Saturday, August 20, 2011
The Wire vs. The Shield
While the Black Frank White is undoubtedly one of the best ever, Tupac, in my opinion, was better. Biggie gets the shine with folks in my generation because his songs are catchier, "Notorious" was an awesome movie and there's a bit of East Coast bias thrown in there.
"The Wire is better than The Shield" my friends say. "Okay, but have you really seen The Shield?"
A Facebook wall post from my friend Jonathan Brice: "I aint a killer but dont push me....still like biggie better. You switch to the wire yet?" The Wire has more shine than The Shield. It has a cult-like following that makes it cool to say you've watched it (see: "Fight Club"). It was on HBO so anything was fair game, making what they showed seem extra gritty with a hint of wow. The Wire also (popularly) cast actors that were relatively unknown and even some off the same streets it was shooting.
I've gone through both series. Hell, I've gone through entire series of The Shield four times. And I can say with little* bias that The Shield is better.
*Bias upfront: The Shield is the first and only TV show that I truly loved. There's that certain feeling attached to it that I will always get whenever I talk about it. I get that feeling because the show was great and earned it, but nevertheless, The Shield would always get an extra bump for me because of that.*
(Non) Spoiler Alert -- I will spoil The Wire for those reading. However, I will not spoil The Shield. It's my assumption that most of you reading have seen as much as 50 minutes of The Shield despite the 88 episodes that aired on FX that won it a Best Television Series award in 2008.
Pilot: The pilot of The Wire is slow and methodical. The Wire is a series that you can't just pick up in the middle of Season 3 and expect to know what's going on (see: Mad Men). It's a show that you must watch from start to finish. While it's recommended you do that for every show, including The Shield, it's not nearly as necessary for The Wire (the advantages of being on HBO instead of cable). Nevertheless, I watched The Wire pilot in March. I didn't watch the second episode until June. The Shield, on the other hand, forces you to watch the next episode as soon as "Bawitdaba" finishes at the end of the pilot (Note: This is by far the worst song in The Shield's coup of music. The music on The Shield gets much better as creator Shawn Ryan works out the kinks.)
Strongest Characters: I told my friend Louie Horvath, who really pushed me to watch The Wire and whom I push equally as hard to watch The Shield, that I would be devastated and consider leaving the show when Stringer Bell dies. He died -- we'll talk about that later -- and I kept watching. I kept watching because Omar Little is so damn good. He robs and kills people, but he has a strong moral code, almost Dexter-like. He doesn't cuss, he takes his grandmother to church once a month, he doesn't turn his gun on anyone who doesn't deserve it. Then I realized why I love him so much. The paradox that his character is reflects perfectly with Vic Mackey of The Shield. Vic, whom you may remember from The Commish or The Thing in Fantastic Four, leads his small unit of police with gusto. The anti-hero plants drugs on suspects (who are guilty of something), screws around on his wife and he kills people. But he loves his kids -- two of whom are later found to be autistic -- he's good police and he, too, never turns his gun on anyone who doesn't have it coming. Omar and Vic are the same but in completely different places. With The Shield, you get Vic as the main character for seven seasons. With The Wire, you're lucky to get Omar for ten minutes a show.
Villains: There's no one else I'd rather see catch a bullet than Marlo Stanfield. He comes out of nowhere and takes over all of the Baltimore drug trade as a 20-year-old, all for the sake of wearing the crown. I hated him so much because I liked Avon Barksdale and Stringer just as much. B&B were a great mix of street smarts and business that ruled Baltimore fairly, but as Avon said, "There's always gonna be a Marlo." Marlo entered unassumingly, practicing his golf swing when politely telling Bodie to get off his corner. I never thought I'd see the guy again. His rise to power was quick and lethal -- the number of bodies he left in The Wire rivals the number in the final minutes of "The Departed." The villains in The Shield, those pitted against Vic's strike team, aren't as strong because you know they'll be disposed by the end of the season -- it's cable after all. But the heroes that turn into villains are incredible, and The Shield takes a much more subtle approach to creating a Marlo Stanfield.
"Did that really happen?": The first episode I ever saw of The Shield had that "Wow" moment. Police captain David Aceveda, a smug soon-to-be politician who Vic refers to as a "quota baby" for his Hispanic heritage, little background in police work and quick appointment to lead a police station, is cornered by two men and sexually assaulted. ON CABLE TELEVISION. You can't top that. The Wire could do anything it wanted on HBO and nothing ever matched that. The only time it even came close is when Rawls is seen at the gay bar for a brief moment in Season 3. I thought it'd be an interesting subplot to see how Rawls battles being homosexual in a male-driven police department that oozes masculinity. Instead, it's never brought up. Not a slight look at a man as he passes by, not a look into Rawls' home, no flashbacks to his childhood. It's like when JK Rowling said after the Potter series was over that Dumbledore was gay. Uhh... where is that?
Weakest season: The Wire Season 2 stands alone as the weakest season of all. I spoke with Joe Ovies about this yesterday and he revealed to me that seeing how the dock workers (a white group) are forced to help the drug dealers (a black group) when neither really want to work together over a long, begrudged period of time is what The Wire is about. I agree with you, Joe, and that is quite an insight. I still hated Season 2. Ziggy was weak and never heard from again, the gratutitous showing of Frank's nephew at the Mayor's speech at the dock in Season 5 was lackluster and the ending of 2, the "Hahaha I'm not even Greek" was hokey and below The Wire's standards. Likewise, The Shield Season 6 stands out as the weakest of the seven. It sets up a perfect and beautiful Season 7, but the entire time you can just tell it's a space filler for the good stuff, busy work from the teacher.
The moral of this story: Listen to Tupac and go watch The Shield. Just try it out. If you made it through this entire story then you'd be foolish not to watch The Shield's pilot. Not because I think my argument is convincing -- I tried to balance the merits of both shows but also break any grandiose aberrations the cult following has left folks --but because you just made it through this whole post. The Wire is a great show and fully worth watching, but so too is The Shield.