Friday, April 25, 2008

On Hiatus.

Could be a cliff-hanger, to-be-continued thing. Could be canceled mid-story. Could be a "we'll make those Deadwood movie" thing. Who knows. Until then:

#30#

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Six days without a post! Hmmm. Maybe this is why?

Stayin' alive, stayin' alive....

On the other hand, I HAVE been doing a lot of posts for The Bastard Machine. So it's not like I'm going to Opening Day at the Gi....well, yeah, I did that too.

So does having two blogs, one podcast and a job that requires me to write three columns a week minimum put me more or less at risk than, say, some slacker being snarky in his robe for $10 a post?

I think I'll go take a walk.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"Friday Night Lights" gets saved. Now, does it need fixing?

You may have heard already, but NBC renewed "Friday Night Lights" as it announced an ambitious (and confusing) 52-week schedule for next year. One of the big bits of news, of course, was that "FNL" was coming back, partly because DirecTV cut a deal with NBC and will air the series first, then NBC will get it back. There will be 13 episodes available to DirecTV customers in the fall, then the series will go back to NBC (for the same 13 eps.) at midseason. I think this is a great idea and one we'll probably see again in the future. Anything to save struggling, deserving series. The question now is, what needs to be done to "FNL" to make it as great as Season 1? Anything?

Also, NBC announced a spin-off of "The Office" and a four-episode order for a half-hour, Thursday version of "Saturday Night Live." Maybe this one will be funny?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The First Cut Is the Deepest. But It's the Deep Cuts That Really Get You.

I grew up listening to music - mostly really great music - all around me. Now, I don't claim to have the parents who listened to classic jazz albums and shit like that. But I'm the youngest of five. I got all the influences. The first album that I ever learned the lyrics to - both sides - was "What's Going On" from Marvin Gaye. I'll take that. I'm almost as proud of that as making sure my daughter's first concert was Wilco - a band she loves (at age 6). And my brothers and sisters were Beatles fans, which is beyond a cliche (but helpful in the musical evolution).

Anyway, despite all of that, the first album that I ever bought with my own money - a key distinction - was the soundtrack to "American Graffiti." And I loved it. I bought it in the Bay Area while visiting my sisters on a visit from SoCal. I played it all the time. Over and over again (a listening pattern that remains today). I learned most of the songs. Even the ones I didn't like. I took it home with me on the plane. I was home for maybe five minutes when I raced across the street with it to show my best friend, Eric. I was going to play him all the great tracks.

He was in his room, with our other good friend, Pat. They had just discovered a new band and a new album, which they were cranking: Aerosmith "Rocks."

I had just become, instantly, the uncoolest of the three. I mean, you only have to hear "Back In the Saddle" once to realize you shouldn't put on "Maybe Baby" right after it. But I had the album. And though all was immediately lost as soon as I walked in, I still - mistakenly - made a play for how great it was. They didn't care. We listened to Aerosmith for an hour at least. Then I played a track or two of "American Grafitti" and suffered the unhip indignity of it all. Maybe that's why I went on to become a music critic - to always be out front, to never follow.

Anyway, here's my question: What was the first album you ever bought for yourself? And how did it affect/change you - or not?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"The Riches." Are you watching. And an Eddie Izzard podcast.

So, tonight was the Season 2 premiere of "The Riches." This is a show I love, flaws and all, and I think they recovered nicely from some of the woes in the middle of Season 1. I just find the ambition here something that's important to back. If you watched, let's hear some thoughts.

And it looks like I'll be interviewing Eddie Izzard in S.F. in late April. In the pod cave. Should be a rush.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bad casting decisions. Bad directing. Can they be overcome?

Maybe with good writing. But even that might be debatable. I bring this up because of two recent series you may have decided to check in on (even though I tried to scare you off). The first was Friday's premiere of "The Return of Jezebel James." You've got Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose set to make the rapid fire wit of Amy Sherman-Palladino come alive and what happens? The pilot completely implodes. The second episode fixes some of the mistakes made Friday, but Sherman-Palladino not only wrote the first episode, she directed it, too. She's got Posey jumping through dumb hoops for 22 minutes and it's just painful to watch.

What did you think? The pacing was a disaster. But the direction was the real culprit. Why have Posey act like she's drunk AND her house is on fire? The second episode resets the tone to almost correct, but by then it's way to late.

As for casting, look no further than Paul Giamatti - a wonderful actor - in "John Adams." Did anyone else find him as off-putting as I did? He constantly made me aware that I was watching Paul Giamatti trying to be John Adams. That's a bad start. But it did distract from the glacial pace and the dry writing. Part 2 ran 90 minutes and was infinitely better, giving us history and action and consequence and daring patriotism. I hate to say it, but in Part 3, the onus returns to Giamatti and this time, once you're used to him as Adams, the writing makes him unlikable. Petty, vain, a terrible father and a distant husband - no wonder it took so long for anyone to attempt to rewrite history to give him his proper due, as David McCullough did. But still, that doesn't translate. And just wait until he and Abigail (Laura Linney) have the most unromantic sex possible in Part 4.

Tough to overcome. All of it.

Thoughts on these shows and other TV series where the casting didn't work or the direction (tone) was way off? Let's keep away from failed writing at this point. That list is much too long.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

All tapped out of "The Wire."

Seems strange, no? Even now. I'm sure I'll go back and rewatch the season at some point, but as it stands, I'm already swamped with shows and moving forward (I've gotta say - four parts of "John Adams" had me wanting a lot more "Wire" instead...).

Now I can tell you my dirty secret, which I held closely for a long, long time this season: Once I realized the unprecedented media attention "The Wire" was getting this season - and not just because of the David Simon/Baltimore Sun angle, but because it was last chance on the bandwagon - I lost my enthusiasm for doing interviews/podcasts with Simon or jumping too heavily into the whole "Wire" world outside of this blog. That's nothing against Simon - who remains one of my favorite television writers, but there was just such enormous saturation that I didn't want much part of it. I like to be away from the numbers, as The Jam once sang. At work I was being bombarded with e-mails from publicists at different publications with all things "The Wire" - look who talks here, guess what Simon says there, blah blah blah.

So, that's why I wasn't in the pack. Now, here's hoping he gets his New Orleans show.

Moving on: I just wanted to thank everyone who came to TGTV, now just called TIM GOODMAN (yes, I just referenced myself in the third person), because it turned out to be a really intelligent bunch of people talking about television - and that was a great luxury (for proof, look at some of the comments left by people on my sfgate.com stories; most claim not to watch TV at all and only want to post to say it's all crap and quote the "vast wasteland" speech or some other kind of boring ignorance). Here and on The Bastard Machine, I've been blessed with people who don't have knee-jerk reactions, realize how great (and yes, how lame) television can be and have the intellectual capacity to discuss it rationally.

Thanks for that.

This is just an item to say starting soon - probably tomorrow - I'll be having regular content here. Already, I've increased the volume on The Bastard Machine, so have a peek over there as well. Just adding to what I wrote in a previous post here about what direction this site will take, I'm thinking about posing broader, perhaps more philosophical or - as we say in journalism - more "thumb-sucker" questions. They may not be as frequent as stuff on The Bastard Machine, but I may put to you Big Picture questions. So have at them with verve and intelligence when they do show up.

Monday, March 10, 2008

"The Wire." The end.

It's fitting that David Simon dubbed this episode, "#30#" - old school journalism for the end of the story. There was a lot that was fitting in the last episode. So much to write about. And yet, not. I could probably go on and on - yeah, like I haven't already on this blog and in The Chronicle - but at some point you can't say anymore. I wonder if Simon and his stable of writers ever thought that. They did one of the best jobs of telling a complete and compelling story as has ever been done on television. It was thorough and detailed and nuanced and complicated and touching and pointed - on and on. I'm not sure another season would have added more glory to the gold.

And, after putting this last episode off for a very long time - I just couldn't bring myself to watch it early - it's incredibly sad to see it go. And when it was over, I just sat back, arms crossed, and thought on it. And the best I could really come up with is, "Great as usual. What else can you say?" I mean, I may ultimately end up writing more and more about this as the weeks pass, but I honestly don't have too much to say other than the last episode ever didn't let me down. There's something comfortable in that. This series went out as brilliantly as it came in, and I say that knowing finales to seasons are difficult enough, but finales to series are impossible to pull off. No one will ever be entirely happy - perhaps not even the series creator or the writers themselves. Endings are hard. Everybody knows that.

I suspect people might be split into two camps - loving the extended montages that wrapped up so many storylines (which held true to "Wire" tradition) and those who might have preferred a more "Sopranos"-esque ending that left more up to interpretation and left characters and storylines in the ether. Me, I liked the tidy ending because it has been done in the past and hasn't detracted from the quality and, more importantly, why not reward people who have watched five seasons of the most complicated, novelistic stories ever told on television? Hell, "The Wire" is hard work. Always has been. There's no shame in a reward for the effort.

Two things: 1) It ended as about as satisfying as I'd hoped. I loved it. I wanted no more from it - or at least I feel that asking for something more and better and different than what we got would be some unseemly shit. So yeah - I loved it. Period. 2) As a television critic, I hate to see "The Wire" go. Because even though I have faith in other storytellers - and in tales heretofore untold, at least with "The Wire" I know I've seen the best. Everything else to this point is 2nd best. So that passing - it's never good. As a critic, I want to be able to dissect the best that television has to offer. And for five seasons, that was one unbelievably great run. So, without question, it's a little bit of a downer knowing that the crown is retired.

Onward...

A very quick recap, just to credit the writers for deftly closing so many of the complicated plots they uncorked at the start. This was an ambitious season, storytelling-wise, and though many people (including me) had doubts early on, I think all the strands came together just beautifully and were told supremely well. And the wonderful aspect to it all is that most of the main players don't get the justice or end-result they most deserve because it would collapse the machine from the inside. Institutional failure through and through. We saw that in Season 1, Ep. 1. And we saw it here in the series finale. Ass covering of the highest and lowest order. Let's start in reverse this time. Seems fitting.

Once the lie gets found out and the damage is not exactly done - please say you didn't expect swift and complete justice - all that's left is the accounting:

+ McNulty quits. He appears to make good with Beadie. As his last televised act, he brings the homeless guy back home. The question is, of course, what next? We'll never know. Is he happy? Can he NOT be po-lice? Make of it what you will.

+ Lester retires. He's looking pretty happy with those miniatures.

+ Marlo's out of the game. And into real estate? Somewhere Stringer Bell had a good laugh. But that was never Marlo's role. He was never meant to play that. So he gets back in the game. No need to guess what will eventually happen if he lives past the election. There's only two options.

