The Critical Optimist

Home » Television

Category Archives: Television

Watching Ninja Warrior

Since 2009 American Ninja Warrior has been growing in popularity.  Originally aired on the esquire network and then relegated to a late night slot on NBC, it now inhabits primetime on monday nights.  For all its red,white, and blue motifery, ANW is actually a western spinoff of a popular Japanese program called “Sasuke”.  Unlike Sasuke, which usually has one massive event per year, ANW operates like a normal tv program with different rounds each week of a summer-spanning mega tournament.

The contest in question consists of various courses containing obstacles that test speed, balance, strength, and agility.  The course is an innately eastern idea and could only have originated in Japan, but only Americans could be so brazen as to cover it with their own flag and call it their own.

The contest has only been completed by two Americans and won by one.  In 2015 competitors Isaac Caldiero and Geoff Britten finally finished the ordeal by climbing a massive 75 foot rope.  Britten — a father and husband with a real job — has apparently realized the folly of such a competition and moved on with his life and Caldiero — whose strategy for victory in the final round consisted of “becoming one with the rope” — presumably has used his $1,000,000 in prize money to purchase a lifetime supply of marijuana and left for the wilderness, never to return.

The sport’s two main trailblazers before 2015 were Brent Steffensen and Brian Arnold, who set records in their day but failed this year to breach even the second stage of Midoriyama.  The show has experiences a shift in domination, with most of the show’s longtime veterans delivering lackluster performances.  Of the three competitors to reach Midoriyama’s stage three, the only one with any relative experience was Joe “The Weatherman” Moravsky, who was on his fifth season.  The other two; Najee Richardson, and Sean Bryan a.k.a. “The Papal Ninja”, are fairly greenhorned with three and two seasons under their belts respectively.

The show’s entertainment value borders on camp sometimes with the very worst puns imaginable delivered by commentators Matt Isemann and Akbar Gbajabiamila (the only trap here is trying to pronounce that last name).  The pre-run mini-docs usually tap into a sense of falsified sadness, seemingly asking us to care about the pettiest of difficulties.

Still, there is something poetic about a game show with no winner.  After longtime veteran Drew Dreschel’s impressive but ultimately insufficient run on stage two, Christine Leahy interviewed him on the “Pom post-run interview” (the show wears its corporate sponsorship on its sleeve).  “I know how much you want this” she said.

“No you don’t” he replied, shaking his head.  Like Drew, these contestants are motivated by some invisible desire to achieve what logic says they cannot.  This is why they will be back next year in droves; and when none of them succeed, they will be back the year after that; and on, and on, and on, until they reach total victory.

 

The Wire: Season 2

After the gripping first season of David Simon’s show about life in Baltimore, I vigorously took to watching season two.  Instead of taking us down the dark alleyways of the inner city this time, Simon takes the story to the city’s waterfront shipping economy.  When a crate of dead bodies arrives in court, a police investigation headed by the crew from season one is initiated.

I might as well make my opinions clear from the get-go; this season was not the most enjoyable watching experience I’ve ever had.  Gone is the gang warfare, and phone surveillance of season one; replaced by scanning shipping containers.  I respect Simon’s intentions however, because in the making of this season, he cemented the Wire’s existence not as a crime show, but as a show about Baltimore.  The inner harbour is an important aspect of the city, and while it may not be anywhere near the interest level of the narcotic riddled streets, it is still a story that must be told.

Simon also delivers an antagonist that is far more complex than season one’s Avon Barksdale, in Frank Sobodka.  A blue-collar dock worker, Sobodka becomes involved in drug smuggling not because of greed, but to continue to support the Stevedore Union.  His crime is one of affection, and desperation — this makes him stand out.

Additionally, the show features excellent documentary style cinematography, with excellent wide shots and sweeping vistas of the beautifully decaying Baltimore waterfront.  The shows creators have taken even more effort this time around to show that the action is indeed in  Baltimore, with many establishing shots of local landmarks like the Domino Sugar sign.

My suggestion to anyone who has never watched the wire, is to fix this right away, but to start with season one, for obvious reasons.  For those who have seen and loved season one, you should absolutely bite the bullet, and slog through this less intense, slower paced, but no less rewarding second season.

The State of our Sitcoms

The Sitcom; at best, It can be a thirty minute escape to a place of humor with characters that are worth knowing; at its worst, it can be a half hour that feels twice as long slogging through failed humor and jokes that just don’t land.  In this post I’ll talk about some of my favorite sitcoms.  Some shows you should look into recording this coming season, some seasons you should look into streaming, and a few blunders that I recommend you avoid.  After each recommendation I’ll give you a percentage of how necessary it is for you to give that show a shot.

