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kottke.org posts about The Wire

On the TV

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2007

What with the newborn taking up much of my days, I didn’t have too much time to watch TV this summer. I did catch a few shows, however.

Ninja Warrior. This is my new favorite show to truly zone out to. It’s an obstacle course competition program from Japan called Sasuke, repackaged by the G4 network for an American audience. This YouTube video — featuring my favorite Ninja Warrior competitor, fisherman Makoto Nagano — should provide you with a decent taste of the show. Wikipedia has more information than you probably want to know about the program. Time/place: G4, all hours of the day (but officially 6pm & 10pm ET).

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? See Idiocracy. See also Miss Teen South Carolina. I couldn’t click away fast enough. Time/place: not even gonna tell you.

Deadwood, season one. Finally got around to checking this out after many recommendations from friends. Big fan so far, through 10 episodes. Gem Saloon owner Al Swearengen is one of the best TV characters in recent memory. Aside from the obvious — Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, and Deadwood itself — I was surprised to learn that many of the characters, events, and establishments in the show actually existed and took place, including Swearengen, E.B., and the Gem. I imagine there’s an extensive discussion on the web somewhere about how much the show deviates from recorded history, but I’m staying away for now for fear of spoilers, having already made the mistake of learning of Wild Bill’s story arc in a book about the Wild West. Time/place: HBO2 is currently rerunning season one at 8pm ET. Also available on DVD, anytime.

The Wire, seasons one, two, and three. Everyone dogs on season two of The Wire (relatively speaking), but after a second viewing, it’s right up there with one and three for me. Collectively the best program ever shown on TV, case closed, next topic, I’m not even gonna discuss that with you. G.O.A.T. However, up for debate: despite being everyone’s favorite character on the show (but not mine), Omar Little is actually the least realistic character on a show defined by its realism. A gay thief/killer/felon who doesn’t swear and adheres to a personal code of conduct? Come on! Time/place: BET is showing episodes of season three on Thursdays at 9:30pm ET, but edited for content and with commercials. Which is like viewing Titian’s nudes with all the naughty bits pixelated out and a “Sponsored by AXE Deodorant Body Spray” banner draped over it. Just get the DVDs…beg, borrow, or steal if you have to.

Planet Earth. A highly recommended nature series that originally aired on the BBC in early 2006 (with David Attenborough narrating) and jumped to the Discovery Channel earlier this year (with Sigourney Weaver narrating). We caught several episodes on Discovery HD, which is a spectacular way to watch the series. My favorite scenes depicted the symbiotic relationships that develop in the wild: snakes and fish hunting together, dolphins and birds herding fish, spiders diving for prey trapped by pitcher plants. NY Times review, Washington Post review, detailed Wikipedia entry. Time/place: Not on TV in the US anymore, as far as I know. Your best bet is on DVD or, if you have an HD player, get the full effect on HD DVD or Blu-ray. Get the Attenborough-narrated version if you can. Oh, it looks like there’s a few highly pixelated complete episodes of Planet Earth on Google Video…get ‘em before they get taken down.

Summer news regarding The Wire (including season five info)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2007

Show creator David Simon talks with author Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, etc.) in the The August 2007 issue of The Believer. The entire interview isn’t available online but one of the three best bits is:

My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell.

Simon goes on to talk about the overarching theme of The Wire: the exploration of the postmodern American city and the struggle of the individual against the city’s institutions. Many of his thoughts on that particular subject are contained in this Dec 2006 interview at Slate. But in talking with Hornby, Simon draws a parallel between these city institutions and the Greek gods:

Another reason the show may feel different than a lot of television: our model is not quite so Shakespearian as other high-end HBO fare. The Sopranos and Deadwood — two shows that I do admire — offer a good deal of Macbeth or Richard III or Hamlet in their focus on the angst and machinations of their central characters (Tony Soprano, Al Swearingen). Much of our modern theatre seems rooted in the Shakespearian discovery of the modern mind. We’re stealing instead from an earlier, less-traveled construct — the Greeks — lifting our thematic stance wholesale from Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides to create doomed and fated protagonists who confront a rigged game and their own mortality.