+ Herc is buying drinks – using the expense account, like Levy said. Looks like he'll be doing whatever Levy says from now on and forever. Still mucking it up in the future - no doubt.

+ Scott got his Pulitzer. The bigger the lie.

+ Greeks in business with Slim Charles, et al. The game goes on.

+ Carcetti wins. The sell-out is complete.

+ Fletcher takes over when Gus is moved to the copy desk. But Gus is proud of him. And Gus, well, he bleeds ink. Journalism is what he does. Anyone who thought he'd just walk - forget it. This is more real.

+ Alma's in the deepest of bureaus. Punished for trying to mess up the glory.

+ Valchek! Man, that was one big laugh. “Fits like a glove!”

+ Dukie shooting up. The evolution into the new Bubs is complete.

+ Pearlman as a judge. Daniels as a lawyer. And happy together.

+ Chris getting with Wee Bey - a lot of muscle coming together. Two lifers standing strong.

+ Michael as the new Omar. Savvy fans saw this and the Dukie fate coming a while ago.

+ Bubs at the dinner table. – Finally.

+ Kennard busted. Inevitable.

Corruption and politics, lies concealed, same as it ever was...Yep, this was the grayest of all grays, this series. It nailed human behavior and the actions of institutions and the people within them pretty damned well.

Tidbits from the episode (see, I knew I couldn't be as short as I promised....)

+ Carcetti apoplectic in the opening scene as the lie, in full bloom, was explained to him. A fine job of acting there.

+ “Everybody’s getting what they need behind some make believe.” – Norman.

+ “I wish I was still at the newspaper so I could write on this mess. It’s too fucking good.” – Norman.

+ “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about Bill Rawls. I believe he’s about to have one of those ‘road to Damascus’ moments.” – Norman, absolutely owning the front of the show…

+ The Prezbo cameo. A bearded man. But also a wiser man. Jaded? At the very least, he knew that was the last time he'd ever help Duquan.

+ “Short of any new leads, what can I do? I can’t make shit up, can I?” – McNutty. Oh, that was rich.

+ The look on Jimmy’s face when Freamon says “they know everything.”

+ “Why aren’t we fired? Why aren’t we in fucking bracelets?” – McNutty. I loved this moment of suspended animation, when we all realized that the lie meant everybody was going to hit the ground a little softer than expected. Bounce, even. It was situational ethics across the board.

+ I like how the direction went back to the black and white surveillance camera shots of yore.

+ Governor restores homeless cuts and the Sun takes credit for it based on its coverage when it was really Carcetti’s politics in play.

+ “I expect to be back in the pawn shop unit and you my brother are gonna ride the boat.” Or not, Freamon. And maybe the "not" was better than expected, too.

+ Bubs moral complexity is great. “Man’s making me seem special for doing what the fuck I need to be doing.” He doesn’t want the “good stuff” to get out. Doesn’t think he’s worth it. This is Bub’s cross. Who knew he was Irish?

+ How long before Scott might have killed one of the homeless himself for a story?

+ Bunk: “How are you not in jail?” McNutty: “I don’t know. The lie is so big, people can’t live with it, I guess.”

+ Scott: “You’re not serious?” McNulty: “No. I’m a fucking joke. And so are you.”

+ The shot of the door closing after Scott walks out of Homicide – that’s a call back to the very first episode when the director was trying to help explain who the hell everyone was - a series of closing doors suggested which department they were in - as this rapidly unfolding series pandered to no one from minute one.

+ Levy explains the details to Marlo: “You understand?” Marlo: “Give up the crown.”

+ Herc: “Just doing what I do.” Yeah, Herc, screwing it all up royally.

+ “The tree that doesn’t bend breaks, Cedric.” - Marla Daniels. “Bend too far and you’re already broken.” - Cedric Daniels.

+ Slim Charles killed Cheese. “That was for Joe.”

+ “There you go, giving a fuck when it ain’t your turn to give a fuck.” – Bunk to Kima, both of them back out doing police work, by the book.

+ Sydnor going to Judge Phelan, ala Jimmy in the first season. “Just keep my name out of it.” Yeah, that will happen.

+ Marlo turns into Stringer Bell? Ha. And Clay Davis there to see it. No doubt he’ll get his hands in one of those deep pockets. But Marlo walks out. It’s not him. He wants to be back running corners, maybe back to the beginning, the thrill of it all. Bloodthirsty, for sure. Rebuild the crown maybe?

+ And Michael becomes Omar. Shotgun, too. On purpose – no doubt.

+ Lots of loving shots of Baltimore on the montage. A final nod. A city that gave its all to great television.

+ Nerese and the Daniels file. You knew it would pop back. And Daniels would have stayed put if not for his ex's career ambition. A fine man, even in the end.

+ Natural po-lice. - Landsman at McNulty's fake “wake.” McNulty did the right thing, too. He walked away. It gave everyone the chance to remember the good. Landsman's send off: “He was the black sheep. The permanent pariah. He asked no quarter of the bosses and none was given. He learned no lessons. He acknowledge no mistakes. He was as stubborn a Mick has ever stumbled out of the North East parishes to take a patrolman’s shield. He brooked no authority. He did what he wanted to do and he said what he wanted to say. In the end, he gave you the clearances. He’s natural po-lice.”

+ That, of course, will have a lot of people talking. McNulty's fate. His decision. How he was sent out and remembered and, apparently, forgiven. Only right, then, that he forgave Kima (so did Lester).

+ The shot of McNulty laughing on the table – great.

+ Lester's time in: 32 years. 4 months.

+ McNulty? “He gave us 13 years on the line. Not enough for a pension….”

+ Landsman: “Brother, when you was good, you were the best we had.”

+ And with that, it's time to put on "The Body of An American" by the Pogues and sing it like you mean it.

+ Here's to "The Wire." When it was great it was the best we ever had.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Who's No. 1 when "The Wire" ends? The top dramatic slot is about to be vacant.

So I started my power rankings for the top dramas over at The Bastard Machine.

The Top 5 are up. It took my mind off "The Wire" leaving. I was going to watch the finale today, then decided to pass. Maybe tonight. The show was a gift to TV criticism. It's not like I'm dying to watch the very last one.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

"The Wire," Season 5, Ep. 9: "Late Editions."

There's something about the unrelenting, downbeat nature of "The Wire." And that something is this: Sometimes, it really, really brings you down.

Part of the allure, of course, is that the bleakness of West Baltimore, the futility of the war on drugs, of inner city crime itself and that nature of underfunded, underappreciated and mismanaged institutions meant to add something of worth to society (police, the press, politicians) is so brilliantly portrayed in its realism. "The Wire" is the ultimate example of failure analysis in a drama. Going on the ride is thrilling in its dramatic twists and its dead-on indictment of all that is wrong.

But eventually, well, it just brings you down. Talk about a punch to the gut in this, Ep. 9 of 10. Just as the cops appear to have their biggest victory yet - almost all of Marlo's crew goes down, including the slippery Marlo himself - but the episode ends with the case appearing to be very much in doubt, thanks to Kima outing McNulty's elaborate, ill-advised ruse.

Damn. I haven't watched the finale yet. I've held off, to savor it. I didn't watch any promos, of course, because I have this on DVD. So I have no hint of what's to come. And HBO has promised not to air the last episode On Demand, so that everyone will see it at the same time and the spoiler parade that has plagued this series will be slightly stemmed.

But it looks, just on the face of it, that Kima clearing her conscience could unravel the entire affair, spell enormous trouble for McNulty, Freamon and Sydnor and possibly put everybody - sans Chris - back on the street. (All hail Bunk for old school po-lice work.)

So you get the much-delayed gratification of having the police win one - smiles all around (haven't seen those in some time) - reduced to the ultimate in premature positivity.

Then, as Bubbles appears to be the lone character David Simon and company are going to let off with some redemption, a positive story amid the unrelenting bleakness, we're left with the suggestion that Dukie is the next Bubbles. And the cycle continues.

At least Bug looks to be safe. But what happens when that cash stops coming? Doesn't it look like Michael himself knows the end is near? In a wonderful but heartbreaking scene, he sends off his brother to a possibility of happiness and safety (but no older brother left to lean on), then turns and drops off his best friend at what is, for all intents and purposes, a dead end life. As a viewer, you're just left gutted.

And over at the Baltimore Sun, even though Gus is closing in on Scott, you just have to know that won't end with satisfaction. It can't. Gus will get him on a pattern of lying and if the McNulty fabrication goes public, that gets Scott pulled in even deeper - but still. Simon has talked about serial fabricators skating with the lightest of punishments, so don't expect anything too close to justice on that end.

(By the way, it's just sad to read the Baltimore Sun TV critic write story after story about how bad the ratings are for "The Wire," and saying it could have something to do with a less than compelling newspaper storyline. It's almost like you can see management's puppet strings. "The Wire" has never been about ratings. And every critic knows that ratings are no indication of quality. Besides, in this final season, ratings are of no importance at all. The series is done, in the can, over. Its legacy is not mega-viewers. It's quality content, well-told over five seasons. Period.)

Now, back to the story and, well, where to continue? The return of Namond? Bunny Colvin? The Kenard story being replaced by three outside thugs with machine guns blazing - a story getting bigger, no doubt, every time it's told. Is Herc back to messing things up again?

Oh, and Michael killing Snoop? Yeah, there's that.

The only ray in all of this, and it may be something so small as to be inconsequential, is that Lester could end up getting something on Levy and the leaked grand jury papers that might, just might, prevent the whole Marlo bust from coming completely unraveled. We'll have to see. In the meantime, some quick thoughts:

+ George Pelecanos wrote this one. Stellar.

+ “Deserve got nothing to do with it.” – Snoop. Yeah, except that she deserved what she ultimately got.

+ “The case is in the phones.” – Freamon.

+ “Marlo runs a tighter ship.” – Levy on the difference of how being shot in the line of duty applies to cops and bangers. His people are back out there.

+ Loved the smiles on all the cops faces after finally having some success. Loved Bunk lighting up the cigar.

+ Also a great look from Freamon to Marlo, as if he was thinking, mo-fo, I’m so mad at you right now I can’t even smile. And Marlo, ever the slightest look of being down.

+ One of the most stunning elements of this episode was Marlo coming completely unglued. He totally lost his long-held cool when he found out Omar was calling him out. "My name was on the street?” And getting louder and angrier. When Chris said he didn't need that on his mind, Marlo just explodes. “What the fuck do you know about what I need on my mind, motherfucker.” Man.

+ “My name is my name!” Yep, and Marlo is just now realizing that Omar left him a little present on the street. Maybe Kenard - and all the little Kenards just like him - don't have the same fear of Marlo now. And when they don't have the fear, down comes the crown.

