MICHAEL BODEY

DVD LET­TER­BOX

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

THE pass­ing of a much- loved but lit­tle seen television drama has cap­tured me­dia at­ten­tion in the US re­cently. The Wire , a po­lice drama set in Bal­ti­more, may not be familiar to Aus­tralian au­di­ences. Yet it has jumped out from the shadow of the higher- profile HBO se­ries The So­pra­nos , fol­low­ing the screen­ing of its fi­nal episode in the US last month.

In Aus­tralia, The Wire is now con­signed to spo­radic late- night screen­ings on the Nine Net­work, while the ear­lier se­ries are run­ning on Fox 8.

The first two of the five se­ries are avail­able on DVD, and DVD Let­ter­box is plough­ing through them with great plea­sure. It is the best cop drama on TV.

The US press mourned the pro­gram’s pass­ing not only be­cause pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Barack Obama cited it as the best show on TV re­cently.

No, The Wire is un­der­stated, com­plex and divert­ing. The con­ven­tions of TV cop dra­mas are now too ob­vi­ous even to par­ody. But some­how The Wire keeps it very real. It looks like the Mona Lisa next to rub­bish such as the Law & Or­der fran­chise.

The credit must go back to the source, David Si­mon, a for­mer crime re­porter for The Bal­ti­more Sun . His sense that the process of crime fight­ing is in­ex­orable and is ham­pered by pro­ce­dure and van­ity is un­nerv­ing but ul­ti­mately far more re­al­is­tic than could be imag­ined.

There are no easy res­o­lu­tions, pat end­ings or cheap con­ven­tions in The Wire , just a re­lent­less grind ( for the char­ac­ters, not view­ers) through missed op­por­tu­ni­ties, pro­ce­dural frus­tra­tions and the oc­ca­sional col­lar.

This was a bold nar­ra­tive play by Si­mon, who had pre­vi­ously dealt with the sug­ary na­ture of the US com­mer­cial net­works when he wrote and was ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on Homi­cide: Life on the Streets .

Much of his work was bol­stered by the writ­ing of Ed Burns, a 20- year vet­eran of the Bal­ti­more Po­lice De­part­ment, and a ros­ter of well- cre­den­tialled direc­tors and writ­ers in­clud­ing nov­el­ists Den­nis Le­hane ( Mys­tic River , Gone, Baby Gone ) and Richard Price ( Clock­ers ).

Those writ­ers in par­tic­u­lar would ac­count for much of the fruity lan­guage in the se­ries, al­though the re­al­ity is TV rarely comes close to repli­cat­ing the lan­guage of the street. Again, here it feels real, al­though I can’t ad­mit to hav­ing dealt or bought il­licit sub­stances on the streets of Bal­ti­more.

The most en­tic­ing as­pect of the show to me though — and I’m only into the sec­ond se­ries — is its fo­cus on dif­fer­ent as­pects of what might be con­sid­ered the Bal­ti­more crime scene.

The first se­ries stars Do­minic West, who thank­fully has el­e­vated him­self be­yond some bland film work, as De­tec­tive Jimmy McNulty, a man who be­gins as world- weary and de­scends from there.

He is a cap­ti­vat­ing char­ac­ter who be­gins polic­ing drugs, then moves into the city’s port in the sec­ond se­ries. The third, fourth and fifth se­ries fo­cus on the city’s bu­reau­cracy, school sys­tem and news­pa­per ( The Bal­ti­more Sun ), re­spec­tively.

Re­ports from the US sug­gest the fifth se­ries’ de­pic­tion of news­pa­per life is the most re­al­is­tic yet seen on TV.

That’s an en­tic­ing prospect for a jour­nal­ist who re­cently re- viewed the oth­er­wise bril­liant Bri­tish minis­eries State of Play , and was might­ily frus­trated by its un­re­al­is­tic news­room.

I rec­om­mend The Wire to those pin­ing for a re­place­ment for The So­pra­nos . It presents a re­al­ity, wis­dom and point of view that is rare on TV. DISC WATCH: Atone­ment ( Uni­ver­sal, MA15+, $ 29.95) THE adap­ta­tion of Ian McEwan’s novel still seems more like a best pic­ture Os­car win­ner than No Coun­try for Old Men.

bodeym@ theaus­tralian. com. au

Fine per­for­mance: Do­minic West stars in The Wire

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