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Though The Wire does appeal to that part of me that reviewed a few movies in the John Singleton canon a few years back and generally enjoys that odd subgenre of crime dramas, that of the ‘hood film,’ which isn’t as popular as Mafia movies or as prolific as yakuza/triads-thank-you-no-thank-you-Mr. Miike, it’s also important in this trying time where Dreck Fiction attempts to gratefully slide toward mostly science-fiction discussion, because it has what a lot of science-fiction in film and television lacks: great storytelling. I haven’t lived for very long, but The Wire is by this point the best told story I’ve ever experienced. Maybe it isn’t my favorite story, but its storytelling is so complex, so satisfying, that it warrants analysis on this sci-fi site.

There isn’t much to connect The Wire to the genre of science-fiction, but it could have been anything, so long as it was “the best told story I’ve ever experienced.” Again, I was inclined to like it from the start and feel a compulsion to blabla about it on this blog, but figuring what makes The Wire tick and how it comes together to say something real could benefit the critical eye toward any genre.

Christ, if we had anything close to The Wire in science-fiction… I’d be a pretty happy guy.

Check out this awesome video if you need a quick recap of the series’s events…

This show was canceled due to poor ratings. While it started strong, it lost many viewers immediately, and never quite made them up across its thirteen week run. As much as I thought the show didn’t fully live up to its pilot episode, it’s still unfortunate that we won’t have any more. It’s a good thing then, that it ended so strongly.

By the end, Awake worked and didn’t work. It did round out its series premise pretty well, creating a whole narrative that is satisfying as science-fiction drama, but in the moment was clunky and awkward. The show didn’t need to be thirteen hours long, and would’ve worked better as a movie, as the best moments were those pertinent to the over-arching story — those in the first episode and the last two or three.

These moments, especially those in the series finale, are pretty intense and actually unpredictable. It’s good to see Michael Britten take risks and do things we don’t agree with, or put himself into dangerous situations — and lose at times. In this episode, he’s getting closer to the truth we already know, which puts his red reality in jeopardy.

*Spoilers to follow*

The big question throughout the series is ‘which reality is the real reality,’ and I did have a feeling that neither were, but with a title like Awake, I should’ve realized it was all a dream. So by the end the show becomes an interesting meditation on grief; it’s the story of a man grappling with the loss of loved ones and the journey toward acceptance. Accepting that one of his family members is dead runs parallel to accepting one reality, and in the show’s final scene we see that he’s finally awake, and his family is alive.

To reach this happy ending he must do as he always does, investigate, and it’s a great test to a seasoned detective. It’s a good story and when the ending revealed what was what the whole time, my first reaction was “lame,” but then the full weight of the situation caught up to it and the scene became a touching, satisfying moment that left me feeling pretty good about the series.

But then I thought back to those episodes in the middle, and on the whole, Awake was not a great show. It’s a narrative tugged back and forth by the realities of the television industry, which makes it a miracle that the story ended with an ending. There remain some loose threads, but it’s all good. Because when it’s over, we had in fact spent a whole lot of time following Jason Isaacs go around and solve cases by using parallel worlds, and that was pretty good.

And when time came to uncover the truth behind those worlds, we see the truth behind the series, that it was about a man struggling to overcome a fractured mind after a traumatic incident,who could know grief and accept it before everything returned to normal. Now that the show is over, sitcoms continue on, and we’ll wait for the next good, thought-provoking scifi show — just as it always is.

Return to the Awake Episode Guide

The season is winding down as tension and story ramps up in this, penultimate episode. Britten becomes more obsessed with Hawkin, the detective he suspects — or rather, is certain — killed his wife/son by running him off the road, the incident that started everything. Through trial and error between the two worlds, he slowly works his way up the mystery chain, jumping through hoops and endless second guessing (sometimes from those attempting to cover it all up), while getting into dangerous, sometimes deadly situations.

This is like, the perfect season finale’s eve episode, setting up what could be a solid, slam-bang ending. The over-arc of Awake is without a doubt its strongest element, as it uses the dream thing (the show’s premise) to its best effect. Britten learns something in one world and is able to use it in the other, while we keep his status in either in the backs of our minds.

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Looks like they’re headed for a season ender, a nice three episode arc. General consenus is that this is the best episode since the pilot, and that’s true, without a doubt. It kind of reminds me of Dexter – if Dexter was a network TV show. It’d still have that ramp-up at the end that hooks you, but since Awake is a little watered down in terms of drama and most things, the hook doesn’t penetrate that deeply. I’ll hope for a second season, unless the conclusion is something real dumb, but this didn’t become the major science-fiction show I hoped it might.

Still, it is entertaining, and the areas it does explore offer some interesting dialogues. In this episode Michael’s fallen out of one of his reality, and must finally grieve the loss of his son. He’s also haunted by hallucinations, and this leads him on a spiraling journey of seeming self-destruction that ends with a discovery — the accident that created two worlds was no accident.

Now he’s thinking the Lord of the Rings fan from Clerks II is responsible, and we’ll see where that goes. I really liked that guy (Mr. Blonde, according to Wikipedia), he did a good job acting out Michael’s self-talk.

