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5. Howard “Bunny” Colvin
Colvin is the avatar for Simon and Ed Burns and all the writers — he’s a good cop who wants to see change, and is victimized by institutions. In Season 3 he attempts to create a controlled environment where drugdealers can operate, various zones around the city to keep the violence away from other citizens. It works, until it gets out that Colvin’s legalized drugs. He’s shit on by his superiors in their attempts to save themselves, and takes a job as a security chief for a hotel. In Season 4 he returns as a major element, this time joining forces with another ambitious fellow, who attempt to institute a tracking system in the middle school in order to socialize problem students and keep others on course. It works, until the school gets under pressure to perform for a standardized test, and things change.
He’s the show’s greatest hero, and fascinating to watch. Robert Wisdom is appropriately contemplative and patient — when he talks with that low, deep voice, you want to listen.
4. Omar Little
You know when Omar’s coming down the block because everyone starts running and shouting “Omar! Omar coming yo!” even when he’s in his robe and out getting more Honey Nut Cheerios. He’s a stick-up boy, the only person crazier than the drugdealers he steals from. He’s perhaps more famous though for living by a code, and not a weird one like Dexter’s, but a moral one. This is everyone’s favorite character, because at the end of the day, Omar is a badass. But he’s also got charisma, and it’s a great joy to watch him on screen doing anything. It’s cool to see him smoking, watching Barksdale or Stanfield targets in the distance, or talking with Bunk or McNulty, so it’s a special treat when he takes up his shotgun to do something cool. All in the game, yo.
3. Jimmy McNulty
Jimmy isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He takes the direct path to everything, even when that path is complicated by wiretaps and red tape. Even though he’s a dedicated officer who looks good on paper, he’s got a nasty habit of self-destruction and alienating everyone he meets. He even had a brush against Lester Freamon in Season 3, which got mended (as they all do), but still. McNulty is a flawed hero, one who’s alcoholism may seem cliched, but is true to life, and performed in turns comedic and poigniant by Dominic West.
(Spoilers to follow)
2. Russell “Stringer” Bell
What a cool name. Stringer will be elaborated on later, but I’ll say now that he’s an updated version of Frank from Once Upon a Time in the West. His deal is bringing business sense to the drug trade, and attempting to go legitimate in the midst of chaos and war. He doesn’t shoot up a block indiscriminately, but he’ll take a life if it “had to be snatched,” making him one hell of a cold and calculated businessman, but a businessman nonetheless. While Avon Barksdale was away for Season 2, he had to take over and deal with the proposition of merging with Proposition Joe and the East Side dealers. He had no other option — his product was inferior, though he had the territories — but Avon wouldn’t relent, going so far as to hire a New York hit man to drive East dealers out of their territory. Stringer’s attempts to deal with this and other street problems are what get him killed, after he’d already found he wasn’t ready for the big league with Clay Davis and co.
1. Preston “Bodie” Broadus
He’s not much of a presence throughout The Wire, but when he’s on, it’s always entertaining, and he shares a moment with Poot and Wallace that is one of my favorite moments on television. In it, he and Poot are forced to kill the boy, which shows us the birth of a gangster, one that’s hesitant and confused, but ultimately resolute. In Season 4 he stands by his action, but is faced with a greater moral problem — Marlo’s killing of low-level dealers out of paranoia. Bodie may not be a saint — he’s a killer — but he also has a moral code. It might just be the best someone born and killed on the street can do, if it’s all they know.
David Simon recently apologized for some comments he made about the current state of Wire fandom, where he criticized the general attitude of current viewers. Note that The Wire‘s been off the air for four years now, but DVD sales have been better than ever. This is my general experience — I bought the first season a while back and watched the first few episodes before taking a long break. In college I finished it, somewhat reluctant to return to something with too many characters to keep track off and a headaching mix of street talk and police jargon, but I was so moved by the ending, and one scene in particular, that I had to watch the rest as fast as possible. So I can’t help but feel like I fall under this umbrella of those who “[walked] sideways into the thing and act like they were there all along,” and that a future endeavor to offer what so many have already, a fan’s analytical perspective, would be “picking it apart now like it’s a deck of cards or like [I've been] there the whole time or … understood it the whole time.”
Well, I’m no stranger to coming into series sideways. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Dexter, and Breaking Bad are my only favorite shows on right now, but I don’t get Showtime up in this dorm, and I only watch It’s Always Sunny when it’s on, not when it’s new. They’re rare — I found Firefly, Arrested Development, and Party Down after they’d been cancel, and I felt that guilt of ‘I should have been there to ‘support’ it,’ because they all ended before their time. Mitchell Hurwitz doesn’t harbor any resentment (publicly) that nobody saw Arrested Development despite all those Emmys, but I think Simon’s got more reason for his statements (which he’s seen apologized for).
Arrested Development may be extremely funny, but The Wire, especially from a creator’s statement, is important on a social level. David Simon was a crime reporter for The Baltimore Sun before making it on TV through his books Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, and experienced the collapse of relevance in his beloved medium — the Internet was running papers out of town, but didn’t itself maintain the same journalistic integrity. He moved to fiction with The Wire, where a message or two could be brought across in a powerful medium, that of popular entertainment.
It got across to many, but not that many. The Wire was at the time and now widely hailed by critics, some of which considered it to be among the greatest shows ever made, but it got no Emmy attention, and consistently pulled poor ratings. It seems a pattern was showing, and for a man with a lot to say, this is frustrating.
Flash-forward to 2012, and like all cult hits, The Wire‘s popular. On every Breaking Bad video I’ve seen on YouTube the top comments are typically “breaking Bad > The Wire” or “Breaking Bad and the wire are best shows evar” — it’s unsettling the difference four years can make, but for whatever reason there’s a better audience now than there was back then, but how can one know that?