The Middle: A fairly conventional sitcom in terms of its family dynamic and relationships with other characters, The Middle is nonetheless consistently entertaining.  We have Frankie and Mike, the parents; Axl, the underacheiver that succeeds at everything; Sue, the overachiever that generally fails nonetheless; and Brick, the bookworm with Tourette’s.  I think my favorite thing about this show is that there is no outlandish premise to capitalize upon, which makes room for excellent writing, and more importantly, actual character growth.  Axl is the prime example of this, and the only one I’ll use for fear of spoiling a very satisfying series.  In high school he wins at everything.  Sports. girls, and life in general.  But when he gets to college, he doesn’t start on the football team (and when the coach plays him he literally drops the ball) girls avoid him like a stench, and he discovers that life is actually pretty hard. But he changes, and improves himself for the better.  This is the strength of The Middle.  Unlike most shows which generally find us laughing at the characters, we get to see their lives unfold, and we’re laughing with them.

80% You won’t bust a gut laughing, but you’ll be entertained.

 

American Housewife: I apologize to any fans of this show, if you exist, because this series is trash.  Our main character is Katy Mixon’s Katie, a middle class housewife living in a well to do neighborhood.  The series consists mostly of her discontented complaints about people in her area, who are better, or richer, or skinnier than her.  In the end, I suppose that this is a show marketed to insecure mid-age moms, who might enjoy the show if not for Mixon’s smug and painfully grating voiceovers.  My family and I could not get through the premier.

0% Don’t watch this show

 

The Goldbergs: The Goldbergs began as a smartly written love letter to the 80s and its culture, but has since become a formulaic nostalgia hodgepodge.  In the first and second seasons, audiences were treated to thoughtfully written stories detailing the titular family’s reactions to and relationships with various 80s phenomena.  Dealing with the presidential fitness test, trying to obtain a pair of Reebok Pump shoes, and even attempting to relive the events of The Goonies all were topics of episodes.  The show is still funny; it’s just that I can summarize beat for beat each episode before I even see it.

  1. A character gushes about a subject of 80s interest
  2. A family member/friend disagrees with them about something
  3. Verbal wordplay ensues, in which a phrase that is funny, regardless of context gets batted around as many times as can possibly be written in.  Something like “JUST BANG THE BONGOES!”, or “LITTLE WORMS MAKE MY CLOTHES!”
  4. A family member has their feelings hurt and sulks off
  5. The other character relents and does a complete 180 in terms of their motivations, and apologises to the person they have offended.
  6. A power ballad plays and everyone hugs.  All is well, somehow.

This is all well and good, but after 4 seasons of this, it tends to cloy.  Nonetheless, this clip from season 1 is one of the funniest things I have ever seen, period.

50% This show will interest some, and bore others.  I recommend at least trying out the first season.

 

The Grinder: When actor Dean Sanderson (Rob Lowe)’s hit law drama gets cancelled, he moves back home to live with his family, which runs an actual law firm.  What this results in is a brilliant clash of realities;  That of actual law practice, and that of a fictionalized drama.  The show is a simultaneous parody and glorification of law dramas right down to its structure and underlying plot.  The jokes come from wit and delivery (especially in Lowe’s case) and not necessarily from gross-out gags, which many vehicles seem to be sinking to these days.

90% This is what I would define as “thoughtful comedy”  I know a lot of people who don’t really want to think when they watch a sitcom, which is totally fine.  If this is you, I doubt The Grinder will appeal to you.  Otherwise, the show is available on DvD and Netflix…Check it out!

 

Powerless: I had my doubts about Powerless from the beginning.  A friend first explained the premise to me as “The Office but in the DC universe”.  I thought this was a decent idea, with some potential, but I had my reservations.  The Office was great for many reasons, but many of them don’t seem to be understood; in the age of social media, and bite sized information, jokes that go unexplained, like much of Michael Scott’s humor are a rarity.  Unfortunately, Powerless has none of the intelligence that its concept may have suggested.  Attempts at humor make you cringe, and any actual funniness derived from the DCEU was nowhere to be found in the episode I watched.

40% Superhero humor is a promising concept that is still fairly unexplored, and fails to soar here.

