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Arts and Entertainment

Saying Goodbye to The Wire

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Tonight we say goodbye to McNulty, Bunk, Freaman, Greggs and the rest of the cast of The Wire

Back in June 2002, a crime drama from the minds of former Baltimore Sun writer David Simon (who spoke at USC earlier this week) and former Baltimore police officer Ed Burns made its debut on HBO. The Wire was more than just another cop show, it was an examination of both sides of the Baltimore drug trade - the organization profiting off of the projects' heroine addiction and the police department trying to stop them. The gritty, realism and complexity of the show helped the show win over critics coast-to-coast. However, that very same gritty, realism and complexity that won over the press might be the reason why nobody outside of the people who were being paid to watch television were watching the show. The American public, including myself, didn't want to jump into a fictional world that was as depressing and bleak as our actual world.

Viewers or not, the show chugged along tackling hard hitting issues and creating memorable characters in the process. Season two took a step back from the drug trade and took a look at the fall of the working class, focusing on the longshoremen working the ports of Baltimore and I didn't watch. The show's third season hit the streets again, refocusing on the drug game while also including the politicians making the decisions that affected Simon's Baltimore and I still didn't watch.

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You most likely didn't watch either.

I like to think I can gauge a show's popularity based on the amount of conversations I have that include the question, "Do you watch (insert show title here)?" Between 2002 and 2004, I can count on one hand the amount of times I heard this question asked in regards to The Wire. As great as the first three seasons of this show were, very few people were investing one hour of their week to this harsh, hopeless world of drug dealers, cops, politicians and junkies.

Then it happened.

In 2006, almost two whole years after the show's third season ended, the fourth season of The Wire premiered. The focus of season four was the failures of the educational system. With a look inside the halls of Baltimore's schools came an introduction to Baltimore's youth. These youngsters and the struggles they faced opened the eyes of many who had never seen the show, including myself.

It was as though, we were being introduced to a brand new show, despite the fact that it had been on the air since 2002.

As Andre Royo, who plays Bubbles, told us in our interview back in January:

You weren't introduced last season, you were introduced from Season One, you just didn't want to watch. You said, here's another fucking cop show, right? You didn't realize what you were missing. Last season, being about the kids had a universal impact...When you see tragedy with the young kids, it pulls on the heart strings harder.

At its height in popularity, The Wire came back for a fifth and final season earlier this year. This fifth season, which focused on the media's role in Simon's Baltimore, has been a solid follow-up to the remarkable fourth season, living up to high expectations set by critics and fans alike.

While I have very much enjoyed the first nine episodes of this season, I do not think it is nearly as good as last season. To be fair, this season had the tough task of creating a new world of characters (the Baltimore Sun) and wrapping up four seasons worth of plot in just 10 episodes, the shortest run of all of the seasons. The show would have greatly benefited from at least two more episodes. As a result of the shorter run, stories moved along much quicker than they would in seasons past, for example the four season-long case of dirty senator Clay Davis reached its climax in a seven minute slice of episode seven.

This isn't my only issue with this season.

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Had the show not established itself with such realism, I would be able to look past some of the unrealistic elements of this season like Omar Little's ability to walk away from a plunge from the fifth floor of an apartment building with just a really bad limp.

Despite Omar's ability to fly and the rapid climax of the Davis story, I am happy with what I have seen of season five thus far. But how will it end?

Going into The Sopranos finale, we pretty much had just one question left unanswered, "Is Tony going to get whacked?" While it was a huge question (which was never answered) it was just one question. Walking into the finale of The Wire we are left with many questions left unanswered, including:
- What's going to happen to McNulty?
- Why did Greggs do that?
- Is Marlo going to get off?
- Where is Michael going to go?
- Will anyone reach out and help Dukie?
- Is Chris going to get locked up?

With just one hour left, I hope we are able to see how these questions and several others answered.

It's going to be tough to say goodbye to one of the best shows on TV. I will miss sitting down in front of the TV every Sunday and getting excited as I listen to the show's theme "Way Down in the Hole." I will miss calling friends and family members who feel the same way about the show throughout the week and asking them what they think will happen next. I will miss coming into work each Monday and reading insight about each episode from San Francisco Chronicle TV Critic, Tim Goodman. Most of all I will miss the characters created by Simon who have given a face to both sides of the institutional corruption and failures the show has examined for the last six years.

Photo by Paul Schiraldi courtesy of HBO