Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Wire vs. The Sopranos: Food & Evil

Back in June, just after the final episode of The Sopranos aired, I wrote:

The role of food in The Sopranos is so enormous that it's overwhelming. It would take someone with way more patience and time than I have to do a comprehensive analysis of food in the whole series.
The same cannot be said for The Wire.

It's difficult not to compare the two shows just because of proximity - both occupy the same HBO Sunday night timeslot, both are widely acclaimed, both deal with the complexities of the underworld, and they're ending within a year of each other. Superficially, they have much in common. But just a cursory look at food starts to reveal their differences.

Now, I haven't rewatched the first four seasons as a refresher course, so I might be forgetting something. But even with only one viewing of The Sopranos, the food was memorable, an important part of the story, offering metaphors for relationships and conduits for conversations.

Which makes sense, because at it's core, The Sopranos was a story about one family. A family involved in a crazy, horrible lifestyle, but a family nonetheless.

The Wire, on the other hand, is a story about society. It involves families, because societies do. It includes relationships - they're integral to society. Like The Sopranos, The Wire humanizes everyone - even the most evil characters - through context and language and imagery. But as respectfully as it treats its characters, at its core, The Wire is bigger than its cast.

People create a society, create cultures. But cultures and society take on a life of their own -they're bigger than the sum of the individuals that make up their parts. And they're colder.

As I said earlier this morning, food brings warmth. The Sopranos, for all of its bluster and evil and death - it was warm because it was about family. You could feel the love, and you could feel the blood.

There's love present in The Wire, and there's certainly blood, but that's not what the story is about. The story is about the loss and the decay. About the cold. It hurts to watch. More food in the story might make it easier, more approachable. But less powerful.

The Wire is not The Sopranos (not that anyone's claiming it is).

But we care at least as much.

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