kingpins, Prop Joe, has been killed. Does he then think, Hmmm, maybe there’s a connection? No!

Isn’t this, you know, odd?

McNutty’s new gambit is so complicated it beggars description. His original plan was to invent a serial homeless killer and then get to apportion out the new detecting resources that came his way to the Marlo investigation. (The show doesn’t explain how he would be able to do this, but whatever.) The mayor holds a press conference declaring that the city would make the homeless-killer investigation his top priority, but McNutty discovers to his chagrin that the new resources don’t magically appear. (In what has become another mark of the weaknesses of “The Wire” this year, no one at the press conference asks the mayor the obvious question, namely whether the city would actually devote more resources to the investigation.)

Due to some other developments that are too dreary to relate, McNutty takes his scheme to a whole new level, to somehow invent new homicide victims without actually having to produce human carcasses. Here again, things in “The Wire” just get preposterouser. In the new logic of David Simon’s fifth season, folks will somehow care more about dead people who don’t actually exist, again as opposed to the real dead bodies Snoop and Chris are leaving all over town.

There are other weaknesses, too; Simon’s lancing way with a plot development and the arc of a given episode are weak tonight. Last week, Omar leaped out a fifth-story window when Chris and Snoop ambushed him. We learn what happened to him a few minutes in tonight—he apparently hid in janitor’s closet of the apartment building. Since Chris and Snoop have been combing the neighborhood and the city’s hospitals looking for Omar, it’s kind of strange they didn’t just think of looking in the nearest place a guy who’d hurt himself jumping out a five-story window might have crawled to.

Doh!

Then Omar limps out—in full daylight, plainly wounded and vulnerable. Wouldn’t he wait until night? The episode ends tonight on McNutty’s dreary homeless scheme; wouldn’t it have been a lot more dramatic to have Omar AWOL the whole episode, only to come crawling malevolently back to life at the end instead?

One other odd thing: As we saw last week, fabricating reporter Scott “Smeagol” Templeton claimed to have been called by McNutty’s serial killer. (The one who doesn’t exist.) McNutty doesn’t even find it odd that the reporter has done this. Anyway, David Simon has been desperately trying to come up with a way to make McNutty’s fake killer plausibly help out the department’s Marlo investigation. This being “The Wire,” they want to tap someone’s phone. I’m no detecting expert, but are wiretaps really an effective tool against a serial killer? Did they catch Jeffery Dahmer or the BTK killer that way? If you know who the killer is, you can just follow him, right? What’s he going to say on the phone, “No, I can’t go bowling tonight, Bert—I, uh, have to go look for a drifter to kill.”

Anyway, McNutty and the ADA go to talk to their old friend Judge Phelan about trying to tap the phone of the serial killer. They actually spend a few minutes discussing tapping the phone of Smeagol. Phelan pooh-poohs the idea, framing the issue of being one of getting into a pissing match with the paper. (“You don’t want to pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel,” he says, har de har har.) Still, he makes it seem as if tapping the phone of a reporter gathering news might somehow be an option. Has that ever happened?

But, leaving all that aside, why was McNutty trying to get a tap on the phone of a reporter he knew was making the whole story up? Presumably he just wants the tap for permission to go after Marlo’s phone. But wouldn’t the tap expose Smeagol’s deception if he said he’d been called a particular time but the tap revealed no conversation took place?

That voice again! “But, that just makes no sense….”

————

If you’re interested, Hitsville’s analyses of this season of “The Wire” are available below …

Episode one: As a journalist, David Simon is a pretty good showrunner
Episode two: David Simon continues to go crazy
Episode three: David Simon and the obsession that passeth all understanding
Episode four: “They call me Mr. McNutty!”
Episode five: David “McNutty” Simon and the Quantum of Solace!

… with additional tangential expatiations on David Simon’s growing leave-taking of his senses here and here.

Finally, there’s a list of a lot of the ancillary reading of this season of “The Wire” here.