But instead of the old gods, The Wire is a Greek tragedy in which the postmodern institutions are the Olympian forces. It’s the police department, or the drug economy, or the political structures, or the school administration, or the macroeconomics forces that are throwing the lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no reason. In much of television, and in a good deal of our stage drama, individuals are often portrayed as rising above institutions to achieve catharsis. In this drama, the institutions always prove larger, and those characters with hubris enough to challenge the postmodern construct of American empire are invariably mocked, marginalized, or crushed. Greek tragedy for the new millenium, so to speak.

The NY Times still deals in the Shakespearian and tells us the story of Donnie Andrews and Fran Boyd (thx, nirav), whom Simon and The Wire co-creator Edward Burns introduced to each other. Andrews was the inspiration for the popular Omar Little character on the show and Boyd was depicted in a previous Simon/Burns collaboration called The Corner. The Times also has their wedding announcement.

And finally, some news about season five. Sadly, instead of 12 or 13 episodes, the final season of the show will only consist of 10 episodes. The shooting of the final episode wrapped on September 1 and the season will premiere on Jan 6, 2008 (both facts courtesy of a Washington Post article about the end of the show). The season 4 DVD should be out a month or two before that. Two actors from Homicide: Life on the Street (based on a book by, you guessed it, David Simon) will appear in the final season: Clark Johnson (who also directed the final episode) and Richard Belzer, who will reprise his Homicide role as Detective John Munch.

Last 100 posts, part 8

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2007

Here are some updates on some of the topics, links, ideas, posts, people, etc. that have appeared on kottke.org recently (previous installment is here):

The Celluloid Skyline exhibition at Grand Central is well worth checking out…I was up there this past weekend. Pentagram collaborated with Saunders on the exhibit and wrote up a brief piece on how it came together.

My short post on Nina Planck’s reaction to the recent “death by veganism”, as she calls it, of a baby boy is a good reminder that I don’t always agree with the things I link to. My only criteria for posting a link is that it’s interesting, whether I think it’s right or wrong or am still trying to form an opinion about it. Anyway, I got lots of mail about this one, much of it that said that the parents’ veganism was beside the point — which the prosecutors and jury in the subsequent criminal case agreed with (thx, matt) — and that a headline like “Death By Stupidity” was probably more appropriate. After all, you don’t see “Death by Omnivorism” headlines every time a baby with a more traditional diet dies of starvation.

Debra from Culiblog pointed out that contrary to Planck’s assertion that “there are no vegan societies”, the Jainists practice vegetarianism and veganism. On the other side of the aisle, meat fan Michael Ruhlman chastised Planck for going too easy on vegans, saying that “Veganism is a colossal arrogance, a refusal to admit to our own nature, a denial of our humanity. Sometimes it kills people. And it’s not very much fun, besides.” You can imagine the discussion that generated…although it was nothing like the 300+ comment thread on MetaFilter.

My opinion of Cars improved with a second viewing.

Discover’s chat bot conversation reminded a reader of this old interview with the Ask Jeeves search engine (thx david). Back in 2002, I interviewed ELLEGirl magazine’s AIMbot:

jkottke: Do you do anything to celebrate or recognize the changing of seasons?
ELLEgirlBuddy: do you do anything to celebrate or recognize the changing of seasons? that’s a tough choice.
jkottke: yes, to celebrate or merely recognize. that is a toughie.
ELLEgirlBuddy: yes to celebrate or merely recognize that is a toughie? i dunno.
jkottke: you seem like an actual 13 year old girl.
ELLEgirlBuddy: i haven’t really made a decision ‘bout that.
jkottke: growing up is tough, isn’t it?
ELLEgirlBuddy: i dunno.

And whoever posted the chat bot story to Digg (5696 Diggs and counting!) used the exact wording from my original post. You’re welcome!

Prime, David Burke’s quarter-million-dollar Black Angus bull, has his own web site. (thx, brian)

Regarding Alex Reisner’s excellent baseball statistics web site and, in particular, the pennant race graphs, here’s another interesting visualization of the pennant races…you can see the teams race to the end of the year like horses. (thx, scott)

Re: my post on better living through self-deception, I’ve heard that pregnant women tend to forget the pain of childbirth, perhaps because “endorphins reduce the amount of information trauma victims can store”. Also related tangetially is this article on research into lying and laughing, which includes this simple test to see if you’re a good liar:

Are you a good liar? Most people think that they are, but in reality there are big differences in how well we can pull the wool over the eyes of others. There is a very simple test that can help determine your ability to lie. Using the first finger of your dominant hand, draw a capital letter Q on your forehead.

