Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Best TV Show Ever

"Jimmy McNulty and Bunk Moreland take one more ride on the Jameson/Glenlivet Express" by Steve Lieber, Periscope Studios, series of 5.

Just watched the final episode of the Wire last Monday night. Wow.

If by some bizarre chance you're actually watching it by some even slower method than I was, don't worry, I won't give any of the plot away. Just wow. And disappointment, I guess, that's it's over.

Luckily, our other TV channel specialising in American drama, Channel 6, will keep the jones at bay by continuing this Thursday with the second series (actually one of the best) immediately after finishing its run of the first season, concurrent with TG4's showing of the final one.

And all this with the basic, non-digital cable package. In fact, a real wire-related accident threw me temporarily back to terrestrial, four-channel land but I was still able to continue watching the final season on TG4 because it’s terrestrial too.

I wasn't able to keep up with the internet, of course, or rather I wasn't really bothered (still haven't seen Generation Kill yet. Obviously, I know that I should. But I don't torrent, either). However, this means there's a wealth of commentary to discover, post hoc, on the Wire. Meanwhile, there's still Mad Men and Friday Night Lights showing on the TV.

So far, discovering the commentary has meant working back through the most excellent, in both style and content, blog Heaven and Here. Before S5's arrival on TG4, I did succumb to reading one of the very last posts, an interesting (and, in the light of actually seeing the episode, intriguing) discussion on the role of Jewish ethnicity in the character of Maurice Levy. Among the other comments, however, there was a description of the finale - don't worry, in the abstract - as:

"Like one of those scenes in a Tarantino where everyone has their guns on each other. Only instead of everyone dying, in this one, everyone cuts a different deal"

So This Is How It Ends (#59) [comment]

Importantly, I think the end of the Wire - and not just in the finale, but also in the several episodes leading up to it - successfully resolved the central conceit of the season, which had threatened to overwhelm the show with its outlandishness. That said, it equally importantly left some consequent moral dilemmas unresolved, as did Hamsterdam before it in S3, itself recognised in the brief encounter between Colvin and Carcetti at the end of this season.


When it comes to deciding the best TV show of the last century, that is to the say the smaller period of it which saw the creation, transformation and global establishment of the medium, it probably would have to be the Simpsons. For its inherent quality just as much as for its sheer cultural impact. Or for argument's sake, at least.

Trumping that, and setting the bar suitably high for the rest of this century, is the Wire. Hence I think the amalgamation above is very appropriate. Realistically, however, the Wire had more of the level of humour of Family Guy and the complexity and irony of South Park. The Wire was a show very much of a post-Simpsons world, short-to-nonexistent though the gap in time between them may have been.

(I just found out there's an upcoming Simpsons episode where Homer and Grandpa visit Ireland and buy a pub. Elsewhere I hear that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (he of the Frames, the both from the film Once) will appear in the episode. The fact that it references the smoking ban I suppose could be interesting, but man, they're as gimmicky as hell now. Maybe post-Simpsons world is just wishful thinking?)


One of my favourite scenes from the Wire was from the third season, where the cop McNulty arrives a high-class DC political fundraiser and, naturally, heads straight for the bar:

McNulty: Jameson's, please.

Bartender: Bushmills alright?

McNulty: Bushmills?! That's Protestant whisky...

Bartender(glibly): The price is right, ain't it?

In the context of the Wire, this is either a) a throwaway gag, a trivial aside, b) a wry comment on ethnic loyalties and the economic imperative of 'the game' or c) both.

I'd like to think that I take a non-sectarian, non-denominational approach to my whiskeys, but Bushmills actually does have the better taste, in my opinion. 'Black Bush', in particular. Not having ventured very far into the world of single malts, the best taste of all the ordinary types. And in addition, Bushmills > Jameson's > Jack Daniels. As much as I like the Southern (US) grĂ¡ for rye whiskey, particularly in the archetypal beardcore attitudes of Hot Water Music, I don't think much of the flavour compared with good ol' Irish barley malt.

Jameson's, by the way, is from Cork, the republican heartland of Ireland, while Bushmills is from a town of the same name (and twinned with Louisville, KY) in Antrim in what is now Northern Ireland. I found this (American) St. Patrick's Day article on the rivalry between the two whiskeys, which references the Wire scene. According to it, Jameson's outsells Bushmills by 3 to 1 in the States. Jameson's was established in 1780, and (now) produced "in the Catholic-rich cities of Cork and Dublin". Bushmill's, is "by contrast... distilled in Protestant-heavy Northern Ireland, has a Protestant following. Never mind that until a few years ago, both brands were owned by the same conglomerate, Pernod Ricard of France". Actually, Protestant-heavy is partly an understatement: Bushmills itself - that is, the town - is 97% Protestant, while on the other hand to describe Northern Ireland as "Protestant-heavy" is a bit reductionist with regards to the majority-minority conflict there (of course, it is just an article about whiskey.)

Even better, however - and wonderfully ironic - the same Google search turns up an A-Z of what to do in Coleraine borough with, under Art Galleries, in Bushmills, a gallery run by "James McNulty"! Sweet... guess that should mean a road trip coming up to the town of Bushmills, via the village of Emo, Co. Laois...


josephlovesit said...

It's always interesting to analyze The Wire's racial/class themes in terms of white-on-white conflict. My favorite season (#2) had a lot of that going on with the dock workers/the Greeks and also Valcheck/Sabotka. About the article you linked to on Heaven and Here, I didn't even know the Pearlman character was Jewish.

Cool concept for a post. At least speaking in terms of favorites, for me it's definitely:
1) The Simpsons
2) The Wire or Arrested Development

Have you started watching Mad Men? I haven't yet, but I feel like I should be.

gabbagabbahey said...

There's a character in Joyce's Ulysses who cracks the anti-semitic joke (this being 1904, of course) that Ireland never persecuted the Jews, because we never let any of them in. Patently untrue, but they have been a rapidly declining presence throughout the 20th century. As such, I - compared to urban America - have had very little personal experience or knowledge.

but 'Rhonda Pearlman'? at least as an open possibility...

or maybe that's just the Anglo-Saxon anti-semitic radar speaking through me :)

totally agree with your first point. that was a really strong aspect of S2.

I have been watching Mad Men on and off. (On racial themes, apparently in the 1960s putting an entire family of "Chinamen" in someone's office was an acceptable workplace prank). It's almost Wire-level accessible, if you know what I mean. But I think it will reward the effort.

Gotta thank you for hipping me to Friday Night Lights, though. I'm watching that weekly. Fascinating insight for me into the modern Southwestern US. Plus the awesome score. And even the football has become interesting!

gabbagabbahey said...

did I just compare myself to urban America? an omission there. a lot of people in urban America, I meant to say.

josephlovesit said...

"Wire-level accessible" is sorta what I need for me to bother with a new show anyway, haha. So that sounds good, I might start watching it soon.

Apparently Friday Night Lights season 2 came out on DVD in April (how did I miss that?), I've gotta get on it.

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