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Lou Pickney's Online Commentary

The Bigger The Lie

Friday
January 4, 2008

"The bigger the lie, the more they believe"
-Bunk Moreland on The Wire

Two of the greatest television shows of this decade, or any other, make their season debuts later this month. If you're savvy, or at least up to speed, you'd best catch them while you can.

The first is the brilliant, critically-acclaimed HBO show The Wire. That show, about crime, police, politics, and life in Baltimore, is easily the most authentic television program I've ever seen.

How good is it? There's a conversation in the Season 5 debut episode (which debuts on HBO on Sunday, but which is strangely also available *right now* on HBO On Demand) that spot-on matches a conversation I had with Rob Johnson at WSAZ nearly eight years ago. It involves the use of the term "evacuated" in a news story, and while the conversation on The Wire takes place in a newspaper newsroom, it's two cards of the same suit between that and a television station newsroom.

The authenticity is there in everything. It doesn't hurt that one of the co-creators once worked for the real-life Baltimore Sun newspaper. My cousin Angela's husband David, who worked as a police officer, said that the show portrays life as a cop better (by far) than any other television program he's ever seen.

I could go on and on about how great the show is, not only because of how amazingly accurate it is about the gritty side of life that most of Hollywood can only guess at (poorly), but also because it doesn't try to spin everything to end on a positive note.

The Wire is the antithesis of everything I hate about most all of the cop shows out there, and though through its reality it alienates a portion of the audience that doesn't like to think (The Wire demands your full attention), it does so with impunity. That makes me like it even more.

Don't take my word for it: read this article from the New Yorker about the show to see first-hand, with explanations from the creators and actors involved. It's brilliance in television that, on some levels, has never before been achieved.

The downside: this is the final season of The Wire. That's enough to make me want to pull a McNulty and go on a bender of legendary proportions.

The other show making its return this year is Lost. Because of the writer's strike, they were only able to shoot half a season, which is utterly frustrating but one of those things that is entirely outside of my control. If The Wire demands your full attention, Lost is more subtle: it rewards you for it, but allows for entry by new viewers. It's an ABC show, after all. If you limit your audience to those who have seen it since the beginning (like me), you limit your revenue options.

But the details, wow, the details are amazing. I probably missed half of the little things thrown in that other people found and posted about on the internet -- and I tend to notice everything. They're not things that are vital to the plot, but easter eggs of sorts for viewers, out there in plain sight, albeit sometimes for seconds or for just a few frames. But they're there, and certainly not just by happenstance.

Two episodes from last season (the show's third) were among the all-time best I've ever seen from any show, ever. The first, the episode Flashes Before Your Eyes that focuses on Desmond (the poor sap who shipwrecked on the island and ended up being induced into pressing a button every 108 minutes, like an evil radio station contest), is a rollercoaster ride of the past, the present, and the melding of both in Desmond's mind relative to his most unusual situation. Plus, the show ends with a breathtaking line: "No matter what I do, Charlie, you're going to die."

The other, the season three finale (Through the Looking Glass), is a mindscrew of the highest degree. After three years of establishing the concept of the flashback, the show tricks the viewers by offering a flashforward, something that is not obvious from the beginning but unravels slowly through the progression of the program. And the ending was a total shocker, one that hit viewers over the head and left them dazed, amazed, intrigued, and then frustrated that the next episode wouldn't come until 2008. But 2008 is now here, so we have more to enjoy... for now.

So between that, Ohio State vs. LSU on Monday for the BCS Title, and the NFL playoffs, I'm thrilled about what is on the horizon.


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