Sunday, August 15, 2010

30 Day TV Challenge - Day 9: "This America, man."

9. Best scene ever.
The Wire
The sad fate of Snot Boogie.
(You might think there's a spoiler here, but there isn't. So continue on, unafraid.)

Some shows take a little while to get on their feet. Star Trek: The Next Generation, one of my favorite shows, needed two whole seasons before it could really move on its own power. Other shows, though, hit the ground running -- magnificent pilot episodes, characters that grab you right away and stories that pull you in before you know what's happened. The Wire, however, hooks you like no other show ever has. My choice for Best Scene Ever is actually the first scene of The Wire's first episode. It might be a strange choice -- there are no thunderous monologues or gut-wrenching drama; no shocking plot twists. But I've never seen a television program announce itself with such power right from the start. And certainly not with something as laid-back as two people chatting.

Now, The Wire is, at a very passing glance, a cop drama. You'd be forgiven for assuming it was up to the usual cop drama tricks. After all, it does open with a homicide detective investigating a homicide. There's a corpse on the street, a lone witness reluctant to talk with the police. But right away, you can feel that The Wire is going to be different. The mood is off, the dialogue unfamiliar. And as this very simple exchange unfolds, you realize The Wire is not going to be your typical Cop DramaTM. Our detective, McNulty, arrives on the scene to investigate the murder of the unfortunately-monickered Snot Boogie. And the story he hears from his witness is a unique one indeed:

Because The Wire wasn't about solving mysteries. It couldn't have been less interested in the usual Law & Order or CSI melodrama, with brilliant detectives bringing ruthless yet clever killers. The Wire used the guise of a cop drama to examine the soul of the American city at the turn of the 21st century: the show could have used "This America, man," as a subtitle. And it's all set up in this opening scene, with the mystified grin that spreads on McNulty's face at his witness's accidental poetry. Right away, you know The Wire won't wrap things up in a nice, network-approved bow, with the bad guys punished and the good guys celebrated.

And in the end, McNulty never does find Snot Boogie's murderer. Because that's what happens.

(You'll notice I chose a video that included The Wire's brilliant title sequence. You're welcome for that. I wanted an excuse to post it, because it's my second favorite title sequence of all time. My favorite is the subject of Day 18's prompt.)

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