+ “I don’t see the boy snitchin’” – Chris. Marlo: “Neither do I. But you’re ready to bet your future on that?”

+ Landsman says they’ll get more arrests because Chris went down on Bunk’s good po-lice work…And they’ll get more. “And from what? From the Bunk! Just workin’ a file.”

+ “There you sit, like a genital wart. Come on McNulty, show me something.” But McNulty looks like he's got nothing left, literally. Not even the urge to take a drink. One of the well-played directions in this episode was to leave McNulty on the sidelines, everything crashing in front of him.

+ Kima to Jimmy: “Fuck Marlo. Fuck you.”

+ “The Dickensian aspect.” – Scott. “Exactly.” – Whiting. You don’t think that’s going to be repeated in newsrooms for the next few years, coast to coast?

+ Freamon on why McNulty seems so down: “Post-partum depression. It’s the journey, not the destination.” Well, not for McNulty. He wanted the destination to be filled with glory.

+ Good to see Lester tie one on and let it out. Daniels asked him to be up on stage there but he wouldn’t do it. (And maybe that's a good thing if Lester falls, too...)

+ “No need to bring your 9.” – Snoop. Well, Michael can’t be that stupid. He learned from Chris.

+ Naimond! On the Urban Debate League. In a tie, no less. Still got the hair, though. And Bunny. Proud Bunny. Great to see.

+ And yet, Carcetti comes in and looks to steal glory. If the writers wanted to send a strong message about the stench and desperation of politics and politicians, well, message recieved. This was not a good episode for Carcetti.

+ Bunny Colvin is not going to shake the mayor’s hand. No how.

+ “Me, I’m just small potatoes.” – Clay Davis, who, as it turned out, talked about how he bled Stringer Bell dry. A good call back.

+ Freamon just gave Davis a little bit of the old business. A turned table, that’s all.

+ “Reginald? Reginald? I’m you’re fucking sponsor and I don’t believe I ever got a Christian name out of you.” – Walon.

+ Ah, the Bubs speech. Ladies and gentlemen, that's your feel good survivor - probably the one and only - of this hard, cold series.

+ Snoop: “How my hair look? Michael: “You look good, girl.” Sounded like Chris. And: Bang.

+ Dukie watching “Dexter” and laughing. Funny.

+ “I don’t.” Michael choosing not to remember his innocence. And THAT made Dukie sad. He knew then that they could never be on the same level anymore. There's no trips to the amusement park for Michael anymore. He's lost forever.

+There may not be anything more heartbreaking than Dukie's ongoing story. And now, the next Bubbles? That might be too much to take.

And so here we are, on the verge of the finale. I expect a lot, but maybe not all, of the storylines to be wrapped up. The question is, how are you going feel next Sunday at 10 p.m.?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"I've seen the future of rock. And it sucks."

Yeah, but what about TGTV?

(Ah, yes. I really do have a soft spot for Graham Parker, since back in my rock critic days. And he's currently in the 6-CD mix in the car right now. And I just love that line.)

But anyway, as "The Wire" winds down, I thought it might be time to address the future of this blog, since some people have asked me what's next, others are still confused by The Bastard Machine/TGTV duality, still others have claimed (rightly, it turns out) that this site is primarily geared toward "The Wire" and there's the issue of people having trouble/suffering through the annoyance of leaving comments.

Let's go in reverse order:

1. Is leaving comments really a pain? Any other woes?

2. Honestly, it wasn't meant to be a "Wire" only blog. My intentions were many and complicated and probably not too well defined, but it was never about one show. I think it's important to have my "own" blog, since I don't actually "own" The Bastard Machine, despite what all the content lawyers on my block told me I should do to protect my work. My free work. My mistake. So, anyway, I tried to rectify that. Everybody close to me said to do it. Besides, there was a lot of what Variety calls "non-pro" work popping up on SFGate that revolved around television - of course nobody asked me about it - and so why not have my own side project. (Now? I've seen the future of those blogs. And they suck.)

Strangely enough - follow the logic here - I also started a second blog to blog less. Pause. It's true. Over at The Chronicle there's this unspoken pressure to get a lot of hits and blog frequently and blah blah blog. We get e-mail reminders of what blogs are doing well. You can get caught up in that. I mean, it's EASY to blog. Plus, you just press the "publish" button and...well, you know. Instant gratification. Of course, the more you blog, the more hits you get. Feeding the machine, as I say. But then you go on vacation for a couple of weeks and the whole audience implodes and you have to build it up again. Pretty soon you realize what I already knew before I started The Bastard Machine - you're working a second job. For free. This is an industry-wide concern among writers, as it should be. I wrestled with it (as most of you know from me thinking out loud in public before I started TGTV.) There were no good answers then. I still have no good answer now. Because I like to blog. If something is breaking, I'm inclined to write about it. If issues pop up between my three-times-a-week column in the paper - as issues tend to do - I want to post. But for a long time I've been battling annoying "repetitive stress injuries" - RSI - and sometimes no amount of Aadvil can fix that. So I paid for acupuncture (I miss you, Master Ken Luke. Move back!) And massage therapy. And really good wine. Out of my own pocket. That's called blogging at a deficit.

Sometimes, as Billy Bragg sang, "the only way to disarm is to disarm." So I figured if I got off the treadmill, so to speak, over at The Chronicle and contributed but didn't exactly get caught up in the horse race part of it, I'd be fine. Strange logic, but it worked. I'm not caught up in the numbers over there. I do periodic posts. I keep the lights on at The Bastard Machine. I podcast. And I do TGTV when I feel like it. All told - less blogging. Still haven't started the book yet, though.

3. I started this blog before "The Wire," but I also knew that the best show on television would migrate smart, funny, insightful readers over to TGTV. And I was right. Thousands of Bastard Machine readers - and others - from all around the country (and the world, for that matter - more than 40 countries with people from there being regular visitors, not just one-timers) check in. That certainly validated my decision. But again - the bulk of "The Wire" posts are just a timing thing.

4. I can't imagine this duality thing would mess people up, but if it does, let me know. Which do you prefer? What would you like to see more of on this blog - because I'm changing its direction after the season finale of "The Wire." And the name, too. See below.

5. I thought of a bunch of great titles. Really creative shit. Or so I thought. Then I changed my mind. Then I lost interest. I mean, if I really want to do cool names, I can do that in my Fantasy Baseball League(s). So I'm just going to call this site Tim Goodman. I know. But still.

It's not going to be just about television. And I'm too anal retentive to leave the "TV" part in "TGTV." I like order. And meaning. Anyway, I'll be blogging about a lot of things, from TV to music to film and books even (somewhere, Oscar Villalon just fell down and hurt himself) and who knows what else. But there will be a primarily critical bent to it. I've been lucky enough to be paid for that for years now, both as a rock music and television critic. So, do what you know...Can't say how often the posts will pop up, though.

6. I'll probably start blogging more regularly on The Bastard Machine (especially if people prefer that). I know, life is strange. (Acupuncturist references welcome.)

7. On the plus side, I got the book outline done. And the RSI has calmed down a lot.

8. "I forget what 8 was for."

9. I like these music sites, and hope you do, too: imeem, Pandora, The Hype Machine. I've got the itch to write about music more often.

10. A heartfelt thanks to everyone who came over and supported TGTV.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"The Wire," Season 5, Ep. 8: "Clarifications."

(This post is going up a bit early because I'm covering the Oscars on Sunday night and won't have time to write it then. Not that you need to be told, but this de-co contains spoilers. And I'm sorry to say, one of the most depressing spoilers I've ever written.)

Damn.

You can prepare yourself all you want for what happened in this episode - because anybody who really understood "The Wire" knew it would end like this - but the sight of Omar falling won't soon be forgotten. He was going to "get got." He already had his superhero moment. He will live on as a legend in the streets of West Baltimore (and in TV critic history), but he was never going to survive this season. No chance. Still - it got to you.

Before I go into this a little deeper, let's be clear on something. "The Wire" stayed true to its mission, its storytelling goal, its innate honesty. All the things that make this series so much better than anything else could be seen in Kenard acting completely on his own and mowing down Omar, the most feared Robin Hood in West Baltimore. The fact is that Omar ended up being a character far greater than he was originally envisioned. Credit here goes to the writing, of course, but also to the outstanding work of Michael K. Williams, who turned Omar into a cult hero, took a few clipped scenes and made them levitate and forced his character to grow. And when that happened, Williams had the chops to create one of the most captivating, intriguing and - dare we say it - lovable villains in television history. Unfortunately, Omar is not back. Omar is dead. And as true as that is to the spirit of the series, it really takes an emotional toll.

True dat.

Omar had to fall. You knew that. Or you should have. He wasn't a classic anti-hero in the truest sense but there was something in him that made you root for him. The man had a code. Amidst the chaos and urban decay and relentless downbeat cynicism of both West Baltimore and "The Wire" in general, the character of Omar was one the audience could root for and take satisfaction in when his brand of vigilante justice prevailed. When he knocked over Marlo's card game? Not to be forgotten. A triumphant, brilliant scene. And there were a lot more. But that's not how "The Wire" is. This isn't Rambo. What made his death more powerful - hinted at by a lot of savvy folks - was that it was Kenard, the littlest corner boy, who took him down. Kenard is hard. He looked at Omar, in his gimpy-limped current state, and he had no respect. That's life on the street. They're getting younger and younger. There was a cruel precision and truism about it. And it was handled deftly, without passion. And later, in the episode, Omar's was a tale told with frankness, not fondness. Few other dramas would have handled it that way.

Omar was a brilliantly conceived character. I'm going to miss him. But there was a lot of other important turns in Ep. 8. McNulty is coming unraveled just when his ruse - as ill-conceived and asinine as it is - has begun to pay dividends. Lester is close - not just "two more weeks" as usual. The police work that comes from good funding is getting good results.

But the overall lesson here, in Ep. 8, is that corruption is king. There's a corruption of the soul in Carcetti, who has lost his way more than ever (politics will do that). There is Clay Davis' corruption going unpunished - unless Lester has some more corruption he'd like to employ and level at Davis. The corruption of life - the lessening of its value - ends with the shortest corner kid around taking down Omar - a pumpkin shot, no less. There's corruption of the heart with Beadie realizing how low-down and unreliable McNulty is - then finding out no matter how bad she thought it was, it could always get worse. Scott's ethical corruption is blowing up in his face. At least McNulty's corruption at work looks like it will lead somewhere - but who doesn't think the end result will be so tainted it won't stick?

That kind of rust? It never sleeps.

Here are some more thoughts:

+ “A lie ain’t a side of a story. It’s just a lie.”- Hanning, the scarred vet. Here's the problem with Scott: Even a great story that tells itself isn't enough for him. He always wants more.

