Author Archives: ddriscoll

Ziggy is back! The Wire vs. Generation Kill

I’ve only seen the first two seasons of The Wire, so maybe there are other cast members Simon and Burns brought on for Generation Kill, but I immediately noticed the familiar face of Ziggy as a smart mouth soldier. I just saw someone already made a similar observation in a blog post, but the two characters almost seem like the same exact character. Maybe it’s just the range of the actor. Some actors always seem to play more or less the same part thanks to their awkward facial features and vocal intonations. Matthew Lillard comes to mind. Maybe Simon and Burns wrote this part just for Ziggy. I don’t know what happens to Ziggy after season 2 (if anything) but it would be great if he somehow got out of jail to serve in the military. Or, if Burns and Simon had more of a flare for the melodramatic, this could be his long lost twin brother given up for adoption for mysterious reasons.

Besides just seeing characters from The Wire in Generation Kill, you can see the influence from The Wire. I gave up on Generation Kill when it aired because I didn’t really know what was going on or where it was headed after two episodes. I didn’t even give myself that option with The Wire because a) I had to watch it or class and b) everyone had told me it’s just the greatest thing ever. And it was, but you needed to build up some momentum before you could enjoy it and things really picked up the pace. I hope that’s the case with Generation Kill and, feeling so satisfied after each Wire season ends, am very much looking forward to wrapping up this series.  Will it be better than The Wire? Not bloody likely. But even if it’s in the same ballpark it should be quite the ride.

News Reporter Turned TV Author

I loved that David Simon credits his success at being a TV author, along with the success of his fellow authors on The Wire, is attributed to the fact that none of them are classically trained in writing episodic television. By “success” I mean the degree at which they excel at writing TV, not any kind of commercial success. I really liked the introduction where the author calls The Wire the best show you’ve never heard of, which was just about the only thing I had heard about the show until I saw it.

So does it make sense that the only way for Simon and his crew to create good television is by flouting the conventions we expect, and is that in fact why we enjoy this series so much? Yes. And no. Anyone trying to teach you the basics of screenwriting at any level will inevitably utter the words “You need to learn the rules before you can break them.” It’s not like Simon and his fellow authors lived in a cave their whole lives and had no concept of classical episodic TV format (even though it’s cooler to act otherwise). What you’re seeing in The Wire isn’t just a POV novel brought to life that doesn’t fit in with other shows because the writers aren’t trained that way. The writers are probably all familiar to some extent with television shows and are both bringing the novel to life and consciously rejecting the pitfalls and cliches that they probably bumped into on first drafts. I think Simon wanted to bring the multiple POV style storytelling of a novel to the screen while doing focused work to reshape our expectations of what a TV series can be.

I will also add that since watching The Wire in this class I tell everyone I meet to watch the show. It has simply blown my mind. And, just like the new packages on the street, other series I used to enjoy don’t cut it anymore. The dialogue on Dexter just doesn’t seem like something that would happen in a police station. My favorite outlaws in Sons of Anarchy would need to be much smarter criminals in order to survive in 2009. Thank you, David Simon, for making TV as good as it possibly could be and potentially ruining everything else until I can get clean from The Wire.

Difference Between Gay Relationships and Homo-erotic Undertones

The most interesting thing I took from class discussion today was the distinction that the article was making an argument for homo-erotic undertones in male relationships on the show, not necessarily implied homosexual relationships between male characters. I initially had trouble separating the two, figuring that if there was some homo-erotic tension between male characters there was some implied relationship there, but thanks to class discussion I can see you can have one without the other bubbling under the surface of the show.

Still, I think this article is from the perspective of an author who is seeing what he wants to see. That’s fine, but I just don’t know that I see it to quite the extent he does. Actually, I’m pretty confident I don’t see The Wire quite to the extent he does but at least now I’m more open to noticing if there are homo-erotic undertones between characters. More importantly, understanding that because they might exist they by no means signify either character is gay or desires a relationship. Instead, maybe the show as a whole is just commenting on why the same characters feel the need to use homophobic slurs and jokes to reject the potential of even acknowledging that these confusing relationships exist.