 

 

Superstore: Yet another “Office inspired” show, this one more deliberately so Superstore is The Office but in a walmart.  The characters are largely the same people, but with some variation.  Jonah, the Jim parallel is more outgoing, and Amy, the  Pam of this show isn’t just engaged, she’s married.  The first episode of the show is hilarious but it pretty much goes downhill from there, the jokes bordering on gross, even to the point of becoming awkward and not even funny anymore.

45% The show had some funny moments, but it isn’t enough to put a show in a workplace, and draw similarities to The Office.  Good shows aren’t made by formula.

 

Speechless: Minnie Driver is the driving force of this comedy about a family whose life is far from normal due to the fact that one of the boys is a paraplegic.  The genius of this show lies in the way creator Scott Silveri sidesteps PC culture by mocking it.  When J.J. Dimeo enters a new school, much humor is derived from the way that the teachers and students swoon over him.  They applaud his “bravery” while his brother and sister roll their eyes.  In doing this, the show perfectly casts his image, not as a kid with a disability, but as a regular person, who just happens to be in a wheelchair.

60% This is a very intelligent comedy that shows a down to earth look at the life of a disabled person, that probably can’t be seen anywhere else.  Plus, it’s funny to boot.

 

Parks & Recreation: 

ron-swanson-quotes-funniest

Parks & Rec is a hilarious show about, you guessed it; A Parks & Rec department.  The characters are extremely well written, and equally well-developed.  The jokes are perfect as well, which is why a show that ended two years ago still persists in popularity among the internet generation.

umm…100%?  This feels kind of pointless.  You’ve probably already seen this show, and if you haven’t you know that you should.

 

Blackish: A gutsy show that is as thoughtful as it is hilarious, Kenya Barris’s Blackish tackles issues that, while usually pertaining directly to the black community, affect all of us.  I’ve always appreciated the show, and found it extremely funny, but I found a new respect for the show after this season’s inauguration episode.  Anthony Anderson’s Dre (who is partially modeled from Barris himself) gave a stirring monologue detailing why, despite how bleak he felt America’s political future looked, he wasn’t giving up, because He loves America, even when it doesn’t love him back.

95% Similar to Grinder if you don’t like thinking during your sitcom time, you probably won’t like this.  Blackish seems to be the thinkingest show in tv right now.

 

The Office 

Nothing I can write can say it better than that clip.

100% Do I even need to explain myself?

Stranger Things

In 2014 the creative minds of Henry Gayden and Andrew Panay brought us Earth to Echo, a labor of love, in the vein of 1980s coming of age films, but updated for the digital age and flecked all about with cell phones, cameras, and other hallmarks of generation Z living.  I found the film to be enjoyable; the cutting in and out of cell phone footage struck me as rather authentic despite the film’s outlandish premise and director Dave Greens documentarian approach towards adolescent adventure felt fresh and new.  Ever a fan of ET’s climactic bike chase I saw the clear parallels in scenes where the kids of this movie drive down a dark country road in the middle of the desert.

Nonetheless, this movie was lambasted by critics as a rip-off of  E.T. the Extraterrestrial, and criticized (rightfully so, I must admit sullenly) for its inconsistent lens.  I perfectly understand this; no critic wants to be thrust back and forth between the seat of a theater — watching the epic spectacle take place — and the adventure itself — seeing shaky cam documentation of the event as it happens.

Even at a cramped and frenetic 82 minutes, the movie feels long. That’s what happens when the audience can guess everything that’s going to happen in advance. Even the 12-year-olds the movie is aimed at weren’t born yesterday

–Kyle Smith, New York Post

What really struck me about Earth To Echo was the review by Adam R. Holz of Pluggedin in which said writer described his conversation with the Andrew Panay (also the film’s producer) at a screening of the movie.

 “Don’t you think it’s weird that your generation hasn’t had a Goonies to talk to you? … I thought it was about time you kids had the same experience us adults have had.”

–Andrew Panay

This is an admirable pursuit, these stories of timeless adventure, heroism, and growing maturity will always be important.  There remains however, the troubling fact that they must be told well.  Enter… Stranger Things.  

This is an eight episode miniseries created by the Duffer Brothers and dropped onto netflix last year.  The show stars a whole gaggle of excellent actors including Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, and Caleb Mclaughlin.  All give excellent performances, which can be attributed to their merits as actors, but also the balanced, symetrical writing that weaves the plot together without ever dragging.

In Stranger Things a small town is thrown in to turmoil when a young boy named Will goes missing.  His mother begins communicating with him via supernatural means, while appearing to descend into madness.  Depressed cop Hopper is reinvigorated in his search for answers, and three friends of Will’s take it upon themselves to find where Will meant and bring him back.  All of this stacks up to roughly six hours or so of rock solid character development.

