True Grit and Drama, Right Down to the 'Wire'

By Jen Chaney Staff Writer
Friday, August 15, 2008

"The Wire" has never received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series, a crime almost as heinous as the ones that were perpetrated each week on this gritty Baltimore cop show.

All right, I'm exaggerating a little. Drug deals and murders, both of which happened routinely on "The Wire," are far worse than an Emmy snub. Still, the lack of recognition for a show that dared to explore major ills in American society seems flat-out wrong. And that fact is mentioned more than once during the extras on "The Wire: The Complete Fifth Season" ($59.99), a DVD of the 10 episodes in the final season of this HBO classic.

" 'The Wire' has never won an Emmy?" Time magazine columnist Joe Klein asks incredulously during a documentary retrospective included in the collection. " 'The Wire' deserves the Nobel Prize for Literature!" Even David Simon, co-creator of the series, can't refrain from bemoaning the lack of awards during the commentary track that accompanies the final episode (which, incidentally, did receive an Emmy nomination for its writing).

All that bellyaching would be unseem ly if "The Wire" wasn't as great as its creators say it was. If you have never entered the world inhabited by Bunk, Bubbles and Omar, stop reading this right now and immediately add the DVDs of the first four seasons to the top of your Netflix queue. Only then can you dive into Season 5 ready to appreciate how numerous narrative threads ultimately tie together, courtesy of a particularly provocative murder case in which (symbolism alert) a ribbon is neatly tied around each victim's wrist.

Journalists and news junkies might be the unspoken target audience for this DVD because the news industry, like city hall in Season 3 and the Baltimore public school system in Season 4, is the institution that undergoes the most scrutiny during "The Wire's" swan song. A featurette called "The Wire: The Last Word" focuses on the media, giving several real editors and reporters -- including Klein, Jacob Weisberg of Slate and Steve Luxenberg of The Washington Post -- the chance to offer their opinions on the state of the media today. (It's not a pretty picture.)

In general, though, the extras aren't as plentiful as loyal "Wire" fans might have hoped. The series retrospective, "The Wire: Odyssey," is semi-entertaining, and the six commentary tracks are informative, especially to Marylanders who get a kick out of all the shout-outs to the real Baltimore personalities and places that pop up in the episodes. But it's impossible to leave these DVDs without wanting more: additional commentary tracks, deleted scenes, even the featurette about drug kingpin Prop Joe that appeared on Comcast OnDemand.

Of course, anyone who watches "The Wire" is used to wanting more. As satisfying as this last season was, we still want more McNulty, more Lt. Daniels and more multifaceted stories from that rough, very real city just north of the nation's capital. And, of course, more Emmy nominations.

Bonus Point Most Likely to Spark Debate in Journalism Circles: It's no secret that Simon, who used to work at the Baltimore Sun, is an old-school reporter at heart. So it's not surprising that, when discussing the impact of the Web on newspaper circulation, he asks this pointed question: "How much more contempt do you have to show for your own product than to give it away for free on the Internet?" Reporters, editors, Web producers: Discuss among yourselves.

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