Lost vs. The Wire

January 29, 2014

I’m  tired. Like, really fucking tired. Didn’t sleep well Monday night. Slept 2.5 hours last night. I’m working a long, six-day week starting tomorrow. I have a screening to attend tonight. I’d rather just curl up in bed, but…you know…friends. You don’t get to see them as much as you’d like to and it feels good to support them in their endeavors. And sometimes it just feels good to go out for a few minutes. Even if there’s upheaval and confusion and disappointment swirling around you. At least I hope it’ll feel good.

One of my roommates is currently watching The Wire for the first time. He’s mid-season 4, so he’s had more than enough time to lose himself in the world built by David Simon (and Ed Burns, and Robert F. Colesberry, et al.). And yet he’s resistant to it. He hesitates when asked about the brilliance of the show, often suggesting that his preferred genre veers closer to Science Fiction or Fantasy. It’s good and all, but — for example — it’s no Lost.

Really? Lost?

I mean…I enjoyed it when it aired, don’t get me wrong. I was there every Wednesday (or Thursday for one season…then back to Wednesday…) with a group of obsessive fans. We had costume parties. There were e-mail chains that followed every episode that would stretch for 30, 40, sometimes 50 responses. There were so many theories and predictions it was enough to make your head spin. I tried to track down every 7″ single of a non-diagetic song that appeared in the show to make the ultimate Lost party playlist. We went to see Michael Giacchino conduct the music of Lost at UCLA. I even roasted a boar shoulder (wrapped in bacon) for the finale. And then a few months later attended BOTH DAYS of the Profiles In History auction where they sold off hundreds of props from the show. I think I bid $750 I didn’t have on a DHARMA jumpsuit. I lost. Didn’t matter. It was about the thrill. It was about experience. That’s Lost in a nutshell. I enjoyed the ride. And, yeah, there were great acting performances, very strong emotional episodes and mystery and intrigue galore (until the last season, anyway). But beyond that, did it ever reach the rarified air of a show that excelled in every conceivable category of TV criticism? And what about after its run ended? What then?

After the final episode — and that aired, what, almost 4 years ago now? — I felt no intense desire to go back to the beginning and watch it all unfold again. We talked about waiting a few months and then doing a group re-watch, but it never happened. Every once in a while we’d watch an old episode from the first couple seasons on G4TV, but that was it. With time my impressions of what I saw changed. Yeah, of course I remembered the fun of obsessing over each episode with my friends, but the content? It kind of faded over time. There were brilliant cliffhangers followed by long fallow periods. Any thought of committing 100+ hours of my life to reliving the story is now met with hesitation. I have no desire to return. I don’t HAVE to go back.

Then there’s The Wire. A brisker, 60-hour commitment that I’ve already returned to three times since I first observed the story. In late 2011 I would drive out to Westwood to see Ken and KT through the 5th and final season. A few months later I re-watched the last season again with my sister during flights to-and-from India. Now with my roommate I’ve caught about 80% of the first four seasons and three episodes. It still hits every mark, and aces every criteria by which one can judge a television show. The style of the show is wholly unique, almost deflecting attention from itself and allowing the people on screen (and the impeccable scripts) to shine. All the scenes look somewhat plain. There are no big cinematic effects. There are no flashbacks, fantasies, or dream sequences used to provide exposition. Every piece of music (I think?) is diagetic. There’s no Michael Giacchino score necessary to highlight (or maybe even overstate) the emotion of a moment or scene. On The Wire, the actors and the dialogue and the direction are fully capable of doing that on their own.

Someone on Reddit today shared this, from The Wire creator David Simon, on why his show is different from other TV dramas.

“Another reason the show may feel different than a lot of television: our model is not quite so Shakespearean as other high-end HBO fare. The Sopranos and Deadwood—two shows that I do admire—offer a good deal of Macbeth or Richard III or Hamlet in their focus on the angst and machinations of the central characters (Tony Soprano, Al Swearengen). Much of our modern theater seems rooted in the Shakespearean discovery of the modern mind. We’re stealing instead from an earlier, less-traveled construct—the Greeks—lifting our thematic stance wholesale from Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides to create doomed and fated protagonists who confront a rigged game and their own mortality. The modern mind—particularly those of us in the West—finds such fatalism ancient and discomfiting, I think. We are a pretty self-actualized, self-worshipping crowd of postmoderns and the idea that for all of our wherewithal and discretionary income and leisure, we’re still fated by indifferent gods, feels to us antiquated and superstitious. We don’t accept our gods on such terms anymore; by and large, with the exception of the fundamentalists among us, we don’t even grant Yahweh himself that kind of unbridled, interventionist authority.

