In regard to enjoying the three best shows on television, my husband Martin and I came late to the party.
The first one, the situation comedy Seinfeld, is petite amusement which we still quote liberally, and often. For years, we were asked by friends and family, “Why don’t you watch Seinfeld?”
Our answers were: “We’re too tired raising the kids to watch TV” or “Now that it’s been on a couple of years, it’s too late for us to enjoy it.”
Not only did we get hooked on the show when it was live on NBC, we also gobbled up the episodes in syndication. Our by then ‘tween kids knew whole episodes by heart. In fact, when we were invited onto the set of Seinfeld to watch one of its very last episodes being filmed, my daughter, only eleven at the time, had the between-scenes moderator in stitches because she was the first to raise her hand with answers to all his trivia questions.
“What is she, a midget?” he asked us incredulously. “She’s not old enough to know all the shows!”
She still treasures the Seinfeld t-shirt she won that day.
The second show we almost missed entirely was hawked by one of my pals here on Murder She Writes. K-Tab would tell me, “I can’t believe you don’t watch Rescue Me! In fact, I’ll loan you the first season on DVD.”
She was right. We got hooked on Denis Leary‘s bittersweet vision of life in a New York City firehouse immediately after 911. His character, Tommy Gavin, sees the ghosts of firemen friends past as he attempts to assuage his guilt for not having died with them. Pathos is liberally dosed with laughs, and characters are so well written and acted. And when Leary and his writing/producing partner, Peter Tolan, are on their game, the dialogue is Shakespearean. If you missed it when the show was on the air, it’s certainly worth ‘Flixing the DVDs.
Which brings me to the best dramatic series ever to be aired on television: The Wire. What makes it so great–and what makes it like no other police procedural ever produced for broadcast–is its adherence to the gritty realities of life on the street corners run by drug dealers.
The Wire‘s genius was to move the viewer beyond that one very colorful but singularly dimensional side of drug trafficking’s Rubik Cube and onto its other sides–national, state and city politics; the local police administration; schools politics and policies; union corruption; and the local media. They too are just as fascinating and disgusting, to viewers; and just as important to see, if viewers are to understand how drug trafficking works, and why this scourge on our society may never be eradicated.
Or, in the words of one of the show’s most popular character, Police Detective Lester Freamon, “All the pieces matter.”
Simon embedded the show’s viewers into the halls of justice (and injustice). They were privy to police department cutbacks and politics as well as rogue cop shenanigans. They saw why politically motivated school policies fail.
After each episode, my husband, who worked in public affairs for the New York Police Department, would shake his head and say, “I’ve worked with every cop portrayed in this show. This is what it’s really like.”
For the rest of us, ignorance is bliss. If only real life were CSI and Castle! But it’s not. Producer David Simon’s pedigree as a Baltimore Sun street beat reporter gave him both the experience to present it as it truly is, and the to chops to write true-to-life characters with dialogue that is fresh and real.
For five too short/too fast seasons, anyway.
Without seeing all sides, our visions of what woulda/coulda/shoulda would have been skewed, and screwed.
Here’s the thing: as an author, I am always in awe of other writers who, no matter their medium, can capture the truth in a situation, and then bring it to life for others. I respect those who aren’t afraid to mix indigo and alabaster into a rainbow of gray tones that cast light into the shadows of time, place, circumstance, and action no matter how sad, horrifying or disgusting that truth may be.
Because that’s just damn good writing.
Yep, all the pieces matter.
Enjoy the following video clip is a trailer from the first season of The Wire.
Do you have a favorite television show that you feel is so well written that it’s a classic? Tell me about it, below…
*Picture: The actors in the Baltimore Police unit that set up “The Wire”, in which to listen in on, and stop, drug traffickers.