+ “The bad news, gentleman, is we’re actually gonna have to catch this motherfucker. The good news is, that our Mayor finally needs a police department more than he needs a school system.” – Rawls.

+ Great direction on that shot – last part of the punchline just shows McNulty surveying the crowd, silently, his eyes alive but dead, thinking, “I did it. I just sold them the lie.”

+ All hail Poot - he got out still breathing. At least so far. But he's out and off the corner. “Shit just got old.”

+ Poot telling Dukie he's too young to get a job in the shoe store: “So I guess you just gotta bang a little while longer, then come back and see if we got something.” Man, that's a visceral punch to the stomach for those who think Dukie needs to be saved.

+ One of the things I love about "The Wire" is that whenever it heads into complicated storytelling, nobody freezes up and sells out - like they would at the network level. There are so many times during these episodes when the dialog gets dense and the motivations murky and you think, "What? What’s happening? What’s the connection here?" It's not an easy show to follow. And that's high praise.

+Pulitzers run on the calendar year. After the New Year, who cares about the homeless?

+ Kenard drops Omar. Just as he was getting his Newpo’s. Might have seen this coming when Kenard was the only one who didn’t run just a few scenes earlier when Omar appeared.

+ “And we didn’t have coffee. We had chocolate milk.” - Hanning, illustrating how many little lies Scott is capable of.

+ “Bunk once told me, ‘I’m no good for people. Everyone around me, he said.” – McNutty.

“Was he drunk?” – Kima. “Yeah, but still.” – McNutty.

+ A shorty lit Omar's ass up. Bunk: “How short?” As short as Kenard.

+ Then the hoppers rolled him for souvenirs. That’s not old school. That’s Old West.

+ Bunk looks at Omar's list of Marlo's people. “Back on the hunt, were ya?”

+ “Write up the fire. Scratch the murder. We don’t have room.” - Gus, deciding what gets four inches in the paper. And so it goes: R.I.P. Omar Little, age 34. A death that nobody who gets the Sun will ever learn about.

+ “Juvenile suspect is being sought.”

+ Damn. The Quantico guys who gave the profile of the non-existent killer just totally nailed McNulty. The look on his face. God, rewind that.

+ “He likely is not a college graduate but nonetheless feels superior to those with advanced education. And he is likely employed in a bureaucratic entity – civil service or quasi-public service, from which he feels alienated. He has a problem with authority and a deep-seated resentment of those he feels have impeded his progress professionally…the suspect has trouble with lasting relationships and is possibly a high-functioning alcoholic.”

+ McNulty: “They’re in the ballpark.” A great scene. One we'll remember fondly as McNutty goes down.

+ Beadie’s note: “Jimmy. One possible future. Be back tomorrow or the next day. Or not. Think about it. B.”

+ McNulty: “Fuck.” – He’s rocked.

+ Chris Partlow. We’ve got your DNA. Come on down.

+ Feds walk away from Clay Davis – to teach the city a lesson about power and structure.

+ “No shuckin’, no jivin’ just good ol’ police work. How about that, Jimmy.” – Bunk.

+ McNulty: “Without my bullshit, you’re still waiting on lab work.”

+ “If someone picks up a phone around here your shit is critically fucked….Two nights and a road car.” – To play some golf at Hilton Head. Oh, Jimmy, the end has got to be near. Now you're not God, nor "boss." You're just a guy in over your head, getting shook down for a golf weekend.

+ Marlo’s never even heard of Kenard, doesn’t even know why he did it. He just wants to go to Atlantic City. He looked happy. Chris look more than mystified at the strange ways of the street.

+ Quanico guys: “You’ve caught a strange on here.” Ya think?

+ “Many are trapped for hours in darkness and confusion.” – on Gus’s computer.

+ The police work from Freamon to get Marlo is good. It’s efficient. It gives you hope. They’ve been down for so long. It so strange to feel a ray of hope on "The Wire."

+ Dukie looking for a job. Seems to have found one with the Junk Man. It might not be selling sneakers with Poot, but it's a start.

+ Clay Davis! Alive and well. And happy to be playing politics for two seats on the liquor board. Did he look like it was all a whole helluva lot of fun or what?

+ Carcetti laying down the soul and the gospel in his new campaign for homeless protection. What I like about him most is when he says “Thank you,” he exits the microphone like a rock star, head turned, with conviction, like he gave it all he had and he’s out, let the cheers come cascading down.

+ What the hell is Lester doing with Clay?

+ Carcetti’s wife, long the benign non-player, is used in this episode to show that it’s not what he can do that matters to Carcetti anymore, it’s winning, period. The end is justifying his means, but it wasn’t always like that. He’s changed.

+ “Now that I’ve done all this and I’ve watched myself do it, I can’t even stand it.” – McNulty to Beadie. I loved that scene. It's so subtle. A small booze buzz from McNulty. A wake-up call sent by Beadie as she takes the kids and walks out of her own house. Just tremendous. He wants to confide, and does, but he's looking for a shoulder to cry on because he's not the hero he thought, and Beadie nails him for making a unilateral decision that will adversely affect her kids. There's a lot of phenomenal television in that little scene.

+ They had the wrong tag on Omar. But they fixed it in the morgue. And then they zipped him up. And the music kicked in. That’s damned sad. What an amazing character.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

"The Wire," Season 5, Ep. 7: "Took."

There is a wonderful feeling as you're watching Ep. 7, and it's the knowledge that whatever creative devices and dangerous angles the writers took at the beginning of Season 5 are beginning to pay huge dividends as a television story arc. And that, more than anything else, is the main purpose of any show. Tell a story on television. Make it as great as you can. That's a daunting task for anyone, even the most creative in the business. A television series, as I've noted, is not a documentary. Pure authenticity is a fine goal but it's not even in the same solar system for most series just trying to serve the story. That "The Wire" has brought viewers so close all the time to this notion of institutional failure - the bleakness of the mission at hand, where victories are few and far between and forgotten almost instantly by yet another daily atrocity, is a real miracle.

But a television story has many other masters to serve first before utter integrity and pure authenticity. You need compelling action, real drama, maybe some comedy in your violent world, motivation that suits the characters but fuels the story and a premise that is alluring, that keeps people coming back instead of surfing for something easier or more enjoyable. If you can't make compelling television, nobody will be there to see the greatness that you really want to show. More than anything, the coming together of all of the storylines on "The Wire" is an impressive feat. That they did it most notaby in the 6th and 7th episodes gives us some hope that a full stride run at 10 episodes will be enjoyable if not, as I suspect, completely definitive as it pertains to the characters and their lives as we've come to know them over 5 seasons.

Oh, we'll see some endings. We'll get hints at future directions - and that should be satisfying enough. But do you think it will all wrap tight? It seems less and less likely even when the pace is electrifying and entertaining.

What I liked about this episode is the notion that ambition for personal gain is almost always met with defeat in "The Wire." It may take some time, but it's a lesson dished out. The parallels here between Bond losing so spectacularly to Clay Davis' outsized personality - with all the internal implosions we could see Bond experiencing - is not unlike what McNulty is going through (and undoubtedly headed toward) as he plays God and puppetmaster in his elaborate homeless death ruse. Both Bond and McNulty wanted to make the grand gesture, to be the hero. But it went terribly sideways in one case and appears headed that way in another.

Anybody else in "The Wire" experiencing maximum hubris? Yep. Marlo. Three more episodes to make that lesson. Of course, the definitions set forth here on the hero/hubris thing would probably also apply to Omar. He came back looking for revenge. Will he be the one who survives when God - or some Great Force - slaps him back for the whimsy of wishing to be omnipotent. After all, he did survive getting set up on by Marlo. Or is Omar's fate also just a matter of course? Again, three more episodes.

Sorry for the late post. Went off to the wine country. If the option is to sit up at Bella Vineyards and drink some poetry in a glass while looking at open valleys, surging mountains and row after row of grapevines - or stay at home and be on time for a blog post - well, hell, you know where the answer is there...

Some thoughts:

+ “That was him. Again.” – Scottie. Subtle. And funny.

+ “They thinkin’ short when they should be thinkin’ long. Shameful shit.” – Clay Davis. Shold this be everyone's new motto for 2008? Or just the Giants new marketing slogan?

+ “He’s using you.” –McNulty. Scott: “I kind of resent that, actually.” McNulty: “Well I don’t know. It’s kinda working out for both of you, isn’t it?”

+ Carcetti soliciting money instead of mayoring. I like that he's a weasel with good qualities. He so perfectly personifies why I hate politics.

+ Well, the homeless murders, or should that be faux murders and a kidnapping, have finally snapped the napping, inefficient, creaky bureaucracies of Baltimore into action, from the mayor’s office, to the po-lice, to the Sun.

+ Loved how the storylines came together. The bigger the lie…

+ “Man, you ain’t even been to no dentist.” Michael to Dukie, who's probably not going to get that receptionist gig.

+ Were the corner boys, in their endlessly creative ways of naming the drug at hand, saying, “Truth hurts, come and get it.” Man who doesn’t love this show?

+ “I don’t believe in much of anything at this point.” – Bunk

+ “They turned on the fucking tap, Jimmy. They’re finally paying for police work again.” – Landsman.

+ “Ikea.” – McNulty on where to get kids furniture. True dat.

+ “Shame on ya’ll. And I mean it.” – Bunk. Still mortified after all these episodes.

+ “Go with God,” – McNulty, before the power of being "boss" finally started to strain him.

+ Scotty out with the homeless in their "darkest hour"? Gus doesn't like the first person, the pandering and the falseness. “He’s writing more as an essayist.” – Whiting. Oh, well, I guess that makes it just fine.

+ Gus knows Scott has barely put the time in. “It ain’t exactly Studs Terkel.”

+ Daniels is cut. But the dude needs a burger in the worst way.

+ “Media’s going crazy. City hall, too.” – Daniels. That's just the buzz of a good, dramatic storyline, Cedric.

+ “If Marlo has a code, we can break the code.” – Freamon. What? Marlo has a code? Nah.

+ “This shit’s bigger than I ever thought it would be.” – McNutty. Understatement of the year, first ballot.

+ “Get me out of this Lester, as fast as possible.” – McNutty.

+ Clay Davis. "Prometheus Bound." Fucking classic. “I can not tell you how much consolation I find in these slim pages.” Oh, that is rich.

+ “I get a road car and expenses, I can put it down.” – Norris (the second, but not the last, to come calling to Jesus). And the look on Bunk’s face – priceless.

+ “Ain’t you the little king of diamonds.” Bunk to McNulty.

+“Shit, half the neighborhood be up in here a week before check day.” – Bubs, asking the reporter why the newspaper always goes to soup kitchens looking for homeless, when the soup kitchens are a safety net for the whole ‘hood.