What starts out as intriguing, reopening the question of which world is true, and pushing BD Wong to affirm his theory with more aggression, follows through with healthy human drama. At the center is a man grappling with the confusing loss of a loved one — the dream worlds shattering becomes an interesting expression of his loneliness and frustration. It’s a good episode, and a good show.

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So they end this episode with the new gang watching The X-Files. Funny, because that’s like what this show’s like.

Anyway I’ve been realizing that I really like Jason Isaacs. He’s been one of those false-ubiquitous faces, like Colin Salmon or Ron Perlman, maybe Danny Trejo — people who show up in genre fare as secondary characters but you’re always like… damn I like that guy. Hard to explain. Talented actors, but rarely do they have their day in the sun. Hellboy was good, but that was like, one time. One time*.

This episode was okay but the next one looks better — glad I could see the preview — looks like they’re going to mess around with the mythology, or better… begin the mythology. But they introduce a new dramatic element, and it’ll be interesting to see where that goes. As these reviews grow progressively lazy and less enthusiastic, the show begins to pick up speed…

*Hellboy II was bad. Only good part was Trollcart, a half-troll half-cart character rolling along in the third act

Return to the Awake Episode Guide

I know these last few reviews have felt negative, and that’s because Awake‘s started to fall into a formula, one where the twists are predictable — not necessarily like I can call the murderer in Act I (though usually it’s the other guy), but in a post-Signs M. Night Shyamalan way. We know the twists are coming, and we wish the unpredictable nature of the show and its universe were offering the surprises, not an old tradition of police procedural structure.

Possibly it tries to do too much, balancing the week to week plot line, which is complex but doesn’t feel complex, and the over-arching family drama (both with that key twist, and by-the-numbers). Characters develop around the plot, not in it, which I’ve seen before in network, broad-appeal television shows. Not much is known about Michael Britten other than he seems to be a pretty pleasant guy.

The episode ends strongly though, which says a lot because it somewhat cliffhangers you. It did what I had hoped it’d do from the start, which is introduce a universe-specific what-if idea, and explore what effects that would have on the cast of [established] characters. I’m excited to see the next episode, which I don’t think I’ve been since the pilot.

Return to the Awake Episode Guide

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…

Expanding on what I was talking about last time, Awake almost seems more concerned with its special guest characters than secondary or even main. We spend 90% of the episode on the accountant’s wife and the accountant, and a little bit with Michael, his CI, and then his wife, which were the best moments. I don’t watch a lot of police shows, but this one feels more character-driven and personal, which makes me wonder why it feels like those episodes of SVU I have seen.

It’s almost like it’s already in a later season — early on its established who the characters are and a little of what they do, but doesn’t care too much to investigate or drive them in any direction. They still feel like archetypes, and I’m starting to feel the show settle on a formula. The formula is fine, the show’s entertaining enough, and Jason Isaacs is always awesome, but good performances and a good premise may not be enough in this case.

I’d imagine this season is a 13-episode run, so we should start building towards an end. We’ve been getting hints at a larger story-arc, so hopefully this will be one of the last ‘stand alone’ or ‘case of the week’ episodes.

Return to the Awake Episode Guide

This episode carefully balances a stand-alone premise, ongoing character and plot issues, and newly developing threads that tie into the themes of sanity and the mind. A hostage situation strikes a little too close to home for Detective Britten, as its being run by a schizophrenic who sees things and has, perhaps like Britten, created an elaborate narrative delusion. What we do know about our hero is that he’s having hallucinations and is beginning to lose track of his worlds, mixing up a phone bill and a permission slip in the same where his son hides a girlfriend in plain sight. It becomes up to him to diffuse this situation, all the while learning more about himself and these new problems.

What’s interesting about this episode is the concentrated focus, and BD Wong’s character interacting with Britten outside of therapy. We start to get more out of their relationship, and it was an interesting twist, though not nearly as shocking as the one at the very end of the episode.

Awake manages to maximize its medium, that of network drama and episodic narrative. It’s limited because dramatic beats must be measured to line up with commercial breaks, and you’ll never hear an organic ‘fuck’ or two in a tense situation, but by building on the situation and character, does well with the long running-time, the episode to episode structure. There is mystery and revelation, and the promise of more mystery and revelation next week.

The next episode airs 10pm Eastern Standard Time on Thursday, NBC

Return to the Awake Episode Guide

Just as I was starting to lose faith that the show was going anywhere, a good episode like this happens. They address what I just mentioned in the last post, that sooner or later somebody’s going to catch on to the fact that he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

So far the strongest element of Awake, aside from its premise, are the premises from episode to episode. There are strong stories here told well, but there’s little time for character growth. Michael Britten’s been pretty much the same throughout, despite his situation, which worsens and changes constantly. That aspect offers compelling television, but Awake feels unconventional in that there are no jaw-dropping character moments. Unfortunately because of this Awake seems to fall short of a genuinely great TV show, but this is only the fifth episode, and as these reviews get shorter and less timely, the episodes get better.

Return to the Awake Episode Guide

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