As one of tv’s most shallow viewers ever, I’ll admit that in a show like this, it’s not unheard of for me to clock out on certain character arcs that fail to engage.  Don’t ask me a thing about Karen Page in season 2 of Daredevil, because I’ve completely forgotten it.  It’s just what dramatic shows tend to do these days.  Give you something to move the plot along, but then turn to the actions of a side character, doing something that doesn’t connect with the plot whatsoever, and may or may not be resolved.  The Duffer Brothers avoid this by centering every plot event and character motivation upon the supernatural events plaguing the town.  The result is a sight to behold; 45 minute episodes that feel like they’ve just breezed by in fifteen; such is the caliber of this show’s construction.

The series climax is pure brilliance.  The climactic action scene, in which the monster that has been the cause of everyone’s pain is finally seen.  It is made more terrifying by the flashing lights in the room.  The first confrontation with the beast, in which three outleagued teens take it on ought to be seen as a master class on shooting action with suspense.  First they set up their ambush, Home Alone style.  Laying out a bear trap, loading a revolver, driving spikes through a bat, and finally, stringing up lights to fortell of the monster’s arrival and ready them to wish merry christmas to that filthy animal.

When the monster finally enters from its parallel dimension, the lights begin flickering like crazy.  Our vision is greatly occulted, but not really.  We see just enough to perfectly understand what is happening.  Like a hyper-sped slide show, the Duffer’s deftly communicate the dialogue of the struggle, keeping us invested, even as we creep closer and closer to the edge of our seats.

In the end, Stranger Things is a triumph of writing, acting, and direction.  It draws on elemental nostalgia, but only as a boost to an already proficient plot.  A surprise emotional and visual thrill ride, I enjoyed stranger things more than I’ve enjoyed any extended narrative in a long time, and I can’t wait to see what the Duffer Brothers have in store for us next season.

 

Into The Badlands Season 1

Daniel Wu in Into the Badlands

Into the Badlands, by now, is a show that everyone probably knows of, if not about.  With the mass popularity of other AMC shows like Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead, high viewership was not difficult for the show to obtain.  I checked it out on  a whim back in 2015, and was instantly floored by the show’s combat.  The first fight scene happens fairly early in the first episode, with one of the show’s main character’s, Sunny, dispensing lethality to a group of outlaws along the side of the road.

I continued to watch.  The second thing that drew me in was the show’s world building.  The titular location of the Badlands is a place that appears as a cross between a southern plantation, and a feudalist monastery.  After some sort of unnamed fallout or disaster, the use of guns was abolished and powerful warlords called barons rose and claimed the territory.  The barons exist in harmony but rule with iron fists, sending “Clippers” like Sunny to eliminate resistance to their power.  Most enticing about this world though is the fact that pretty much everyone seems to grasp at least a basic knowledge of martial arts combat, opening the door for a variety of complex and vibrant combat set pieces that blend slick choreography with Tarantino grade stylized gore.  Think of the beautiful poetry of fight scenes in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon combined with the arresting blood spatters of Kill Bill.

Our story picks up when Sunny, our anti-hero discovers the strange abilities of a boy named M.K.  who suddenly gains superhuman strength, speed, and poise when his skin is broken.  He also bears with him a pendant indicating that there is a place beyond the badlands, where Sunny and his lover Veil — to whom he is essentially married — can escape and raise their soon to be born child.

A lot of what makes the first season of Into the Badlands so compelling is the fact that as a pilot season, its six episode deadline makes it a very self contained story.  There is a definite beginning and end to the narrative, and there is very little fluff along the way.  I won’t say that the plot was the most powerfully moving story ever, but it was simple enough not to trip over itself and allow the show’s excellent choreography and action cinematography shine through.

The way that this fight scene is shot goes beyond cool looking moves.  Look at how the rain drips off the brim of a fedora; how the muddy water splashes up out of a puddle.  This is a show that understands how to shoot a scene with an atmospheric tension that makes the ensuing battle that much more fascinating to watch.

If I haven’t made it clear enough, the sword fighting is the star of the show here;  Not the acting, or the score (as catch as the theme song is).  But the story is just coherent enough to string together some of the best action sequences you will ever witness.  As far as martial arts TV is concerned, that’s about all you can ask for.