+ Perhaps my favorite cameo yet on “The Wire” – Richard Belzer as Det. Munch, just sitting in that bar.

+ Gus is back being a reporter – tracking down the dirt on Scotty.

+ “Whose gonna complain? Guys are working cases – and getting paid.” – McNutty, perhaps not thinking it all the way through. As usual.

+ “That’s Omar? Gimpy as a motherfucker.” – Kenard. He’s a tough little bastard.

+ “Maybe prosecutor O’Bondma can enlighten us. But in my world, it’s strictly cash and carry. And I AM Clay Davis. My people need something, they know where to find me.” Who needs facts when you've got feelings.

+ “What the fuck just happened?” – Bond. “Whatever it was, they don’t teach it in law school.” – Pearlman.

+ Kima can’t assemble the Ikea (anybody who has been through that particular bit of hell could relate) and she can’t, apparently, stock her fridge better than a college student.

+ “Good night moon. Good night stars. Good night po-pos. Good night thieves. Good night hoppers. Good night hustlers. Good night scammers. Good night to everybody. Good night to one and all.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is this the funniest sitcom of 2008?

Yeah, I know, it's been all "Wire" around here ever since Season 5 started. I'm partly concerned about that and have been contemplating ways to expand the idea behind TGTV without, you know, doing a ceaseless and unrelenting amount of care and feeding. Why do I have two blogs, again?

Anyway, you may have seen this already but I thought I'd share. Even if you don't have HD or even care what format is going to win the format wars - HD-DVD or Blu-ray - the video is still hilarious. Of course, I think that because it incorporates two of my favorite comedic devices - anger and swearing.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

"The Wire," Season 5: Ep. 6: "The Dickensian Aspect."

The bigger the lie...yeah, well, it's pretty big now. And once a lie gets out of the bottle, it's hard to put back. Three people in "The Wire" are telling lies that look, for all the world, like they are going to come back and haunt them.

There's McNulty, who's homeless (sexual) serial killer story has blossomed (beautifully, by the way), from a kooky idea on how to get funded to do real po-lice work into all sorts of tragicomic turns. The original lie has now ensnared an unsuspecting liar and plagiarist at the Baltimore Sun, caused said real po-lice work to get put on the back burner while everyone chases a non-existent killer, forced McNulty to expand the lie because Lester can't get it done with the limited resources he once said he could, and has now led to a stomach-turning bout of kidnapping a mentally imbalanced homeless man. (It may not have technically been kidnapping, but there's no getting around the sadness of the act.) The only good thing the lie has done is give Carcetti an issue to ride to glory on. But that doesn't feel too good either - oily politics are just that, no matter who gets helped in the short term.

Scott's lie - check that, "lies" plural - are spinning sideways at just about the same rate as McNulty's. His are well documented, but picking up steam. Gus seems to be slowly playing his hunch that Scott is cutting corners and you can see him setting traps for Scott - and Scott steps right into them. "Star time," says Alma. But Scott looks like he's going to puke.

The other lie comes from Marlo, who tried to pin Prop Joe's killing on Omar (but most everybody else in the New Day Co-Op has a bullshit detector like Gus' and they are not buying it). Marlo's lies - being responsible for the killings of Hungry Man and Prop Joe and taken "the connect" from the Greeks while everyone else sat on their hands, has also emboldened him. But whereas the lie McNulty told has forced him to become ever more desperate, Marlo's lie comes from his belief that he wears the crown and everybody else must bow down. He's not desperate at all - he's overconfident and sloppy because he's all powerful.

No doubt the lies of all three men will guide "The Wire" to a careening, intense, intellectualy satisfying four more episodes. This is a train barreling along right now and it's a joy to watch.

Of course, Ep. 6 had other major developments as well, not just lies gone haywire. Omar lives. He didn't fly. But he survived the landing, though his leg appears to be a painful mess. It's clear that the writers wanted the legendary Omar to be hobbled in some way, to appear more vulnerable, more human and less the iconic street figure. Strange - or perhaps funny, depending on how you look at it - that they chose a near superhuman event to make him more human. "Don't seem possible," Marlo says, looking up at the balcony where Omar jumped. "That some Spiderman shit there."

I loved the opening scenes. Everybody staring up, silently, in wonder. Like, WTF?

Omar is definitely changed. And credit goes to Michael K. Williams for conveying the make-over. He doesn't have the swagger now. Coming out of hiding on the broom/crutch, he was probably the least dangerous man on the streets, more vulnerable than vicious. The writers' intent was to cut him down to size, chip away at the myth. That scenes alone did wonders - the gimpy walk. But Williams has even changed his way of speaking. Less cool, less assured. Omar now is a little bit hysterical (probably from the pain - and of course getting suckered into an ambush and nearly being killed). His voice is higher, with desperate tones in it. He's talking about how Marlo isn't man enough to come down to the streets. It's all about vengeance for Butchie (and friends) now - and Omar sounds like he's half wanting to cry in pain (and frustration) and half wanting to scream in anger. But he's certainly making the most of his injury. He's putting himself out there, disrupting Marlo's world. He's a man on a mission and no amount of searing pain looks like it's going to stop him. The question is, does he have the wits to see this through, or is blind rage making him take just as many chances as Marlo's feeling of invincibility?

Alright then. Some thoughts:

+ It's good to see Chris pissed that he failed. It's good to see him rocked. People have been waiting for this for two seasons now.

+ Marlo: “We missed our shot. Now he’s gonna get at us.” It's never good to disappoint your boss.

+ “Fuck you for tearing down the port of Baltimore and selling it to some yuppie assholes from Washington!" A great moment after Carcetti's speech about the dock renovation/gentrification.
“Who the hell is that?” – Carcetti says, after being heckled and his aide says, “Oh, it’s nobody Mr. Mayor. Nobody at all.”

+ Hell yes it's somebody. It's Nick Sobotka from Season 2! Still pissed!

+ Whiting: “Wonderful story, Scott!” Templeton: “Yeah, kind of wrote itself.” It sure did, Scottie.

+ The national news comes calling for Scottie. “Just remember you’re an ambassador for the paper,” says Klebanow.

+ “I regarded that decision as illegitimate.” – Lester on the cops pulling off Marlo because they couldn’t fund the investigation into the 22 murders.

+ “Somebody finally touched Prop Joe, huh?” – Bunk.

+ They found the sealed Grand Jury indictments at Prop Joe’s. Bunk: “Who don’t we trust at the courthouse.” Better yet, as Pearlman says succinctly to Bond: "We've got a leak."

+ “Homeless murders? How does that case tie into this?” Sydnor. “Hard to explain.” – Lester.

+ Loved the great, small acting of the people behind Carcetti when he went on a rage about the homeless killings. Rawls with a kind of, “What is he doing now” look. Daniels listening, then having his eyes roam while he thinks more. Pride welling in Norman with just the smallest muscle reflex smile on his face. Wonderful stuff.

+ Rawls tried to undermine Daniels – catching him off-guard – but Daniels rose to the occasion.

+ Randy – lost. Bigger, harder, without hope. Lost.

+ Going into the New Day Co-Op, two of the guys say that whoever has “the connect” killed Joe. “No doubt.” But Marlo pins it on Omar. Except Slim Charles ain’t buying it and wants no part of being a CEO for Marlo. Cheese jumps at it. And Marlo says that not only will there be no more meetings, if you’ve got a problem, bring it to him “or sit on that shit.” Worse, the price of the brick is going up – an extra $30,000. Cocky? When you’re the king, sometimes you don’t think straight with that crown on your head.

+ Scottie on Nancy Grace. Classic. “That makes you the Jimmy Breslin of Baltimore.” Ugh.

+ “I mean, fuck already. How many shitballs are there?” – Carcetti. He’s stressed. Very stressed. No wonder he wants a promotion out of Baltimore.

+ “Homelessness? Huh. I’ll be damned.” – Carcetti suddenly has a national issue.

+ Lester - “You’d be surprised what you can get done when no one’s looking over your shoulder.”

+ Scottie visiting the homeless and looking scared and put out. And wearing his Kansas City Star shirt…fame’s a bitch already?

+ I don’t know what was more interesting – Snoop talking about bringing toys to Chris’s kids or Chris completely off his cool.

+ Omar burns the money in the car. “It ain’t about that paper. It’s about me hurting his people, messing with his world." Message received. (Good to see the shotgun back in action, by the way.)

+ “You and Lester started some shit here. Now a DOA brings everybody in a heartbeat.” – Oscar, the Sesame Street Cop.

+ “How do I write that into my bullshit killer’s M.O.?” – McNulty, pained that he can’t get Lester the high tech stuff to land Marlo’s photo-sending phones. Lying is some complicated shit when it starts to spin.

+ “You’re a supervisor’s nightmare.” – McNulty to Freamon.

+ “As far as this guy? They’ll write it off as some fraternity prank.” – McNulty, taking a lot of desperate chances. It’s kidnapping, Lester says. But McNulty says it was an opportunity for dinner and a chat. There's a great shot of McNulty with his eyes lit, like he's just constructed the greatest ruse ever. Contrast that with the look on his face after the act is completed, just as the ending music kicks in...

+ That whole thing just leaves a pit in our stomach. How can it not? The homeless guy just evoked that sense of helplessness that made the whole thing seem sick and sad.

+ Bunk sooooo pissed off that the homeless killings are getting all the attention and diverting manpower. Especially from his DNA work. Wendell Pierce is playing all kinds of disgruntled. I love how he's washing himself clean of McNulty's ethical lapse by diving in to the row house murders with fervor.

+ “This one feels like the real deal. What I like most is that you didn’t overwrite it. No extra color, no puffy adjectives, just tight declarative sentences. And you really just let this ex-Marine tell the story.” – Gus. See Scott? Fact is better than fiction.

It's a lesson that might be learned the hard way by three people in "The Wire."

Sunday, February 3, 2008

"The Wire," Season 5, Ep. 5: "React Quotes."

There's always something to love about "The Wire," but many times it comes back to how it doesn't pander. Early in this episode Chris tells Marlo - without using any names: "Sat outside of Monk’s all night. Left before morning, though. They’ll be back – no doubt.” What he conveyed, which was totally opposite of what the camera had been conveying for two episodes, was that they had already set up on Omar. When Omar thought he had the jump on them, he didn't. They were waiting for him. So the camera could catch a great line where Butchie's friend says, "Most likely, they're expecting you to make a move." Omar: "And here I am. How about that." It gave viewers what they wanted to see in the anti-hero Omar - that he had rode into town and his revenge was just about to happen.

