Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Wire Is Back. But Do They Ever Eat?

The Wire is the best show ever to be on television in the history of television and the future of television. Best best best. Ever ever ever.

Could there be a less controversial statement? Or an insight shared by more members of the media and commenters on even slightly intellectual TV sites? Mind you, I'm not disagreeing - I think the show is amazing and powerful and sometimes too much for me to even watch. Occasionally, and especially during season four, I've had to take a break mid-show to read Best Week Ever or something, relying on Cooper to catch me up on the action once the show's over.

Living in Baltimore certainly doesn't make the show's message any less powerful. Scenes are shot outside my old office building downtown - one day on my way to lunch, I ripped my skirt on a generator and the production manager immediately rectified the situation. Baltimore is a complicated and still very segregated city, and the Baltimore I live in mostly feels very far away from what I see on TV. But it's really not.

I recognize not only the street names, but also thinly veiled characters (it surprises me that I haven't read more national media comparisons between Carcetti and O'Malley). I've met someone who has a character on the show (as in, I met the real person the character is based on - they use her real name and everything). My only real gripe with the show is that there's only been one cop character (season two's Major Valchek) with a dead-on Baltimore accent.

Apparently, at last night's Baltimore premiere, held at the Senator Theater (maybe 10 minutes from my house), creator David Simon vaguely reassured Mayor Sheila Dixon that she shouldn't be offended by any of the shows characters, saying, "this season is no less fictional than anything else we've ever done." Call me cynical, but I'm pretty sure he was hedging. The show defies the traditional break between fiction and non. Simon knows that.

This week, both the internet and traditional media have been overflowing with praise for the show. In the Washington Post, Tom Shales paints a glowing, if gritty, picture of what's to come in this final season (with one comment that skates a little close to a spoiler for me. I'm not 100% sure I know who he says dies, but I have a really good guess. I'd rather not know if I'm right.) Slate reprints Jacob Weisberg's early season four analysis of the show, as well as an interview with David Simon from the end of the last season. On The House Next Door, Josh Shelov extolls The Wire's oft-praised literary qualities. Alan Sepinwall focuses on the show's black humor - necessary to counteract Baltimore's bleak landscape. At Pajiba, reviewers and commenters alike are gushing with praise for season four (and offering a nice summary for those who want to get back up to speed) and pretty much foaming at the mouth for season five.

The Baltimore Sun, featured prominently in season five and David Simon's old workplace, plays it safe by focusing coverage on the event of the premiere, rather than the show itself. Interesting and a little disappointing, but I'll hold out hope that the coverage improves. show on television, capable of inspiring breathless middle school-style gushing from respectable veteran TV journalists. But this is a food blog. Really.

So, on the show, where is the food?

Baltimore is a food city. We eat. A lot. We all do - food knows no class in this city (unlike, well, pretty much everything else). We all love crabs.

But in The food. Beer, definitely - the bar is as much a player in some scenes as the corner is in others. And occasionally there's a diner or an awkward evening meal at home, but it's really never about the food. Only the setting.

I'm not complaining, though. Just because I'm into food doesn't mean I think it has to be shoved into every movie and TV show I watch. In fact, I think it's lack of inclusion is just as telling as any focus on food would be.

The characters of The Wire are humanized, and we see them in relationships. But the show -the circumstances, the relationships, the setting, the people - it's not warm. Food would make it warmer. And that would be wrong.

Is a post about the absence of food still actually a post about food?

I don't know, but regardless, I wanted to post about the show. After all, it is the Best. Show. EVERRRRRR.

UPDATE: I'm verbose this morning. I take this a little further with a Wire/Sopranos comparison.

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