Legion

Legion, the comic character is one of the most unsettling characters I have ever read.  His insanity (and his gravity defying hair-do) really don’t jive with the rest of the X-Men, or even the Marvel universe for that matter.  I checked out Legion as an obligatory measure, fully expecting it to choke on its own mediocrity, like Agents of Shield, and a whole host of CW iterations before.  But it doesn’t choke.  It breathes just fine, with deep, healthy breaths.  Legion’s first season is organized very uniquely, almost like an eight-hour movie.  Its first two episodes are the first act, the rising action.  The 3rd, 4th, and 5th are the rising action.  The final three are the climax, and the conclusion.

The show begins as sort of wry comedy.  David Haller has been diagnosed as insane, and he doesn’t understand his powers.  He doesn’t understand he has them for that matter, everything abnormal about his life is just marked down as a side effect of his schizophrenia.  He has learned to live with the voices in his head, but he only understands them as arbitrary voices, and not offshoots of his own personality.  In the first episode, when an interrogator asks him if the voices told him to kill himself, he answers with a face as straight as a line; “No, they told me to stop.”

David is broken out of his prison, and brought to Summerland, a place with like-minded people, and other superhumans.  He learns that he isn’t exactly crazy, but just special.  He is, in fact, one of the most powerful beings in the world.  He and his allies delve deep into his mind, bringing to the table some excellent visual effects.  The memories that David relived first episode are now walked through by Ptonomy Wallace, an “artist” of his trade, who can reconstruct and manipulate a person’s memories in exact detail.  The events transpire just as normal, but with David and those trying to crack the code of his abilities observing and subtly interacting with the things that happen.

A perfectly horrifying character appears here and there as the show progresses, and his appearances grow more and more frequent.  “The Devil With The Yellow Eyes” as he is known menacingly looks on at David, rarely making any sound, save for a disconcerting grunt.  This, as well as plenty of other terrifying figments of David’s imagination, make the show’s second “section” if you will, a bit of a cerebral horror mystery.  Some moments where someone is trapped in one of the various cranial spaces, with the evil monster approaching are nerve-rackingly unnerving, and downright fear inducing.  Without necessarily understanding what David goes through, we still are just as afraid as he is.  Show creator Noah Hawley is a modern genius.

Legion also manipulates reality, on a level just short of Deadpool’s obliteration of the fourth wall.  Legion doesn’t knock it down, but it definitely taps at the glass.  Sound, and color are the toys of the director, and he does with them what he pleases (this is one instance where six different directors, and four different writers isn’t really a bad thing).  At one point, a pitched ringing goes through the air, and the character’s mouths begin moving, with no sound coming out.  Another, more obnoxious still, features overpowering music, and all dialogue broadcast via intertitle cards like an old-fashioned silent movie.

The last couple of episodes take place in the same moment in time, with the clock frozen just before David and his lover are about to be mowed down by — an oddly included — Thompson machine gun.  The characters move back and forth on the astral plane, trying to figure out how to deal with this quite vexing conundrum.  Suddenly, Oliver, a confusing character, who has more or less lost his mind after years of cryogenic stasis appears to save the day.  He begins waving his arms like a conductor, and the smoke from the bullets transforms into musical notes, producing the music of a beautiful symphony.  Inside the astral plane, the same song rings out, but with technological manipulation, giving watchers (or listeners rather) a twisted, chaotic, distortion of the original melody.

There has been a lot of talk about how Legion will fit into the X-Men universe, maybe too much talk.  As many have pointed out, David is in fact the son of esteemed psychic Charles Xavier, and in a flashback sequence, we catch a glimpse of his Iconic wheelchair.  This is an enticing prospect, but if you ask me, Legion just isn’t compatible with anything else the FCU has produced.  Can the conflicted David Haller share the screen with the squarish Wolverine?  Only if Legion’s visual punch is severely neutered; otherwise, extreme tonal disagreement would ensue.  I’ve always been as huge a fan of the interconnected Marvel universe as the next guy; Combining five different movie characters into one alien blasting spectacular is one of the greatest decisions any movie exec. has ever made.  However, I think we as comic fans, moviegoers, tv watchers, and as members of a media consuming populace, have lost sight of what made these properties so compelling: the stories behind them.  Marvel’s Agents of Shield was a great show, until it introduced Lady Sif, and Enchantress, (not the hula-dancing one, although that is one hilarious premise) both characters from Thor.  After this, the writing floundered, and lost all the intrigue that propelled its first few episodes forward.  I’m happy to say that Legion has plenty of this energy to spare.  The psychedelic superhero vehicle has come blasting out of the gate with its foot glued to the accelerator for eight straight episodes.  I only hope that it is able to keep its foot on the gas.