But it didn't. Marlo had set him up. And the defining moment of that ruse was established in the middle of a scene with no garnish whatsoever. A network drama not only would have spelled it out for you, it would have beat you over the head with it. That's a pretty big development to all but bury.

And, of course, that led to the biggest moment in this episode, probably (though there were many others). That is - Omar can fly.

He certainly escaped death very narrowly in the apartment. The question is, did he survive the jump? Did he really jump. My guess is the HBO previews for next week probably gave that away (did they?) but it was a great moment no matter what.

We are now exactly halfway through the final season and I have to say that this was the episode where the conceit with McNulty and the dead bodies - stretch or no when it happened - has culminated in a wonderful strand to carry the rest of the episodes. The writers fully engaged the paper storyline with the cop storyline and let two lies stand as one. I mean, the look on McNulty's face when he realized Scott was lying about getting the call from the serial killer was a thing of real beauty. And then Scott's look when McNulty - who's the one in charge of all sides of this lie - says the killer called earlier. "He made another call?," Scott says, stunned. And that it all leads to a wire tap - illegal or at least manipulated - is another fine twist. It gets Lester back on the wire tap where he does his best work. It lets McNulty feel better that his ruse is paying off for some real po-lice in the face of the budget stagnation. And Scottie finally has his story with legs.

But there were plenty of other meaty moments as well. Clay Davis' drive to stay alive is lovely to behold (and listen to). Marlo's fascination with wearing the crown has him in business with the Greeks and wanting to celebrate, but the introduction of the cell phone and the interference of Herc (who passes the number to Carver, who passes it to Freamon, who in one call about pepper steak knows he's got the king cornered) makes everything that much more interesting.

We got a cameo from Cutty. And Royce. And Callie Thorne! And Beadie in uniform. We've got dirty journalism and situational ethics at the police department. We've got Bubs worried about serving people because he's convinced he's got AIDS (and what a negative test means for what he now has to confront - life).

And oh, yeah. What's really going on with Omar? Dead? Alive? Love it. Here's a few thoughts and quotes from the episode:

+ “Is the killer now sodomizing homeless men?” – Alma

+ “You’re gonna need a statement. Nothing too joyful. You don’t dance on Clay Davis’ grave until you know the motherfucker is dead.” – Norman to Carcetti.

+ Dookie’s beat down. He’s just not a fighter, that one. And Cutty knows it immediately. Hope and wishes. That's all anyone can give Dookie.

+ “Joe gave him to us just in time.” – Levy, because he knows the cell phone is going to be the downfall of Marlo.

+ Good to see Cutty, isn't it. I wish he'd get some more roles on TV.

+ “How do you get from here to the rest of the world?” – Dookie. “I wish I knew.” – Cutty.

+ “We need something with a twist.” – Scott. “A sexual serial killer isn’t enough?” – McNulty.

+ “He’s a biter.” – McNulty.

+ “Embracing the hard choice. It’s one of the burdens of command.” – Carcetti to Daniels.

+ “A gift from your one true partner.” Herc gives Marlo’s number to Carver, with echoes of Prop Joe’s salute to Butchie.

+ “Think I’m gonna be the scapegoat for the whole damn machine? Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.” – Clay Davis.

+ Dookie finds out that fighting will lead to more of it, guns will lead to more guns. He needs to get out. He doesn't have a map for that, however.

+ “Dead Meadow? What the hell is wrong with the Ramones?” – McNulty to his two sons, who are way past caring that he’s not there.

+ Royce and Clayton at the rally. Classic. Just classic. And timely in all sorts of ways.

+ “Yeah, well, 10 minutes ago I would have said this whole thing is complete bullshit. Shows you what I know, I guess.” – Gus. You knew, Gus. You knew. You just couldn't have any idea how fucked up it all is now. And how much weirder it promises to be.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Chris vs.Wee-Bey. Two men enter, one man leaves.

Kicked this around a bit at work recently. I think it was either Book Editor Oscar Villalon (oh, don't let that book title fool you - the man watches TV, oh yes he does) or Pop Culture Critic Peter Hartlaub. What if Chris got popped and went to prison where he met...Wee-Bey.

Who's the toughest of these two? Just some fun before the weekend.

I'm going with Wee-Bey all the way.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"The Wire," Season 5, Ep. 4: "Transitions."

Not that you need to be told by now, but this post has spoilers. If you haven't watched Ep. 4, go away. Now.

R.I.P. Prop Joe. It was a good long run. A great character that the writers on the series were able to shade in exceptional ways. But you should have seen this coming. Marlo was using Prop Joe and Marlo only lives to get what he thinks is his. You know, the crown and all. I'd have to say the killing of Butchie was more of a surprise. Once the Greeks had essentially said that insurance was a good thing, Marlo had already used up the wisdom that Prop Joe dealt out. How to launder money. How to open an offshore account. How to get a passport and check on your money. How to find a shady lawyer to do something with it. In the end, Prop Joe - like Butchie before him - was sold out by Cheese. Prop Joe didn't want to believe that kin would sell him out, but Cheese is all about the cheese, period.

I love that these episodes are, as usual, packed with layers and meaning. Just a quick addressing of the notion, raised in comments, that this season feels rushed because there's only 10 episodes (previous season have been 12 or 13, depending). Part of that is true. But all series that are fortunate enough to know when they're going to end - a real rarity in the industry - by circumstance need to have a quicker pace if they are going to tie up storylines from past seasons. In the case of "The Wire," that's four seasons. Not insurmountable, but plenty. And let's remember that David Simon is a much different storyteller than David Chase. "The Sopranos" was never going to wrap up loose ends because Chase has almost zero interest in doing that. He believed that they were all one hour movies, not necessarily related to any episode prior. I'm not sure he always stayed true to that, but certainly with "The Sopranos" now infamous ending, he stuck to his guns when it mattered most. It appears that Simon wants to go for closure where possible, to wrap up some character evolution, and so if the season seems to be moving quickly, well, that's because it is. I find no fault in that. A storyteller who wants to reward his faithful viewers with conclusions should be cut a little slack if he needs to achieve that by ramping up the speed.

Also, as an aside, I know that it has become some kind of predictable sport to start nitpicking Simon and Season 5, but as I've said before it will take the conclusion of all 10 episodes to do a real post-mortem. And beyond that, whatever happened to giving a guy credit for what he's done in the past. I'm passing no judgment on Season 5 until the appropriate time, but I do know this: Simon dropped four incredibly brilliant seasons into the bin of TV history and he deserves some props for that.

Ah, Prop Joe. How about that last scene?

“My nephew? Boy was always a disappointment…But I treated you like a son,”
he says to Marlo, who has crept in courtesy of Cheese. “I wasn’t made to play the son,” Marlo said, driving home two truisms of "The Wire" - people rarely change (Marlo was gonna get Joe no matter how kindly or paternal Joe was) and no good deed goes unpunished.

“A proposition for you, then. I’ll just step away…” Joe says, deftly played more than a few steps shy of begging for his life, which was a wonderful way to write it . “Joe, you’d be up in the mischief in no time,” Marlo says, with more than an ounce of truth. And then - those cold as steel eyes. That unfeeling killer on display. “Close your eyes. It won’t hurt none,” Marlo, says.

Bang.

Now, we have other aspects in play here as well. Let's see, where to start....Scottie? No. McNulty and Freamon finding another dead body to frame - this time with bite marks. Nope. Carver learning a hard lesson from Randy's mishandling by Herc's incompetence. "It matters," Carver said. "It all matters." Uh, not that either. What other strand deserves notice after burying Prop Joe's character?

Oh, yeah. Omar back. “I’ma work them. Sweet Jesus I’ma work them.” Him walking down the alley (there's your intro reference again) was almost iconic. He's going after Marlo's henchmen, make the snake pop its head up out of the hole.

Ah, so much to discuss. But listen, I've got my hands full with work and some recurrence of the nagging RSI bullshit, so this post is going to be shorter. I had some e-mails saying I always get the major quotes and leave only scraps for eager commenters, so no better time to ease off on that and let you pick up the slack. Some great dialogue this episode, as usual. Here's what I've got:

+ Burrell looking defeated (though also dangerous with that putter in his hand, standing behind Daniels) was wonderful to behold. And his little act of forgiveness to Daniels at the end - what does it matter anyway now that he's got his golden parachute? - is all for naught now that Nerece has the goods on Daniels.

+ “Have it say, ‘Butchie – woe to them that call evil good, and good evil. Sign it, your true and loyal friend, Proposition Joe.” In his own way, Prop Joe was a Renaissance man. Good with flowers, too.

+ “Out of respect for the man’s skill set, I’m gonna take myself out of the line-up tomorrow after the meeting.” – Prop Joe on Omar coming back. I just loved that line.

+ The Greek: "These are volatile times. It’s not unreasonable to carry insurance. Who can say what tomorrow will show us.”

True dat. R.I.P. again, Prop Joe.

+ “Christ, you’d think I was putting Ray Lewis out to pasture. I’ll I’m trying to do is dump Burrell.” – Carcetti on having to sell the store to oust Burrell.

+ “Some of your feature work is a little raw for what we do here at the Post, language-wise.” Oh, Lord. That was smug.

+ “A few more clips, a little more seasoning, we’ll take another look, okay?” But not nearly as painful as that. And oh, yeah, Scottie, you can just throw away that Post sticky. You're not coming back there just yet.

+ “I ain’t paying you to be my mother.” – Michael to his, uh, mom.

+ Clay Davis and the Grand Jury. “He’s pretty cool about it.” – Sydnor. “The coming out tells the tale.” – Freamon.

+ Bond lays claim to the Senator, tips the press. But Clay Davis knows how to take a punch and come up smiling. What I like about the sleaze that comes from Davis is that it's been that way since the first time we saw him. Lying, or being in denial, is just part of his genetic make-up.

+ Burrell allowed to go out with a shred of dignity, indicting pompous mayors whose mission blows in the wind, and with fickle voters. “You will eat their shit. Daniels too, when he gets here.” That last bit was great subtlety. He's letting Rawls know that his time will be short.

+ An aside to those people hoping Rawls "gay moment" will be resurrected by Simon, well, it's not out of the question because Simon appears to be closing a lot of loop holes (and he does like to stick it to people). But my guess is the Rawls gay bar scene is Simon's version of the Russian in the woods on "The Sopranos."

+ Cheese is given Hungry Man by Marlo. “Give a gift, get a gift,” Chris says. And then he gift wraps Prop Joe. But Cheese is too stupid to know he's on the clock now, too.

+ “Ervin was a year before me at Dunbar. He was in the glee club.” – Prop Joe to Herc (while both were reading the paper - LOVED that scene). And later, when it's clear Herc wants to know what he was like: “Stone stupid.”

+ LOVED the smile on Daniels face as he has the last word on the ushered out Burrell, sitting at the desk in Major Ops.

