The Wire, Arrested Development - Prototypes of a new type of telly?

Gabba Flamenco Crossover

High Sierra Skullfuck
I've been rocking Arrested Development all winter on DVD, and I finally got around to checking The Wire out last week when I was ill - watched all of series one over a few days. Both total classics IMO.

AD is just insanely funny with so many levels of comedy. Once you start getting into the characters and how they relate to one another, petty jealousies etc, then it just becomes something totally different.

And The Wire... I put it off for a long time from hype aversion, because people I knew were banging on about it so much. But it's absolutely fucking brilliant. The thing it really reminded me of was the Dickens novel Bleak House - same vast array of finely etched, slightly hyperreal characters, same panoramic sweep of society from the lowest to the highest, same cold-eyed dissection of the uneasy relationship between power, justice, and criminal law. The NY times made a Dickens comparison too - part of the hyperbolic praise that seems to follow The Wire around, and which I assumed were OTT, but having seen it, well...

The point here is that I was watching both of these series on a laptop, with instant access to any point in any episode, and all the resources of the WWW in support if needed - and it really opened them up as programmes to watch them in this way, especially The Wire. Being able to hop back to scenes in earlier episodes to get a better handle on what just happened, or call up maps of Baltimore on the net, or online urban dictionaries to work out what the hell the drugs gangs are talking about - all essential to getting the most out of it. With AD, it was enough just to be able to hop back over each episode to pick up on the subtle sight gags missed first time round.

Both of these series famously bombed on US TV despite massive critical acclaim. The Wire was broadcast on an obscure cable channel in the UK so hardly anyone saw it (all the fans I know picked up on it subsequently on DVD or bittorrent). AD was on late on Sunday night, at a time when a lot of people are either asleep or out, so not many people saw it. I saw a few episodes on TV, and they were entertaining in a circus-type way, a half hour of chaotic randomness. But I didn't get into it properly until I got copies on the PC to watch on demand.

What I'm saying is that while most TV execs are still chasing ratings and watercooler TV moments that unite the population, both of these series seem to be reaching out into a post-television future of on-demand, instant access programming supported by web resources, and finding creative space to do things with that model that weren't possible with old-fashioned TV.

What do people think? And are we going to see any British shows doing this?
 

hurricane run

Well-known member
the first episode of the wire was flagged pretty heavily in the grauniad 6 million households in the uk have sky tv (i think) all i did was press 1=7=9 bliss i often wonder if the dvd box set/bit torrent types miss something i have to make sure i'm at the telly with a single malt at 10pm every week the anticipation of the new series
speaking to a recent convert (through box set), she couldn't follow the text. wonder if tv drama has got so stupid, people find it hard to engage their brains in front of the box
never got into ad larry sanders the only us comedy i've ever liked
tv people generally morons went to university with morons who ended up in tv none of them actually watched tv (outside of their tv studies classrooms) i think that's what's wrong with the schedules; no love...
 

hurricane run

Well-known member
And are we going to see any British shows doing this?

no because brit shows underfunded in comparison yanks have swat teams of writers, hollywood trained technical staff (read william goldman on hollywood techies) and longer series lengths.
compare knowing me knowing you with larry sanders
 

gek-opel

entered apprentice
I wondered when The Wire would come up or discussion: it really is like a late 19thc novel come to life... as an extended essay on the frustrations of modern bureaucracy and the nature of 21st century ghetto capitalism, its unbeatable really (along with as many laughs in the script as most comedies manage)... at times the technicality of language (mainly drug/police talk, but also in series two the stevedores at the docks) is extremely brave, along with the HBO formulated "show don't tell" plot styles I can see why it is a bit of a hard sell for a lot of people. Absolutely nothing on British TV comes even within spitting distance of it, (in 2007 at least) and this is as you say largely due to budgetary constraints, but there is also a kind of formulaic mire which even the best drama series are stuck in over here, a total lack of ambition (in scale and in series length) which leads to everything being, at best, a TV-movie, rather than exploiting the unique aspect that television offers-- the opportunity to tell a story over an extended period of time, with all the additional complexities and "world building" that such an opportunity allows.
 

don_quixote

Trent End
only watched two episodes of the wire so far (god bless alluc.org, even if the sound and picture are a little out of step), thought the first episode was pretty dull, but the second episode has drawn me in... gonna watch the next tomorrow i think
 

adruu

This Is It
Do a youtube search on David Simon after you've seen however much of The Wire you get around to. He's the creator of the show, and it's clear his personal beliefs are 1) clearly not Mainstream American 2) Defiantly Non-Hollywood, 3) guide the entire series.

The Wire is sort of counterpart or compliment to the favela-chic stuff isn't it (City of God, that South African movie)? It's just pulling the whole desperation and poverty of the "South"/Periphery closer to the core...

