you gotta help me keep the devil way down in the hole.

things are heating up in the jungle. the documentary (which now has its own little page on the sidebar there) is nearing completion, and i’m itching to see it. it’s an itch no nails can scratch. a cinematic itch. i’m beginning to realize just how much work is involved in putting this multiple-cd set together, but i’m still confident i can pull it off. it’ll just make me feel that much more like i’ve accomplished something when it’s finished. the box of cds at dr. disc is practically empty. again. i imagine the box at phog is depleted as well…i need to re-stock both of those. dr. disc may have to wait until next weekend, since they’re going to be closed this week in preparation for their big move, but i should be there on saturday to refill the black box. when did my cds start going so fast, and decide to…keep going? your guess is as good as mine. it’s far past the point at which a new cd would normally start moving significantly slower, but things are showing no signs of dropping off, and i imagine this documentary might fan the flames of interest a bit more.

and now, a tv-related digression.

after hearing good things about it for a few years now, i thought it was time for me to check out the wire. even if HBO is (in my opinion) descending into mediocrity these days, at one time i did like several of their shows. deadwood is a strong contender for my favourite tv show of all time, with six feet under not far behind (at one point it held the title), i always enjoyed watching oz, and the sopranos grew on me after a while. there were also a lot of shows i just never got around to catching, and the wire was one of those. from what i read, it was critically revered while not a lot of people were bothering to tune in. i was one of those. i have a rule, though; i pretty much never get into a show halfway through. i start at the beginning, or i don’t start at all. i think the wire was probably in its third season by the time i had heard about it at all, and it didn’t make sense to me to dig into something like that with no frame of reference for what was going on. knowing more about the show now, it seems i was wiser than i thought, because this is one case where picking up halfway through would leave you completely clueless as to what was going on and why, with little hope of piecing it together. kind of like starting a long, dense, complex novel at the halfway point.

i’m pretty much at the end of my x-files kick (i still intend to watch season 7, but after that i’m done—from what i’ve read, it doesn’t sound like the last two seasons are even really the same show anymore, and without mulder it would lose a lot of its appeal for me), partially because i got busy with other things and trailed off at the end of season 6. i happened to notice the wire on dvd at hmv a few days ago. the price was a little steep, but i caved in and bought the first season in a “what the hell” moment. if i didn’t like it, i’d give it to someone else who might. the next day i was up rather early (i’m back on daylight hours, after all), so i thought i’d give it a whirl. i ended up watching three episodes in a row, and buying the next two seasons later that same day, because i already knew i would soon be needing them.

people have described this show as more of a visual novel than a tv show, and i think there’s something to that. this is not a cookie-cutter hand-holding show where everything is spelled out for the viewer, and all is resolved by the end of an episode. apparently all isn’t necessarily even resolved by the end of a season. things take a long time to unfurl. something that’s mentioned in one episode might not fully make sense until a dozen episodes later. you have to pay attention. you have to use your brain. there is not just one main character to latch onto, but several. there’s no clear protagonist or villain; every “good guy” has a bit of bad in them, and every “bad guy” has a bit of good in them. some of the most interesting, sympathetic characters are criminals. some of the most corrupt, unappealing characters are those who are supposed to be the good ones. there isn’t a single sexy big name actor anywhere. i’ve watched a lot of tv and movies (even if i don’t tend to watch a whole lot of the idiot box these days), but a lot of the actors and actresses i’ve never seen before in anything. the only reason i know some of them is because several oz luminaries make appearances. i can see how it was difficult for the show to find a large, broad audience. it isn’t for everyone. it takes a bit of work. but the work pays off. at the same time, there are moments that are incredibly entertaining, hilarious, touching, violent, disturbing and surprising. moments that seem too good for tv.

there’s a short scene in an early episode in which a drug dealer summarizes the game of chess for two of his underlings, explaining the different pieces and what they do in terms of the chain of command in their organization. in two minutes, it made more sense of a game i’ve never understood than anything else i’ve ever seen or heard, and it was really interesting.

there’s a scene involving partnered cops visiting the scene of a murder that took place months ago. they piece together how someone was killed using only the word “fuck” for dialogue, repeated endlessly, in several of its different permutations. it’s a ballet for profanity that perfectly demonstrates how they work together, the rhythm they have, and how they discover still-lingering evidence that was never uncovered at the original crime scene investigation. the first time i saw that scene, i laughed about five of my seventeen asses off. the second time (because i had to see it a second time), instead of laughing, i found it quietly fascinating. i’m only halfway through the first season, and meanings are already shifting on repeat viewings.

there’s one episode where a subplot involves detective jimmy mcnulty (arguably the main character, if there had to be one) trying to see his kids for the weekend. he has an argument with his ex-wife over the phone about whether or not he has a place for them to sleep, and says a lesser man would call her a very dirty word. a bit later, there’s a brief scene of him trying to figure out how to put together bunk beds while getting drunk, and failing miserably. later still, he shows up at his ex-wife’s house only to find no one home. near the end of the show, he’s seen sitting on the bottom bunk, alone, defeated. that he managed to put the beds together after all, and made up a really nice room for his sons, came as a shock to me. it was an unexpected humanizing moment in a sea of many. those little pieces say more about that character and the state of his relationship with his ex-wife than any long-winded monologue ever would, and they say it more effectively.

those are just a few bits that stand out for me so far. one interesting choice (and an unusual one for a tv show) is the almost complete absence of a conventional soundtrack. there’s a beginning theme song, and an instrumental end theme that plays over the closing credits, but every moment of music in between is nearly always a “source cue”; music is only present if it comes from inside of the scene itself—a bit of a song that’s playing in a club, or in someone’s car, or on a boom box. you don’t get sappy or dramatic music creeping in at pivotal moments, beating you over the head with what you should be feeling. still, in its own subtle way, the music is effective. at the end of one episode, a character is listening to a song on a radio or cd player while the final scene plays out. it just kind of hangs there in the background, never rising in volume (just as it would be in real life), but adding a certain bittersweet something. i smiled when i realized it was “fleurette africaine”, off of the album money jungle (a duke ellington/charles mingus/max roach trio date from 1962, and a great album at that). now there’s a music supervisor with some good taste.

in case you can’t tell, i dig it. with a shovel. i think it may even ultimately slide on up next to deadwood for me, in the pantheon of “best things i ever did see that were once on tv”. i should really stop reading much of anything about shows or movies i’m interested in before i see them, because i unfortunately stumbled across a few spoilers in the process (and i fucking hate spoilers…why more people don’t at least warn you of a huge surprise they’re about to ruin with “SPOILER COMING, I’M GOING TO SPOIL SOMETHING FOR YOU BECAUSE I’M A FUCKING DOUCHEBAG FUCKNUT ASSMONKEY, SPOILER COMING”, i don’t know), but i get the feeling there are enough surprises in store that it won’t even really matter. i’ve already learned an unexpected but important lesson because of the show: shit rolls downhill, but piss trickles.

it’s true.

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