+ Alright, time to shut it down for me. A lot to dissect in this episode. I'm not watching in real time and thus avoiding HBO's heretofore brutal promos - giving away too much every week - so here's hoping you're skipping those as well.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"The Wire," Season 5, Ep. 3: "Not for Attribution."

Opening Quote: “They’re dead where it doesn’t count.” – Fletcher.

It always amazes me how much quality content they get in each episode of "The Wire," when, on the viewing end, it almost seems like a story told in slow motion. Well, in Ep. 3, there was impressive movement:

R.I.P. Butchie. And a teary eyed Omar, all the way from where - Mexico? - is not going to let that pass. You know that. (Cheese outed Butchie against Prop Joe's wishes, which puts a nice spin on "Not for Attribution," even though that line has direct meaning to Scott at the Sun whose pattern of lying is getting worse.) Marlo's plan to get in good with "the Greeks" is clear. McNulty's obsession with creating a serial killer has ramped up, as has Bunk's professional revulsion at his methods. But, hold on a minute, Lester sees no problem with it? Lester's going with it? I've got to say, I had a lot of doubts about that. Still do. But as we have in the past weeks, it's probably time to talk about motivation. All I could come up with for justification is that Lester has been down and out a long time in his career, despite (or maybe because of) being "good po-lice." He has been the driving force in breaking up the Barksdale drug ring and making a case against Clay Davis. And he was the key in nailing (or un-nail-gunning) the 22 dead bodies as they build a case against Marlo who, to this point, has been untouchable. He's close. He's really close. And what does he see? More institutional failure putting a kink into his good po-lice work. He's already been shut down, disappointedly, too many times. He knows McNulty is foolish and that McNulty will always be foolish. It's just that now that foolishness might be able to help Lester. As for the old cases, the homeless homicides and McNulty's grand retelling: "Nobody cares."

I think they might. I think you might. (Just for consistency sake, a reminder that I'm good with the direction. Even, for what it's worth, Lester's inclusion. But I told you, it was going to get a little more dicey before it got more acceptable...)

So much in this episode. I loved all the newspaper stuff. I think that just as the writers on "The Wire" have been able to doggedly examine institutional failure and bureaucratic incompetence in other professions, they totally nail the world of journalism. It's scary (in so many ways).

Butchie's death was brutal. The length McNulty would go for this ruse was simultaneously disappointing and impressive. Scott's total and complete embarrassment of the journalism profession was disheartening, even in fictional form. Burrell's undoing has begun. The mayor is in a pinch and out of patience. The wheels in "The Wire" - they are in motion.

Some thoughts and quotes, odds and ends:

+ Bunk to McNulty: “Think the fuck again about what you’re doing.” And later: “You’re going to jail behind this shit, yes you are.”

+ McNutty: “Marlo’s an asshole. He doesn’t get to win – we get to win.”

+ Going out in the morning to hunt fresh papers after you’ve written something you're proud of - I’ve done that. Hell yes I have. And more than once, too.

+ McNutty: “Who the hell is going to catch me? Most of the guys up here couldn’t catch the clap in a Mexican whorehouse.”

+ McNulty, making perhaps the defining point of his mission: “Upstairs wouldn’t jump on a real serial killer – Marlo, who’s got bodies all over him – well, maybe they need the make believe.”

+ Crutchfield to Bunk, who got locked in the interrogation room with McNulty: “He fuck you?” Bunk: “He tried. But mostly he just fucks himself.” Classic.

+ That editor meeting where they announce cutbacks. Been in a lot of those over the years. Happens just like that.

+ McNutty just couldn’t conceal that smile or half-smile on his face when the coroner said his dead guy was strangled.

+ Out of town newspaper ownership is strangling the Sun. Another parallel.

+ Gus: “How come there are cuts in the newsroom when the company is still profitable?”

+ Carcetti: “It’s Baltimore. No one lives forever.”

+ Annoyed grand jury dude: “Is there any way I can go earlier.” Sure, he's told, if you're important enough. “I’m the vice president of a major financial insitution.” Response: “Who the fuck isn’t?”

+ Prop Joe: “What’s the problem?” Marlo: “I got too much money.”

+ “More with less.” The new mantra. We'll probably hear that a lot more. But it sounds less and less convincing.

+ Bunk: “You think I’m drinking with you? Go home, Jimmy, think your weak shit through.”

+ “Everything’s so serious now.” Michael, growing up way too fast.

+ McNulty looked at himself in the mirror – at the bar, natch – and didn’t seem to like what he saw.

+ McNulty flashing the badge while staying busy. That’s real po-lice.

+ “While Mr. Deadwood here is working the story, see if you can feed him some react quotes.” – Gus. Man, that’s the hero moment. A lot of Roger Twigs have been forced out of newspapers. It’s unfortunate how much deadwood is always left. And Scott, who thinks he's brilliant, has no idea that he's the deadwood.

+ $50,000 for info on Omar. “Why in the hell would I want that motherfucker back?” - Prop Joe.

+ Scott, the quote-maker, getting got. Gus: “You feel comfortable telling me where you got that?” Scott: “Not really, it being a source.” Then Scott lies again and says it came from Narese. “Twig’s not the only guy with game around here.” Pathological, that one.

+ Getting Marlo a passport to go to the Banque Populaire Des Antilles to feel his money in person. Prop Joe: “It ain’t easy civilizing this motherfucker.” No but Marlo eventually got himself a cool tropical island shirt.

+ McNulty stealing a paper. God, that kills me.

+ Headline: "Slaying of homeless men could be connected." Inside the B section. Or as Landsman said: “Back in the girdle ads.” Priceless.

+ The killing of Butchie was pure torture. Marlo seems to be letting his vengeance get ahead of his calculated manner. Even Snoop says the plan’s messed up, that Omar is going to be moving on them. But Chris wouldn’t allow any talk of doubt. That’s not now it works in Marlo’s world.

+ Lester: “It’s got to grip the hearts and minds – give the people what they want in a serial killer.”

+ Bunk, in disbelief: “Lester, what the fuck?”

+ Lester: “No one cares.” Well, I’m not sure about that.

+ Omar in Mexico? Looking relaxed. But he needs a store that has some Honey Nut cereal. The great part of that scene is Michael K. Williams welling up with tears without moving.

+ "The Wire" is out of the gates. From here on out, this is a race to the end.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Jon Carroll and I: A couple of guys sitting around talking!

In a theater, no less - the Berkeley Rep! And for a good cause - a school benefit (Park Day, in Oakland). My guess is most people will be there to hear from the Chronicle's No. 1 columnist and a guy I truly admire, but as the structure goes, he's actually interviewing Your Favorite Local TV Critic. Oooooh. I hope he doesn't know about any of my skeletons (shorty robes, a love of "ALF," the fact I barely watched much television before I got the job...I swear, if this turns into a Gitmo waterboarding thing, I'm outta there...).

It's all part of the school's "In Conversation Series" and I'll be lowering the bar substantially by kicking it off (Carroll will interview Leah Garchik in March). But the cool thing is, hey, we're in an actual theater. That could be fun. And I promise to be alert (Diet Coke!), smarter than what is normally on display in these blogs and informative. (Oh, Jesus, I just made Diet Coke come out of my nose on that last one!) At least I'll have some good stories. You don't do the Death March with Cocktails for a decade and come back story-less, my friends.

I'm thinking this is going to be a lot of fun. I'm also a tad nervous. That Carroll knows his television. Perhaps he'll grill me about history? He watches more reality television than I do - so he knows my weakness. Hmmmm. Must prepare.

So, yeah, we're going to do this thing. It should be entertaining and it could even be interesting, Perhaps I'll reveal some intimate personal things about myself (long walks on beaches, herbal tea, horses...uh...). Anyway, Carroll's a pro. I'll bet he's got some good questions. Young children will benefit. And it will probably be the last time I'm on the other side of the interview chair in an actual theater. (Note to self: Bring camera.)

The interview takes place Wednesday, Jan. 23 at Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Theater, (2025 Addison Street, Berkeley; there's a parking garage on the same block if you've never been to the Berkeley Rep). Show starts at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. It's open seating, so arrive early if want to get a good look at my Hugo Boss suit. Yeah, that's how we roll. (More gems like that on Wednesday night!)

Tickets are $25 ($18 if you're a student with an ID) and can be ordered online here. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Is the 2007-08 TV season dead? Probably. Do you care?

Not to break up the all-"Wire" all the time nature of TGTV - and to answer someone's question in the great comments string, yes I do read all the comments and check back regularly - I just thought I would informally toss up this post because it's really the Question of the Moment. Are you missing your favorite shows? I have mixed feelings on this. I don't miss any of the weak freshman crop, and I don't even miss the one rookie series I really like - "Pushing Daisies." I definitely miss "30 Rock" and "The Office." Part of me is upset that there are only, currently, seven filmed episodes of "The Riches" and "Dirt" coming up on FX, but you're not going to unearth a lot passionate rage in me. I've got "The Wire." I'm good. Late night is back in place, wobbly, but there. Perhaps my favorite network drama - "Lost" - returns at the end of this month (albeit for a brief 8-episode stay - maybe I'll get pissed off and frustrated when it leaves) but, otherwise, I can find other TV diversions.

I want the strike to end with a victory for the writers. But right now, it's not like I'm having withdrawals.

Where do you stand?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"The Wire," Season 5, Ep. 2: "Unconfirmed Reports."

Well, there it was, the episode – and the actions of McNulty in the episode – that I’ve been talking about indirectly since I first watched. I’ll confess, no matter what kind of toss pot McNutty has become and no matter how screwed up the department, I had a very difficult time originally with the notion of him crossing the line and screwing up a crime scene. Not just screwing it up, but fabricating a crime.

In real time, as I watched, I had that sick feeling a critic gets when things go sideways. (It’s that same knee-jerk reaction that made me mock – out loud – the asinine ending to “Million Dollar Baby,” a manipulative movie that got exponentially worse in the last minutes). You get those moments sometimes. As it pertained to “The Wire,” I worried about authenticity and character motivation. To the first, I’ll say this quickly: Strange that I accepted much more easily the ethical lapse(s) of Scott, the journalist. I think that speaks to reality, not fiction. There are all kinds of Scotts who have tainted journalism through the years. And I’m sure there are all kinds of cops who have done some very dubious and devious deeds as well. I know that in reality. But fictionally – hey, this is McNulty.