Some people draw the letter Q in such a way that they themselves can read it. That is, they place the tail of the Q on the right-hand side of their forehead. Other people draw the letter in a way that can be read by someone facing them, with the tail of the Q on the left side of their forehead. This quick test provides a rough measure of a concept known as “self-monitoring”. High self-monitors tend to draw the letter Q in a way in which it could be seen by someone facing them. Low self-monitors tend to draw the letter Q in a way in which it could be read by themselves.

High self-monitors tend to be concerned with how other people see them. They are happy being the centre of attention, can easily adapt their behaviour to suit the situation in which they find themselves, and are skilled at manipulating the way in which others see them. As a result, they tend to be good at lying. In contrast, low self-monitors come across as being the “same person” in different situations. Their behaviour is guided more by their inner feelings and values, and they are less aware of their impact on those around them. They also tend to lie less in life, and so not be so skilled at deceit.

The skyscraper with one floor isn’t exactly a new idea. Rem Koolhaas won a competition to build two libraries in France with one spiraling floor in 1992 (thx, mike). Of course, there’s the Guggenheim in NYC and many parking garages.

After posting a brief piece on Baltimore last week, I discovered that several of my readers are current or former residents of Charm City…or at least have an interest in it. Armin sent along the Renaming Baltimore project…possible names are Domino, Maryland and Lessismore. A Baltimore Sun article on the Baltimore Youth Lacrosse League published shortly after my post also referenced the idea of “Two Baltimores. Two cities in one.” The Wire’s many juxtapositions of the “old” and “new” Baltimore are evident to viewers of the series. Meanwhile, Mobtown Shank took a look at the crime statistics for Baltimore and noted that crime has actually decreased more than 40% from 1999 to 2005. (thx, fred)

Cognitive Daily took an informal poll and found that fewer than half the respondants worked a standard 8-5 Mon-Fri schedule. Maybe that’s why the streets and coffeeshops aren’t empty during the workday.

Beyond Chron: “In San Francisco, neighborhoods that

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2007

Beyond Chron: “In San Francisco, neighborhoods that have defeated gentrification have been treated as ‘containment zones,’ meaning that unreasonable levels of crime, violence and drugs are tolerated so that such activities do not spread to upscale areas. The Tenderloin has long been one of the city’s leading containment zones, but those days are over.” Sounds a bit like Hamsterdam from season three of The Wire.

Generation Kill is the newest project for

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2007

Generation Kill is the newest project for HBO from David Simon and Ed Burns, creators of The Wire. It’s a 7-hour miniseries based on Marines fighting in the Iraq war. “Gritty mini will look at the early movements of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion and depict the complex challenges faced by the U.S.-led mission even in the war’s early stages.” (via crazymonk)

BET is showing season one of The

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2007

BET is showing season one of The Wire. Not the best way to watch the show (with commercials and edited for television), but handy if you don’t have other access to it.

Googling from the future

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2006

A few years ago, I wrote about the potential hazards of watching time-shifted entertainment. Meg and I were watching a Red Sox-Yankees playoff game on TiVo and were about 20 minutes behind realtime events when Meg’s phone rang:

She picked it up and looked at it, distracted by the game and unsure of what to do with it. I immediately realized it was her parents, calling with word of the completed game.

“No, no, don’t answer it!” I yelled. “It’s your parents! They’re calling from the future!”

