My first indication that I was taking The Wire too seriously occurred during a phone conversation with a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while. She asked me what was new, and the first thing I told her was that I had started watching The Wire.
In other words, a friend wanted to know what had changed in my life since the last time we spoke, and I told her that I was watching a television show. And it didn’t even seem that pathetic in the moment (although I am appropriately embarrassed about it now); rather, it seemed like the obvious response, given how much time I was devoting not just to watching the show but to thinking about it, talking about it and reading about it. Essentially, I had become the living embodiment of a Family Guy joke.
I really didn’t expect to get sucked in so strongly. I knew all about how great the show’s reputation was before I started watching it, but I had been making a conscious effort to take television less seriously ever since about a year and a half ago, when I got way too sad after an episode of How I Met Your Mother and wrote this. And when I watched the first two Wire episodes with some friends a few months before diving into the whole thing, I wasn’t that compelled. It looked interesting, sure, but I was mostly just confused.
So I’m not too sure why I decided to try watching the entire series this winter (probably because I’m pretentious, so if the critical establishment has decided something is great, it’s important for me to think it’s great, too), but once I got past the bewilderment of the first few episodes, I was hooked. Beyond hooked, really. All the reminders I had drilled into myself about television characters being fake and thus not worthy of too much emotional attachment quickly went out the window. I’m still not completely over Wallace dying, and any conversation I try to have about Randy or Dukie quickly devolves into a mixture of sad headshaking and muttered profanities.
This is mainly because, even though The Wire is ultimately just a television show, it was hard to view it purely as a work of fiction. This was driven home especially hard during season four, when the scenes of Prez ineptly trying to teach in a Baltimore middle school may as well have been documentary footage of me ineptly trying to tutor in a Boston middle school. The problems this show deals with are heartbreakingly real—excluding the occasional Hamsterdam or fake serial killer—making it all but impossible not to view the characters caught up in them as real, too.
So that’s why the journeys of Wallace and Randy and Dukie and countless other characters hit so hard. Their characters might be fictional, and the actors who play them may have moved onto Friday Night Lights and Suburgatory, but it’s still far too easy and far too disconcerting to know that there are several real Wallaces and Randys and Dukies out there, not just in Baltimore but in pretty much any city in the country. And that makes their fates hard to take, even when you’re just watching them played out by actors on TV.
Not surprisingly, the writers of The Wire managed to put this concept better than I did, so I’ll let them take over for a bit. From an essay they wrote for Time:
“…those viewers who followed The Wire…tell us they’ve invested in the fates of our characters. They worry or grieve for Bubbles, Bodie or Wallace, certain that these characters are fictional yet knowing they are rooted in the reality of the other America, the one rarely acknowledged by anything so overt as a TV drama.”
I still think it’s a little silly to get so caught up in a television show. And I’m still a little uncomfortable with how emotionally draining it often was for me to get through even one Wire episode. But if it’s going to happen with any series, it might as well happen with one that deals with something real.
And now, here are:
A bunch of Wire lists that will hopefully not make David Simon angry
Top 10 Characters (in no particular order because that’s too hard):
2. Mr. Prezbo
3. Bunny Colvin
Characters who deserve a completely separate category because they are named Omar, and trying to compare any other characters in The Wire to Omar isn’t fair:
Characters who are just the fucking worst:
4. Herc in Season 4
8. I could probably win a Pulitzer if I made up quotes and stories and lied about getting a call from a fake serial killer, too, Templeton
9. Namond’s mom
10. Fuck you, Templeton
Most heartbreaking moments:
1. Kima getting shot
2. Wallace getting got
4. “You gonna help, huh? You gonna look out for me? You gonna look out for me, Sgt. Carver?”
5. Prez shooting a cop
6. Pretty much everything else that doesn’t involve Bubbles walking up a staircase
Number of songs I memorized from the “Funny or Die” Wire musical:
1. All of them
Favorite versions of the theme song (in order):
1. Season 1
2. Season 3
3. Season 4
4. Season 5
5. Season 2
Favorite seasons (in order):
1. Season 4
2. Season 3
3. Season 1
4. Season 5
5. Season 2
Phrases that I just sort of say now:
1. Oh, indeed
What I feel like eating:
1. Honey Nut