Which brings us to the second element – character motivation. I’m sure people will have a lot to say about this episode, but I think it’s best to use caution in railing against the twist. One, I’ve seen the next five episodes and I’m fine, critically, with the direction. Second, it’s hard to remember (or accept) that characters change. That’s really the beauty of television. It’s alive. There’s evolution. And McNulty has crossed ethical lines before, just never this bad – bad enough for Bunk to be disgusted in ways he never thought imaginable. But there were certainly patterns to suggest this kind of behavior was possible. Also, he’s clearly spiraling in his personal life. And that goes beyond the drinking. (I’m giving nothing away there. It’s just a perception. McNulty is terribly unhappy in some way. He’s got gaping, unexplained emotional wounds. The guy’s got so much baggage he needs his own sky cap.)

Anyway, factor in what is clearly an oppressive, unrelentingly dysfunctional system of government and policing and you’ll find that McNulty has had enough. He’s disgusted. He wants to be good po-lice, but the institutions around him are failing and not allowing him (or anyone else) to effectively do their job. Welcome to “The Wire.” It’s the FUBAR/SNAFU of all televised dramas.

That said, it took me a couple of weeks to get with this twist (because things are gonna get worse, folks). But for me, acceptance was two-fold. The storyline is, dramatically, pretty damned powerful and potent on down the line. Can’t wait for the final three. And I just think that David Simon could, fairly easily, make the case for McNulty’s actions as reasonable and not as completely out of the blue as they seemed when he walked back in that row house with the gloves on.

OK, enough from me for now. Bring your theories and opinions in the comment section. But first, some gems, quotes and additional scraps from the episode.

+ Marlo on June Bug: “He’s a dead man. He’s just walking around and don’t know it yet.” Yeah, well he does now. But it was good to see that Michael couldn’t kill that kid.

+ “And I want that dick sucker. Took my money and the whole world know? Nah. He got to fall.” Marlo has put the fatwa on Omar. Anybody else think that’s a dangerous game?

+ “The crown ain’t worth much if the n-er wearing it is always getting his shit took.” Once again, Marlo is talking about that crown. But he’s right – he’s the king.

+ Kima on working a second job as a guard in a jewelry store: “Stand around some shiny shit and get paid. Work murders and starve.”

+ “There are no fucking rules. The fucking game’s rigged.” – McNulty. Anybody remember where that came from first?

+ “There you go, giving a fuck when it ain’t your turn to give a fuck.” Bunk. Yet more rehashing of famous lines (which will continue all season), this one coming from the very first episode of “The Wire.”

+ “Ever notice how a mother of four is always catching hell?” – Gus, about how truisms in life pop up a lot in journalism. “Innocent bystanders,” another notes. They get it a lot too. Then, my favorite: “You know who there’s less of? Statuesque blondes. You don’t read about statuesque blondes in the newspapers anymore. Buxom ones, neither. They’re like a lost race.”

+ The uniformed cop watching McNulty get off the city bus: “Okay. Now I’ve seen everything.”

+ Bigwig editor: “If you leave everything in, soon you’ve got nothing.” And to the notion of explaining complicated stories and themes to readers: “Who wants to read that?” While it’s true that Simon has one or seven axes to grind with journalism and certain newspapers, you can’t say the guy is wrong. Everybody in this business has seen an editor like that. Or more. And remember, the whole point of Season 5, according to Simon, is that if everything the series illuminated in the first four seasons is true, then why hasn’t anyone noticed or fixed it. The onus, he says, falls on the press, which is where we find ourselves in Season 5.

+ Ah, Scott. More than one of those in the newsroom. Not wholesale fabricators, per se, but people without the talent or drive to match their ambition.

+ By the way, more than one Gus in every newsroom, too. There’s a lot of great editors who would make fabulous, multidimensional (but twisted) characters. And Rewrite Man Jay Spry – still a bunch of those lovable, totally essential barnacles still around a lot of newsrooms as well. He’s almost too perfect. I know a bunch of editors just like that.

+ “Surprise!” – Avon. But I’m told HBO already ruined that with its upcoming attractions this week. I urge you to skip those whenever possible. How they could have given that away beforehand is beyond me. Come on! Have a little faith in the power of surprises.

+ “So I tell him, hell yeah I know Marlo. Real well.” – Avon. True dat.

+ Avon has it down about Marlo aiming to get in with the Greeks. “I mean, you’re a natural businessman.”

+ Avon then asks Marlo, other than that, how’s life. Marlo: “Ah, the game’s the game.” Avon. “Always.”

+ The parallel lines of ethic violations are pretty clear now, with Scott and McNulty. A boy in a wheelchair. Goes by E.J. 13 years old. Cutting school. In a wheelchair. “Something about a stray bullet.” Yeah, Gus smells the stink on that, but Executive Editor James C. Whitting III (perfect) does not.

+ Clay Davis’ finest moment? Moments? Sure was fun to watch.

+ “As an editor, I need a little more to fly this thing.” – Gus. Outmanned.

+ Whitting: “Do you have a problem with it?” Gus: “A little bit, kinda, yeah.”

+ Snoop’s disdain after the West Coast boyz in the hood thing goes awry: “Fuck those West Coast n-ers. In B-more, we aim and hit a n-er, you heard.”

+ And McNulty, with a little too much pride in the deed: “There’s a serial killer in Baltimore. He preys on the weakest among us. He needs to be caught.” Is that enough to get the money and manpower flowing? We shall see. But we know one thing – nothing is ever that easy on “The Wire.”

+ “I’m gone. I don’t want a part of this.” – Bunk. You knew he’d never go along with that trick. Not Bunk. No way.

+ What about you?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

HBO's Wrap-Up of All 4 Seasons of "The Wire"

Not possible, obviously, and in many ways it cheats the beautiful complexity of the series. Nor is it as effective as the viral video wrap of "The Sopranos," but at least it's interesting and for some people may spark some memories. This has been the most hyped season of "The Wire" yet but, as I said, it doesn't really matter. Ratings are not important to the series. It's in the can. Quality won.

Here's the video from HBO:

Sunday, January 6, 2008

"The Wire" Season 5, Ep. 1: "Less With More."

This deconstruction (and the comments that follow) contains spoilers. Watch the show first.

First off, hell yes, it’s back. And glad to have it back, too. Love the new opening and the Steve Earle version of the theme might even make Tom Waits smile.

Overview: If you haven’t read my review of Season 5 in The Chronicle, I urge you to do so before checking in here. These deconstructions use a lot of shorthand and don’t have to go into too much detail because the assumption is everybody’s caught up and knows the score. Mostly it’s a chance for diehard fans – I think that’s pretty much all of us – to pour out thoughts and feelings on what we’ve seen and where events could be going.

It probably doesn’t need to be said - you’ll say what you need to say in the spur of the moment no matter what – but as we all know, “The Wire” is full of surprises and often refuses to go where we want it to. And, as a critic, I’m a firm believer that perceptions on overall quality shift not only in time (reflection is always good – and for me each season of “The Wire” has often exceeded my expectations initially and individual episodes have grown in estimation on further watching) but also at the end of the entire story. You might want to guard against early emotions swinging in either direction.

And, since we’re five seasons into it, I’m guessing I don’t need the mandatory “don’t get all panicky about the pacing” lecture. Like Carver said, we’re all professionals here.

Season 5 picks up about a year after Season 4. And man, the institutional failure that Simon loves to document so thoroughly is just oppressive. To immediately follow the school crises with overtime and pay issues on the police force and to contrast that with cutbacks at the Baltimore Sun, whew, you just need to sit down.

I’ll be re-watching each episode every Sunday night to get refreshed, but I’m certainly at a Big Picture advantage having seen 7 of the 10 (I sure wish there were 12). I’m dying to see the final three. I’ll say this: My biggest concern, as I said in the review, is a decision that McNulty makes in future episodes. I think it’s something that takes a lot of thinking on because it goes to character motivation. It’s important to remember that motivations change. That’s why great television storytelling will always trump movies. Characters are living, they evolve. Our perceptions of them and our beliefs in what they will or won’t do need also change, even reluctantly. I’m OK with that particular storyline right now, regarding McNulty. And it may end up being a real piece of genius.

Alright, onward to some random observations and quotes:

+ It’s all about the crown with Marlo, is it not? He’s got the operation locked down so tight that even the best efforts of the Homicide Division can’t put a dent in his daily activities.

+ The Bunk opener. Great acting. Wendell Pierce, who loves ya?

+ Carver in command. Could be something he’ll grow into, as Season 4 hinted at. His evolution has been particularly interesting. “In the real world, they pay professionals.”

+ “Are we ready, professor?” That’s the last time Landsman will hear that, no doubt.

+“Just a weak ass mayor of a broke ass city.” Norman to Carcetti.

+ McNulty plays a great drunk. Between the cops and the reporters, this could be one drunk-ass season.

+ “Every plan a weak link.” True dat.

+ “Someday I want to find out what it’s like to work for a real newspaper.” Every journalist watching this series will laugh out loud at that – it’s something we’ve all thought at one time or another in their career. And just in case you’re wondering, I’m pretty happy where I’m at now, so I won’t be pining or whining here. Well, OK, maybe some whining.

+ “And he told your Republican ass to go fuck itself, right? Well, let me double down on that.” – Carcetti. He’s got passion, but sometimes lacks longer-view wisdom. Good thing he’s got Norman.

+ I already want to work for Clark Johnson. “At least he’s a columnist – he’s paid to sit on his ass…What kind of people sit around watching a fire? Some shameful shit right here.” Would that really happen at a paper? Hell yes.

+ “Don’t sleep on Marlo. He’s up on some shit here.” – Slim Charles to Prop Joe.

+ Ah, Bubs all cleaned up. Looking wobbly. Hope remains.

+ City Editor Gus Haynes: “Fucking fuck. Another burnt doll,” as he holds up the photo from the fire. Man, I laughed out loud. I used to work at a Bay Area paper where one photographer kept taking pictures for various stories and his truck would magically appear in the frame somehow.

+ Herc on the other side. In a suit. Weird.

+ Loved how Gus protected his reporter when one of the higher ups at the Sun wanted to know why they had missed the item about a drug dealer trading property with the city. Covering city council meetings - a hell of a lot tougher than you'd think.

+ "I was told a new day was coming. Clearly this isn't it." - Daniels.

+ "Wonder what if feels like to work in a real fucking police department." - McNulty after getting word that Major Crimes has been temporarily disbanded yet again.

+ I loved the closing scene. Dominic West did a great job swallowing all that rage at the incompetence and injustice of - what? politics, police life, major city financial implosions - and just having it overcome him. "Prodigal son," said Landsman.

Soooo, just to recap. Trouble in the schools, the Mayor a year late fulfilling campaign promises, discord in the police ranks, Marlo in control (angling for more?), political intrigue, a resurfacing of the storyline in Season 2, McNulty off the wagon and screwing up what he had with Beadie...ah, more good news from "The Wire."