I think I anticipated last night’s premiere of season 5 of The Wire more than any show I’ve ever watched. For years I listened to people tell me how great The Wire is, but I never bothered to watch it myself until this summer, when I started getting the DVDs from Netflix. Since I watched the first episode, I’ve been completely obsessed with the show. I read everything I can about it online, I listen to all of the commentaries on the DVDs, and at parties and social events I’m always on the lookout for other fans of the show so that we can wander off and discuss the details of the plot and compare our favorite scenes, characters, and seasons.
Unfortunately, after last night’s episode, I fear that my obsession has diminished my enjoyment of the show, for reasons that I’ll explain.
In past seasons, the show has taken on drug dealing, policing, urban government, and public education. This season, the show adds the press to the mix. Probably half of the episode was set in the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun.
Show creator David Simon has a big, big problem with the Baltimore Sun, his former employer. He’s got strong opinions on everything, including how a city paper should go about its business, and he has a number of grudges against the big corporation that bought out the paper when he worked there. You can read the history in Mark Bowden’s article about David Simon from The Atlantic. Simon’s issues with the Sun have been documented in plenty of other places as well.
The problem with the premiere is that in the newsroom scenes, it was completely obvious which characters embody the vices and virtues of newspaper reporting as Simon sees them. One of the many delights of The Wire is the nuanced way in which characters are portrayed. There are things to like about corrupt politicians, assassins for drug gangs, and abusive bosses, and there are things to hate about even the most sympathetic characters. The newsroom characters don’t shape up that way so far. I’m hoping that there’s more to these characters than the first episode implies, but I can’t help but wonder whether Simon’s emotions on the subject are suppressing his talent as a writer.
Of course, as the plot unfolds I could be proven wrong, but I’m a bit reticent about that stuff at this point. On the other hand, I’m completely captivated by the rest of the plot. The city is broke, Marlo Stanfield wants to take over the entire world of drug dealing, Bubbles is trying to stay clean, and our beloved Major Crimes unit has once again been mothballed. So far, so good. Hopefully the press plot will live up to the rest of the show.