I think the last season is going to be based around TV/Media themes, and Baltimore's Hispanic population. I cant wait.
 
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hurricane run

Well-known member
"rather than exploiting the unique aspect that television offers-- the opportunity to tell a story over an extended period of time, with all the additional complexities and "world building" that such an opportunity allows."

coronation st is probably the only british show which does this drops details in which become central to plot weeks later
 

Gabba Flamenco Crossover

High Sierra Skullfuck
speaking to a recent convert (through box set), she couldn't follow the text. wonder if tv drama has got so stupid, people find it hard to engage their brains in front of the box.
I think TV drama has definitely dumbed down, but by any standards The Wire is a big ask in terms of viewer concentration. I had real problems keeping track of people's names, and there were certain scenes that I got completely wrong. Each episode took me about 90 mins to watch, because I had to rewatch certain scenes or pause it and look stuff up on the net.

If I had to watch it week by week on TV, I don't think I would have got into it half as much.
 

hucks

Your Message Here
And are we going to see any British shows doing this?


compare knowing me knowing you with larry sanders
I flippin' loved knowing me knowing you....

Whether this will ever happen in the UK...One thing that stands in the way of developing story arcs by using long series and crack teams of writing is funding, and this comes back to simple demography. I was under the impression the Catherine Tate Show was some sort of cultural phenomenon, but viewing figures never went much above 5m. Even Friends only got about the same on C4. Apparently Ugly Betty gets over 12m viewers in the US. Dunno if this compares like with like precisely, but one reason US TV companies have more money to spend is simply because there are more people to watch the shows, so more people to advertise to. Dull, I know.

That said, the early series of Shameless used to develop themes over 10 episodes, didn't they? That's before it became Hollyoaks for grown ups.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
"AD is just insanely funny with so many levels of comedy. Once you start getting into the characters and how they relate to one another, petty jealousies etc, then it just becomes something totally different."
I watched the whole second series of this and a tiny bit of the first and I think that you might have a point. At first I found it simply too "zany" or whatever and different to relate to because of the lack of a "real" background for the funny things to stand out against but the more I watched it the more I got in to it and enjoyed the way that things link backwards and forwards through the episodes. There is definitely more to it than first meets the eye although I still think it is a little too annoying and I can totally understand why a lot of my friends can't get in to it.
Oh yeah, I should say I watched it all on dvds that I borrowed off my brother and watched loads at a time - I agree with what you're saying about it being more than the half-hour of randomness it first appeared to be. I can't really comment about how this compares to other tv shows because I don't really watch tv and it was only complete coincidence that I happened to see this at all.
 

blunt

shot by both sides
Like you, I held off watching The Wire for a long time in the expectation of it being, in reality, shite. In the end, it was the wife that got me hooked, having ordered it from Love Film. We've just started watching season 3, and I can confirm that the show just goes from strength to strength. It's truly breathtaking how involved - and involving - it can be.

There's a terrific podcast interview with David Simon available on iTunes, courtesey of HBO to tie-in with season 4. As such, there are a couple of spoilers, but nothing too drastic, and while it contains little in the way of surprises, it's always nice to listen to someone speak articulately about their baby. Recommended :)

Incidentally, does anyone know where I can get hold of the theme tunes, particularly the Neville Brothers version for season 3? I've been searching high and lo, but to no avail...
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
"Being able to hop back to scenes in earlier episodes to get a better handle on what just happened"
This is interesting because this thread moved me to suggest to my girlfriend that I wasn't the only person who thought they saw hidden depths in Arrested Development (I know the thread is more about The Wire but I've never seen it). She decided to give it another chance and I watched a few episodes with her.
There is one in the second series where Buster recovers his chair in the shape of a giant hand, on finding it he says something along the lines of "I never knew I would miss a hand so much" which seems like a fairly pointless line unless you know (as I did having seen it already) that in ten episodes or so there is a major storyline where he really does lose a hand. I don't think I've ever seen a tv comedy programme before (correct me if I'm wrong) that makes jokes and references that there is no way you can understand unless you've seen the later episodes already. This kind of thing seems to lend credence to what you're saying about how it is intended to be seen several times and I found this quite an interesting development - some kind of recursive humour where you have to have seen the latter episodes to get the most out of the early ones and vice versa.
My girlfriend still doesn't really like it.
 

Guybrush

Dittohead
I watched the first season of Arrested Development, but stopped about halfway into the second as I felt the quality had dropped considerably by then. I remember there being a huge difference in quality between the different episodes depending on who the writer was. All in all, a pretty good TV-series.
 

