Wednesday, September 29, 2010

David Simon

So, I don't know, five years ago, maybe more, friends of mine started telling me I had to watch this HBO show The Wire. Gotta be honest, not only did I never take them up on that suggestion, most of the time I didn't even really hear them.  The show sounded like yet another police procedural, cops & robbers, crime scenes, blah blah blah.  I never mind watching those shows when they're on, but I never, never go looking for them.

Plus, a show about a wiretap? Really, HBO? Really? How does that last for more than a few weeks?

Flashforward to last summer. Don't ask me why, but I Netflixed the first two episodes of the Wire.

And oh my God, I fell in love.  Amazing characters, extremely well written, not at all a procedural but a drama, and a sort of Shakespearean one at that, with characters on many different levels of authority -- police chiefs, their underlings, their underlings, lawyers, judges, addicts, pushers and drug lords -- all treated as subjects, with desires and histories and pressures.

The premise: a troublemaking homicide detective in Baltimore wants to take down one of the main drug lord families in town, the Barksdale family, and has to fight against not only their incredible machine but his own demons and a screwed up criminal justice system to do it.

The Wire went five seasons, and in each season it took the extremely unusual tack of shifting its story to a different part of Baltimore, and different issues, like shipping or politics or education.  Some seasons took a little getting used to; others, particularly the season connected to the school system, grabbed you right from the first few moments and never let you go.  But all along that story of trying to take down the drug kingpins remained, and stayed compelling, right until the crazy, unexpected last season and conclusion.  

I mention The Wire because yesterday its creator, David Simon, won a MacArthur Genius Fellowship work.  Simon was a longtime journalist in Baltimore who went into television to do The Wire. He now runs the HBO show about New Orleans, Treme [treh-may], in which he yet again immerses us so fully in another world that you can't help but think, this is what it must really be like down there.

About his work the MacArthur foundation wrote: “With the nuance and scope of novels, Simon’s recent series have explored the constraints that poverty, corruption and broken social systems place on the lives of a compelling cast of characters, each vividly realized with complicated motives, frailties, and strengths.”

Simon filmed a very short interview for the Award. It's very interesting in his take on how his stories relate to the struggles in our country, especially for the disenfranchised.  I've posted it below. 

Do yourself a favor and check this guy's stuff out.  You won't regret it. 

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