The Wire: Season 1

As a lifelong resident of Baltimore there is a certain interest I took in The Wire; simply because it is set, and was filmed barely an hour from where I live.  The location of the show plays a major part in the show’s progression as it is partially based upon the accounts of the show’s creator David Simon who was a Baltimore City reporter during the 80s and 90s.  This basis in reality makes it more than a disposable cop show.  In fact, it really isn’t a cop show, as much as it is a show where a large percent of the characters are cops.  The drug dealers are focused upon very extensively as well, making the show a well-rounded experience.

The Wire details the ordeal of the Baltimore City Police Department and their struggle to bring to heel the illegal operations of drug dealer Avon Barksdale (who was based on a real Baltimorean kingpin).  Various people are introduced throughout the series, all of which receive a satisfying amount of development.  There are no disposable characters in The Wire; each serves as a driving force to the progression of the story, a cog in the machine of the narrative.  There is Jimmy McNulty, a detective, and the show’s main character for the most part.  He is a man motivated by a desire for justice, but increasingly frustrated with the bureaucracy of the city’s law system.  Almost parallel to him is D’angelo Barksdale, nephew to Avon Barksdale.  His arc is a fascinating one.  He feels a need to “get out of the game” and leave crime altogether, a feeling that strengthens as he sees more and more the horrors of Baltimore.  Also providing a fascinating performance is Idris Elba, as Russell “Stringer” Bell, Barksdale’s right hand man.  Bell seeks an exit to the dealing operations, but less because of moral obligation, than desire for entrepreneurial legitimacy; we see him working at a printing and copying business and taking business economics classes in his spare time.

Slightly outside the main story progression, is the arc of Omar Little, a stick up man who targets the gang men in Baltimore, but lives by a code that doesn’t allow for the hurting of civilians and innocence.  When one of his associates is brutally made an example of by the Barksdale organization, he embarks on a rampage, no longer using his sawed-off to rob the gangmen, but to kill them.  His haunting whistling of “The Farmer and the Dell” is genuinely intimidating, as is the way he casually strolls down a street in a trench coat while residents hurry away shouting “Omar’s Comin'”.

The Wire is what Simon calls, a “Visual Novel”.  The show’s episodes are like chapters in a book.  The first seven episodes or so are rising action, setting the stage for the main events.  The middle five are hectic and action packed climactic chapters, and the final episode is the falling action, and the closing off of all these loose ends.  As each episode is not in itself a story, but only a fragment of one, the larger story is made all the more impactful.  The show is also devoid of artificial stimulation of any kind.  There are no voiceovers, or on-screen texts.  Any music the viewer hears comes from a car radio or a restaurant sound system somewhere within the scene.  I’m not opposed to these things necessarily — as a matter of fact, my favorite movie of all time is almost always accompanied by background music, and begins with the mother of all onscreen texts floating through space — but their absence in this case adds to the story’s realism and authenticity.

Despite being made in 2002, The Wire somehow still feels fresh, and new.  Far from growing irrelevant with age, its deep story transcends time.  Simultaneously, it can also works as a period piece, reminding viewers of a time when cloning a drug dealers pager, so they could know when they were going to a wiretapped payphone was cutting edge police work.  Low-res box-shaped computers frequent the BCPD offices, and in some cases, reports are done with type writers.  The focus on technology of a decade past adds an entirely new layer of interest to the show’s events fifteen years later.

The Wire follows all of its characters through a three-dimensional lens.  Even the drug dealers — whose actions are nothing short of despicable — are given layers that make them interesting to the viewer.  Even though we hate what they do, we sympathize with them, and their plight.  The city really does trap people, and for many, the only way out is criminality.  Nothing illustrates this better than a conversation between D’angelo Barksdale, and Stringer Bell.  Stringer orders D’angelo not to pay their employees for a week, since he suspects a mole in the gang’s midst.  When D’angelo suggests that a man may not work without pay.  Stringer smartly retorts, (I quote from memory) “Where are they gonna go, college?”  We emphasize with the police and their pursuit of justice, but also with the men they hunt, trapped by circumstance in a viscous cycle of violence and illegal activity.  We condemn their action’s but in an odd way, understand the motivations behind them.  Nonetheless, the Wire  draws a line of morality, never in any way shape or form unsure about what is right or wrong.  It has been often hailed one of the best TV programs of all time, and while the truth of this is debatable, it is certainly worth consideration.