In promoting season four of The Wire, HBO sent out screener DVDs of the entire season to reviewers. By mid-October, some enterprising person ripped those DVDs and made all season 4 episodes available online, more than a month before the final episode was to be shown on TV. Unfortunately, those early viewers did some Googling about upcoming plot points which ended up in the referer logs of Heaven and Here, a popular blog about The Wire. (Note: if you haven’t watched all of season 4, DON’T CLICK THROUGH to Heaven and Here…major spoilers!!) A spoiler-free excerpt:

Finally, I would like to say a few words on spoilers, On-Demand, and the concept of the collective. My big spoiler moment came about halfway through the season, which is rather a lucky break for me considering how much material I have been traversing each week related to the show. It was in the search terms for this very site, and it came in just three words: “[redacted]” It’s the image you see for a second, recognize that you don’t want to see, and quickly turn away from but can never even hope to forget. […] I was able to avoid other spoilers, which again is kind of miraculous, but that note rang in my head all season, and it also had to be this ugly secret i kept while discussing the show here and with friends.

Who says time travel hasn’t been invented yet?

Fantastic interview with David Simon in Slate.

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2006

Fantastic interview with David Simon in Slate. If you’re a fan of The Wire and caught up on season four, I really recommend reading this. When Simon was asked what the show was about, he said: “it’s about the very simple idea that, in this Postmodern world of ours, human beings — all of us — are worth less. We’re worth less every day, despite the fact that some of us are achieving more and more. It’s the triumph of capitalism.”

Google Maps satellite view of where Marlo

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2006

Google Maps satellite view of where Marlo hangs out on The Wire. (thx, turbanhead)

Long but great NPR interview with Ed

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2006

Long but great NPR interview with Ed Burns, writer and producer of The Wire. We just finished season 4 last night and it took the stuffing right out of me. I haven’t been this depressed for months. (thx to the several people who recommended this)

Profile of Felicia Pearson, who came off

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2006

Profile of Felicia Pearson, who came off the streets of Baltimore to play Snoop on The Wire.

Video of a Steven Levitt talk on

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2006

Video of a Steven Levitt talk on the economics of gangs and why gangbanger is not such a good vocation (for one thing, the job pays less than McDonald’s). The board of directors stuff made me think of the co-op on The Wire.

Clay Davis: Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeit. This is right up

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2006

Clay Davis: Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeit. This is right up there with Khaaan! (thx, david)

Short Q&A with David Simon about The Wire.

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2006

Short Q&A with David Simon about The Wire.

Because of his open source programming connection,

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2006

Because of his open source programming connection, Hans Reiser’s arrest for his wife’s murder was big news in that community. After his wife disappeared, Reiser bought 2 books on murder, including David Simon’s Homicide. Simon is the creator of The Wire.

Eyes on the Prize

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2006

I posted a link to this earlier, but after watching the first two hours earlier this evening, I must strongly caution against missing Eyes on the Prize on PBS this month. Using nothing more than archival film footage, on-camera interviews, period music, and a narrator’s voiceover, the stories of Emmitt Till, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the desegregation of southern schools riveted me to the couch like few viewing experiences have. As compelling as the history of the civil rights movement in America is, the production of the film deserves some of the credit for its power. To hear the stories of these momentous events told by the participants themselves, without embellishment, is quite extraordinary. From a media perspective, watching Eyes on the Prize gives me hope that we can survive the era of the crescendoing musical scores and 20-cuts-per-minute editing and still tell powerful, engaging stories without worrying about window dressing. I won’t soon forget the calm determination in the look and voice of Moses Wright or Mississippi governor Ross Barnett thundering away about segregation.

(For me, Eyes is also a nice companion piece to my twin obsessions of late, The Wire and The Blind Side, both of which deal with contemporary race relations in their own way. The PBS web site for the film lists dozens of resources for further exploration of the topic…does anyone have any specific recommendations for books about the civil rights movement? Lemme know.)

Update: Thanks for the recommendations, everyone…I posted a listing of them here.

Sounds like a tactic out of The

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2006

Sounds like a tactic out of The Wire: instead of mass arrests, law enforcement officials in a North Carolina city have been using pressure from families and the threat of arrest to drive drug dealers out of business. (thx, micah)

Short Rolling Stone interview with The Wire’s

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2006

Short Rolling Stone interview with The Wire’s David Simon, part of a longer interview from the magazine. “I thought Katrina was literally America having to pause for a moment and contemplate the other America that somehow, tragically, Americans forgot. It’s like America looking across the chasm saying, ‘Oh, are you still here? Oh, and you’re wet. And you’re angry.’”

