Sunday, March 7, 2010
The Man on the Left is Wasting Your Time
It baffles me that, with hundreds of options when it comes to what to watch on TV, enough people have tuned into a show like CSI: Miami to keep it running for 8 seasons and counting. Really, with all the shows and channels and forms of entertainment out there, this canned-ham cop show featuring David Caruso and his skull-piercing one-liners is that popular? This will not stand, man.
I feel for the people who are under the impression that these mass-produced, cookie-cutter cop shows are quality entertainment. It's like someone who drinks Milwaukee's Best and thinks it's good just because it's the only thing he can get his hands on. He doesn't know about Guinness, so to him the Beast is a way of life. Now, I've seen several episodes of each of the CSI series, and I'd be lying if I said it were an outright bad show. Hell, I'll even go so far as to say CSI: NY, starring Lt. Dan and that Greek chick who was in Rounders for 2 minutes, is actually watchable. But CSI, NCIS, Medium, The Closer, The Mentalist, etc. etc. are the television equivalent of cheap beer. They get the job done, but there's no lasting quality to it. Just like Natty is not Yards, none of these cop shows are The Wire.
If you want to see what well-invested time is, set aside 12 hours over the course of a week or two and take in Season One of The Wire. You'll be hooked after that, and you will thank me. You'll be wishing you could try to go shot for shot with McNulty and you'll have a totally new association with the name "Omar." Maybe even a small part of you will want to move to Baltimore and become a homicide detective or a drug kingpin. More importantly, you will no longer settle for the mediocre story lines and underdeveloped characters rolled out by the network cop show assembly line.
The Wire goes places that CSI wouldn't dare. Part if it has to do with it being an HBO show and having virtually no boundary on language/violence/nudity/etc. But even putting that aside, the show laps the field on its depth alone. The Wire, unlike all the others, does not keep its episodes self-contained; the seasons are a thick stew of plot lines revolving around the pursuit of one criminal outlet. That's my problem with the network cop shows - they cater to the short attention span. 40 minutes of show plus commercials are all it takes for the crime to be committed and the bad guy to be caught. It just doesn't happen that way. The investigations are so streamlined that it's a borderline insult to real life detectives and forensic workers. I'm sorry, but if you want real, that's not where you get it. And if you want characters, that's definitely not where you get them.
Since each of these cop shows are dedicated to solving the crime in the span of one episode, there's little time left over for developing their characters. It might take a full season or two to get a real grip on these shows' major players. Since The Wire doesn't follow self-imposed deadlines for what has to be accomplished in each episode, it can take the time to show you all there is to see about the good guys and the bad guys. It allows the viewer to create something of a relationship with each character, often leaving you rooting for the criminals and rooting against some of the men with the badges. That's what The Wire is really all about - duality. Every person has multiple agendas and every story has multiple sides.
You want a real character? How about a binge-drinking, womanizing, insubordinate murder detective who, in his sober hours, is the most gifted police in the city? Or how about a dope-fiend informant whose performance, wardrobe, and makeup were so good that he was mistaken for an actual crackhead on the set (go to the 1:20 mark of the video)? And how many shows give you a homosexual stick-up man who makes his living robbing drug dealers, yet will not use foul language or go after anyone who isn't in the drug game?
Like we've all said before in one way or another, the non-working, non-sleeping hours of the week are precious. All you can ask of yourself is to spend that time wisely. In certain ways, the old "you are what you eat" adage can be amended to "you are what you watch on TV." So if you want to be showered in half-ass entertainment, then Horatio the Orangehead Caine up there on the left is your man. But if you want to get into a show that will pay dividends on your time, then give our boy McNulty up there a spin - but you'll have to bring your own Jameson.