Sunday, September 26, 2010

Omar Little

Omar Little (The Wire)

Recent tides have washed up on the cable shores Boardwalk Empire, which is being touted as the best show produced for television since The Sopranos.

I spend little time watching cable television series and when I do, I watch a full season, or a completed series, in protracted viewing sessions. (Netflix accommodates.) But out of curiosity, and affection for Steve Buscemi, I watched Episode One of Boardwalk Empire.

It was an enjoyable hour with excellent production values and a very good cast, but one episode does not a series make, so only clocks and calendars will tell. (My admiration for Mr. Buscemi goes back to a little film called Trees Lounge issued just before he became well known as a hyperactive miscreant in Fargo.)

As for “the best show produced for television since The Sopranos,” I have heard a similar call before – but from a distant shore. Yet some great Atlantic barrier seems to have kept a sufficient number in the United States from embracing a series which originated here, crossed that wicked ocean to England, found great favor in certain quarters but could never find its way back to welcome shores. That series, comparably, has been called "the best TV show of the last 20 years.” It is The Wire.

Comparisons are beyond my ken because my universe of modern television series seen is limited -- actually beyond scant. To further complicate categorical assessment, the source of films begins to blur.

At this stage of life I watch most films at home. In recent years, I find the distinction between computer monitors and television screens has almost disappeared. And as the receiving media blurs, so does the original format of that which I watch, particularly in modern productions. Was that a cable mini-series, a made for television movie, or a Hollywood movie – itself one of a franchise series? And does it matter anymore?

The Sopranos is obviously the gold standard against which all series are currently compared. I do not doubt the credentials of The Sopranos , which seemed to fill a need in a viewing public ever searching for Godfather IV, but which has been confronted in theatres with the next installment of Harry Potter or some Bourne entity.

No less a film purist than David Thomson has said: “ ... you've got to face the fact that these days television frequently beats out what you see at the movies. And 'The Sopranos' and 'The Wire' and a few other things are just extraordinary achievements … Much as I love the 'Godfather' films, I really do, I think you can make an argument that "The Sopranos" was a greater achievement.”

I have watched random episodes of The Sopranos and the characters and situations seem real to this native northeasterner who has lived deep in city streets, later in suburban sites and spent the better part of my adult life in the company of police. But I never stayed the viewing course. So as commenting on selected components of an antipasto does not comprise a restaurant review, I will refrain. But The Wire is a different matter.

The vast literature of articulate writing about The Wire needs no copying and pasting here, when it is easily available with routine search criteria. Seek and find. Or better yet watch the first three episodes and you might succumb.

I will say only that I watched the entire series through Netflix, then purchased the entire series and watched it again, and I have currently started the journey to the mean streets of Baltimore yet again.

“Down these mean streets a man must go ...” Raymond Chandler told us. I need not go, but I do so willingly. I seek to renew my acquaintance with the good, the bad and the ugly of a fictional Baltimore that probably too closely approximates reality. And on some shambolic city street in that region where good and bad converge, I will be seeking to renew my acquaintance with one Omar Little. Once met, long remembered.

Omar Little.


  1. I haven't seen The Wire yet, I'm kind of dragging my feet because great TV series are so time-consuming, albeit rewarding - and there's so many movies yet to see. Count me among the Sopranos fans, though I think it was inevitably uneven (not necessarily a barrier to greatness, that) and wouldn't really rank it against the Godfather, too apples and oranges. As for Trees Lounge, Buscemi directed that too, right?

  2. Thank you Movie Man. I empathize about the shortage of viewing time. With all the film outlets currently available, for the first time in my life there is more than I can watch. And the years encroach. But I realize others have multiple rows to hoe.

    As to “The Sopranos,” your comments approximate those made to me by knowledgeable friends. Perhaps I will take the plunge later this year. Yes on Buscemi directing “Trees Lounge,” a simple little film that I saw in a theatre and that stayed with me. Best. Gerald.