Long piece on the opening titles of

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2006

Long piece on the opening titles of The Wire. Contains nearly endless seasons 1-3 spoilers. The site also offers comprehensive weekly episode recaps…here’s the one for episode 40.

Update: Edward Copeland also does The Wire recaps.

From Anya Kamenetz’s recent HuffPo piece on

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2006

From Anya Kamenetz’s recent HuffPo piece on The Wire, we learn about a group blog on The Wire called Heaven and Here, a pretty meaty exploration of the show. Show creator David Simon checked in recently.

Each week at Slate, writer Alex Kotlowitz

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2006

Each week at Slate, writer Alex Kotlowitz and Steve James (director of Hoop Dreams) dissect the week’s episode from the fourth season of The Wire. Warning: they are unabashed fans of the show. AOL recently interviewed The Wire creator David Simon. (via dj) Negro Please is posting fourth season episode synopsiseses summaries…here’s 4.2.

Update: Season four of The Wire scored a 98/100 on Metacritic, the highest score for a TV show on the site.

Slate’s Jacob Weisberg on The Wire: “no

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2006

Slate’s Jacob Weisberg on The Wire: “no other program has ever done anything remotely like what this one does, namely to portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature”.

Stephen King: big fan of The Wire. “

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2006

Stephen King: big fan of The Wire. “The Wire keeps getting better, and to my mind it has made the final jump from great TV to classic TV.” Warning, some season 4 spoilers. (via crazymonk)

The Wire season five wishlist

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2006

Season four of The Wire just started, but I’ve got a season five wishlist item to share. I’d love to see an entire season that flashes back to Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale establishng their operation, say 5-6 years before the start of season one. Maybe we’d also get to see McNulty’s days in the Western with Bunny, Daniels’ dark days, Bubs getting hooked on the junk, some backstory on The Greek, a bit of the Sobotka clan, and more Omar (there’s never enough Omar). This isn’t unprecendented; The Godfather: Part II followed the first movie’s saga of an aging gangster and his three sons with a look at how Vito Corleone’s operation came to be. With the way they’ve handled The Wire so far, I think the show’s creators could pull off something similar in effect and acclaim.

(Now that I think about it, they’re sort of doing that this season anyway. Marlo is kind of a young Avon and in the young school kids, we get a look at drug dealers in the making. Not related at all, but the best line of the series so far is from Clay Davis in the second episode of the 4th season: “Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiit.” Laughed my ass off.)

Oh, rejoice and be glad…there will

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2006

Oh, rejoice and be glad…there will be a season five of The Wire. “Balancing small audiences again critical acclaim, HBO has picked up a fifth season of drama The Wire.” The season may focus on the media’s role in politics. (thx, mark)

Bill Simmons, who writes at ESPN and

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2006

Bill Simmons, who writes at ESPN and is one of my favorite sports writers, recently penned a rave review of The Wire (scroll all the way down at the bottom). “Omar might be my favorite HBO villain since Adebici. And that’s saying something.” He also sings the praises of David Foster Wallace’s article on Roger Federer.

The Wire influenced a Baltimore hip-hop producer

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2006

The Wire influenced a Baltimore hip-hop producer to make a mix tape called Hampsterdam and now season four of the show will be featuring more of the local music scene there. (thx, doug)

The Wire

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2006

It’s difficult to talk about The Wire without wanting to reveal all sorts of plot details, character developments, and other spoilers, so instead I’ll tell you how excited I am about the season four premiere tonight on HBO. (It’s been available on HBO On Demand for a week or so now, but I’ve been out of the country so Meg and I are watching it tonight the old fashioned way: live.) Before we left for Austria, we burned through all 37 hours of the first three seasons in about four weeks, and in my opinion, The Wire is one of the very best television shows ever.

Despite being critically acclaimed, The Wire is also unfortunately one of HBO’s less appreciated shows audience-wise. So, a little plug: get the season one DVDs from Netflix (or Amazon), park your ass in front of the television, and watch it. All the seasons tend to start a little slow but stick with it and ye shall be rewarded. (I was almost bored watching the first 3-4 episodes of season three, but the the payoff in the later episodes…oh man.) Alright, get to it.