Leo

Well-known member
i miss AD, one of the best comedies of its (brief) time. the new fox fx series "the riches" with eddie izzard and minny driver is decent, a family of gypsies assumes the identities of a dead family and scams their way into the straight life (probably wouldn't be half as good without eddie, tho). used to dig "24" but this year it seems tired, more of the same ol' same ol' with few shocking plot twists. looking forward to the the new season of "rescue me" with dennis leary.

actually, my fav recent tv viewing was a dvd collection of "black adder" from my british girlfriend! i'd never seen it before, cheeky bastard.
 

hucks

Your Message Here
OK, so I just started watching The Wire last week, after months of everyone telling me how fcking amazing it is. Everyone is right.

Two things stand out for me. Firstly, the fact that it has no central character, obvious even from the start, makes it unlike any other drama I've seen. Clearly D'Angelo and McNulty are important to the story, but you get everyone's backstory, everyone's motivation, and you know it'll be important later, as those characters move to the surface of the plot. It reminiscent of a soap, in that respect, as Hurricane Run alluded to in an albeit different context earlier.

Secondly, I love that it never changes pace throughout an episode. If I've got this right, HBO doesn't do ad breaks, so there's no need for an artifical quickening of tempo every 15 minutes. Braver, though, is the lack of cliffhangers at the end of the episode. It's all so beautifully even.
 

crackerjack

Well-known member
OK, so I just started watching The Wire last week, after months of everyone telling me how fcking amazing it is. Everyone is right.

Two things stand out for me. Firstly, the fact that it has no central character, obvious even from the start, makes it unlike any other drama I've seen. Clearly D'Angelo and McNulty are important to the story, but you get everyone's backstory, everyone's motivation, and you know it'll be important later, as those characters move to the surface of the plot. It reminiscent of a soap, in that respect, as Hurricane Run alluded to in an albeit different context earlier.

Secondly, I love that it never changes pace throughout an episode. If I've got this right, HBO doesn't do ad breaks, so there's no need for an artifical quickening of tempo every 15 minutes. Braver, though, is the lack of cliffhangers at the end of the episode. It's all so beautifully even.
OTM. I rented series 1 through Love Film, then borrowed 2 & 3 off a mate. Got through the lot in about one month. Who needs a social life when TV is this good?

Incidentally, does anyone know where I can get hold of the theme tunes, particularly the Neville Brothers version for season 3?
The Tom Waits original (which was the theme tune for series 2) is on Frank's Wild Years. Had no idea the series 3 version was by The Nevilles - kept forgetting to check - but it's a belter.

EDIT: VERY VERY MINOR SPOILER ALERT
Favourite scenes so far are Omar testifying against Bird and the one where McNulty and Bonk check out an old crime scene and spend three minutes saying nothing but "fuck" 30times over in 30 different ways. Genius.

As for chracters, Frank in series 2 is a heartbreaking essay on the decline of the organised working class. Could've been written by Steinbeck or Graham Greene (if he hadn't been Amerrican and working class).
 
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adruu

This Is It
I don't really buy the "new type of telly" angle, but 30 Rock is defintely, hands down, the funniest shit I've seen since AD.
 

Jonesy

Wild Horses
After Six Feet Under and The Sopranos I though HBO couldn't deliver anything better but the Wire is ahead of even these two great shows.

Ditto the comment re: a lack of a main character. The strength of the show for me is the writer(s)'s ability to give us a window into the lives of a broad range of characters and making it revealing enough so that we don't just get snapshots.

Everyone, from the smackheads to the top police brass, are trying to negotiate their lives in very particular circumstances and the show portrays the power plays that all face.

A pat on the back is also due for having a different version of the theme for each series. Great idea.
 
the wire has gotten me through two winters, im about to resurect season 4 in anticipation of season 5, which jus aired stateside...

just a note on the possibility of any British television doing anything remotely worthwhile as the wire (haven't seen any Arrested Development) - im sure that there are the writers out there that could potentially write something actually worth watching, but this kind of television comes down to money and structure and flexibility.

Basically HBO has the money, space and nerve to hook up David Simon with the money to get it made, using an entire crew from Baltimore, & a list of varied, talented, writers on rotation as if they were dj's on a saturday night flyer, because this is a subscription channel that viewers pay for. They've got the doe in advance and basically seemed to have learned to take some risks.... i bet a lot of HBO shows didn't look that good on paper before they aired.

I raise all this because the level of fear and insecurity goin on definitely at the beeb and prob most other British television-bosses-offices is the real reason why shows like the Wire couldn't get made here. You can't always expect lame executives who are (probably justifiably) worried bout their bonus and car and sh*t to back the right shows, and give them the right amount of creative space.



( First post! Hello! I like it here! )
 

PeteUM

It's all grist
My significant other and I are two episodes off finishing Series 4 and the cold turkey is going to be very brutal. I hear Series 5 will be the last too?

Sheeeit...
 
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