I suppose The Wire didn’t have a high concept story premise, or a lauded lead performance (I mean Christ, Dominic West wasn’t even around for Season 4 — that doesn’t happen), and like Arrested Development, actually required watching, so it was perhaps doomed from the start. But now people can go back and pick up all the DVDs and appreciate it as I’ve done, but that’s obviously not the way it should be. We should’ve been there from the start, but we weren’t. The team struggled through five seasons — it’s a miracle they even got that far.
So after David Simon’s acknowledged this reality, it’s become a little uncomfortable to be a fan, even after rationalizing his issue. Everyone needs to bitch after a while, and Simon’s got a reason.
But it’s hard to watch The Wire and not want to talk about it. Because it’s not a show I can easily recommend to people (another problem with ratings I’d imagine), whether because it’s not as fun as Dexter (my roommate), or it’s too grim and violent (my mom), or it’s too police procedural and not straight gangsta shoot em up (my buddy), I’ll use this site to examine it in a range of ‘fannish fan’ to ‘aspirationally literary,’ which isn’t too far off the subject matter of Dreck Fiction. This may be a predominantly science-fiction-related site, it’s also discussed movies like Menace II Society and Baby Boy, because universal themes and ideas exist there, and in the case of The Wire it’s taught me a lot about effective longform storytelling, which will be the overarching theme of this Dreck Feature.
But in the Prelude segments, I figure I’ll try to exorcise all the fannish impulses first…
As good a job the movie does at world-building, setting up warring factions and dealing with two external factors to Mars and revealing things at reasonable beats to our audience proxy, we never get a good sense of geography in this far-out Barsoom place. They juggle a lot of things while they push the honestly pretty sluggish story forward, but it’s difficult to be invested in that most important thing — the planet — when we barely know what it looks like. John Carter is suffused with desert, and we see some areas in the Thark territory (the green alien-looking aliens), but we only get glimpses of the big cities that are eventually attacked.
John Carter is a lot like Avatar, and that’s — I know, I know — because Cameron was inspired by the Burroughs series in the making of Avatar, and by extension his career, Avatar being a project conceived in the mid-80s. In Avatar, James Cameron built a world, and wasn’t about to not show it, so we got a whole hell of a lot of Pandora. There were jungles and flying mountains and tangles of trees where the Na’vi hung out. As ridiculous as the Na’vi culture is, I felt more comfortable with their world than I did with Barsoom.
This is a complaint I didn’t expect to have, especially after seeing the movie, in 3D, by the way. Real-D 3D, in fact. It’s apparent that director Andrew Stanton and company were set to do the material and its legacy right and make an epic. Not only is the original story a big sweeping tale, it’s inspired some of the biggest names in science-fiction film, from Star Wars all the way up to Avatar. Their movie, called John Carter for whatever reason, needed to be huge in scope and scale.
I appreciate what this does for storytelling to some degree. As much as I thought it dragged in a few places, the treatment of the narrative’s formulaic nature really harkened back to traditional storytelling I always enjoyed out of Disney animated movies. By comparison, Tron Legacy very nearly seems complex. This A to B style is a welcome change — and in John Carter, there are heroes and villains, and heroes fight villains and the darkness inside the hero is quelled as he’s redeemed and overcomes his past. This is good old fashioned science-fiction fun, exactly what you’ve heard from critics.
What irks me about this decision to go epic, which for the record, was the only option, is that omce again, the runtime was too long. The story isn’t overly simple, but there are recognizeable steps in the narrative that every once in a while make the viewer feel like a precog — we know John’s gonna come around and help out. There wouldn’t be much a movie if he didn’t, so why’s it taking him so long? There’s anxiety and frustration there, as if the writers are holding the big action ending over our heads and making us wait. Well, not as if — that’s exaclty what it is, and the only explanation is that they feel compelled to hit these story beats in such a story template.
So it’s the story template, the same thing that killed Avatar nearly does in John Carter, though the excuse here is that Burroughs set the goddamn template with John Carter of Mars a hundred years ago. But this is an adaptation, lest we forget. With that said, the A Princess of Mars story seems to make a pretty successful transition to the screen, though I haven’t read the whole thing. And while the movie couldn’t have been called A Princess of Mars, there was no reason to call it John Carter over John Carter of Mars, which I assume is what it was throughout it’s unreasonably long development cycle, a saga in itself. The title screen (which shows up at the end of the movie, a new trend) even says “John Carter of Mars,” but that’s perhaps a reflection on the character’s arc more than miscommunication between creators and execs.
I left the theatre yesterday feeling a little confused. I enjoyed some parts, was impatient through most of it, and kind of missed the world when the movie was over, but wouldn’t really want to return. The characters were charming, but there’s an interesting dynamic going on here — there characters spend the movie figuring each other out. They don’t operate on the same plane, which makes dialogue interesting, but different. I don’t know how I feel about it. The acting was good all around. I’m a big fan of Dominic West, but he didn’t get too much play here.
So in the end, unfortunately, one of the key highlights of John Carter was the 3D trailer for Prometheus at its front. It’s good however, to have such a pulpy story given a mature, modern treatment, as this is Hollywood afterall. I remember seeing a still from Avatar of Col. Quarritch holding a futuristic pistol with the alien planet in the background and thinking Christ — this could be a still from fucking Saturn 3 or something. But it was actually from a Best Picture-nominated (not that that makes much of a difference to me, personally, it’s more a reflection on the popular audience), billion-dollar making movie. I appreciate John Carter and Avatar as signs of things to come — people are taking the genre more seriously, and getting recognition for it. Indeed, Children of Men is an incredible and important science-fiction film, but it’s downright underrated. When the next Children of Men came out just three years later — District 9 — it wasn’t as overlooked, wasn’t overlooked at all that is.