“But instead of the old gods, The Wire is a Greek tragedy in which the postmodern institutions are the Olympian forces. It’s the police department, or the drug economy, or the political structures, or the school administration, or the macroeconomic forces that are throwing the lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no decent reason. In much of television, and in a good deal of our stage drama, individuals are often portrayed as rising above institutions to achieve catharsis. In this drama, the institutions always prove larger, and those characters with hubris enough to challenge the postmodern construct of American empire are invariably mocked, marginalized, or crushed. Greek tragedy for the new millennium, so to speak. Because so much of television is about providing catharsis and redemption and the triumph of character, a drama in which postmodern institutions trump individuality and morality and justice seems different in some ways, I think.”

It might sound pretentious compared to, say, how Damon Lindelof or Carlton Cuse might describe Lost, but then again The Wire is a show that doesn’t take its viewers for granted. There’s no hand-holding. There’s a famous quote by [The Wire character] Lester Freeman, “We’re building something here detective. And we’re building it from scratch. All the pieces matter.” It can be said that The Wire is a show that hands its viewers pieces and trusts them to put them together correctly. Not only is that rare in today’s TV landscape, you hardly see it done effectively in film or literature, either.

I could go on much, much longer but I’ve already geeked-out long enough.

Of course, I’m open to hearing why I’m not giving Lost a chance to prove itself as equal-to or greater-than The Wire. But so far the only arguments Lost-ies have made is that we were all there together and it was fun AT THE TIME. What about now, ten years after the show first aired, and three-and-a-half years since it concluded? Can you even compare the two? Should I have bothered? Let me know.

Armando Trovaioli – The Story Concludes [MP3]

…And doesn’t it always conclude? Every story has its end.

3 comments

  1. |

    I can’t make a valid contribution to a Lost vs. The Wire discussion because I started The Wire about two years ago and only made it about five episodes into season one. I don’t know why I didn’t continue, only that it hadn’t gripped me completely. I’m sure that I’ll go back and watch it at some point, maybe very soon, because I know that it’s the type of show I’ll enjoy and I’m certainly not against a good binge from time to time.

    (I suppose I may be discounting the subconscious notion that someone else named David Simon will have proven to me that I’ll never create anything close to what he managed to produce. That’s a very real possibility. I’ll have to explore that.)

    What I would say about Lost in terms of re-watchability is that it has always held a comfort level for me. I know that while it was airing, it was usually the thing I most looked forward to on a consistent basis each week. During the six-season run, I’d do a re-watch each summer before the new season began. I definitely had issues with the show throughout, but I always felt like it provided enough material on both thematic and emotional levels to keep me thinking from week to week. Like you said, the fun part about Lost was some of the geekdom that came with it. Watching it now isn’t the same experience since we know how things turned out and still carry the baggage of either euphoria or disappointment from the results, but it’s kind of like perusing through an old yearbook or looking at camp photos. Rather than re-watching for the content, itself, the show has sort of morphed into some Springsteen lyrics. It’s about reconnecting with the feeling it gave you at the time, which can never really be recaptured. Maybe that’s what made it special to begin with, knowing it couldn’t really be a duplicated experience.

    So while I haven’t done a full series re-watch since the finale, I have gone back and binged 8-10 episodes from different points here and there. I’m comforted in knowing it’s there on Netflix for me whenever I want to go back. I can’t yet compare it directly to The Wire, but I do consider Lost to be my favorite drama.

  2. |

    Awesome comment sir!

    I should have mentioned that I appeared on not one but TWO podcasts that featured LOST discussion.

    You accomplished that. I bet the other David Simon hasn’t.

  3. |

    Hey, I’m with you Kit. But I’m happy to hear the other side state its case.

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