New HBO Series from David Simon Starts Filming

Just saw this article about a new series on HBO called “Treme” brought to you by none other than David Simon and Eric Overmyer. It takes place in a post-Katrina New Orleans. Read all about it!

http://www.nola.com/treme-hbo/index.ssf/2009/11/hbos_treme_starts_production_o.html

What if The Wire was somewhere else?

This got brought up in class and I thought it was a really interesting idea: What if The Wire was somewhere other than Baltimore? Could it exist? How would it be different?

Noah joined our group for a minute and asked if The Wire would be able to exist in Miami or Los Angeles. It’s a pretty good question.  We all agreed that, just like there are no shortages of corners wherever you go, you won’t have a huge problem finding poor neighborhoods consumed by the drug game in Miami and Los Angeles. We also agreed that these communities would most likely be mostly non-white, with more races than just African-American based on the respective geographical locations of LA and Miami. So white people just don’t use drugs and get their lives ruined? That doesn’t sound right.

I stared imagining a Wire 2.0 (because who knows what kind of bills David Simon might have to pay in the future) that was set in the middle of white suburban America. Since the time The Wire started there has been an explosion of meth use in these locations. Unlike crack and heroine, meth is made with ingredients you can find in most pharmacies or supermarkets. Putting the focus on white meth use in the middle of America would be great, but AMC’s Breaking Bad has already been there and is doing that. The show has a clear protagonist, however, and doesn’t have quite the complexity and diversity in cast that The Wire does. Breaking Bad does look at what it’s like on the police end of things (since the protagonist’s brother in-law just happens to be a cop) but it’s just not the same.

I enjoy Breaking Bad and I enjoy The Wire but now that I really think about merging the two I’m realizing I could be stuck with one mediocre show that struggles to make sense instead of two excellent shows that only make total sense after repeat views.

The Wire Being Taught at Harvard

It was announced over the weekend that Harvard will be offering a class on The Wire! It looks like our class on authorship is getting plagiarized…what’s next? Streets near Harvard’s campus being renamed after Pomona?

I get a lot of grins when I tell people that I’m taking a class about TV. I don’t even get to say the word authorship. People hear TV class and they assume there’s no reading involved, you’re not learning anything and you’re probably just going about your life as usual. In short, it’s far from academic which is pretty far from the reality of this class. But now, with Harvard teaching TV, maybe there’s room for me to be taken seriously. Maybe now I can say “I’m taking this class that Harvard completely ripped off all about authorship in television.” Save the TV part for the end. That should stop the grins.

What does this mean for TV studies now that Harvard university is offering this class. More importantly, what does this mean for The Wire? Clearly, this show is something special. The show never got any serious commercial success, but now it’s finding new life in DVD box sets and academia. What makes this even more interesting is it’s not a class that takes a look at several of David Simon’s works over time, unlike some other considerably more prestigious learning institutions offer, but a class completely dedicated to a show that only had 60 episodes. There show only ended a year and a half ago! How can you study something without looking at what came before (Homicide/Clockers) and after (Generation Kill)? It seems like just the idea of a class solely focused on The Wire might be more of an exercise in fanboyism than academic study.

South Park Annotated Bibliography

1) Matt Stone’s Memo to the MPAA, 1999

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2009/09/ps-this-is-my-favorite-memo-ever.html

This is a memo written by Matt Stone to the MPAA before the release of the South Park movie. They’re struggling to get an R rating, and not a NC-17 stamp of death. I want to use this memo to highlight some of the issues these writers have with trying to be funny, maintain profitability and still have to bargain with the higher authorities.

2) Secrets of South Park, Nightline Interview, 2006

http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/Entertainment/Story?id=2479197&page=1

This is a great interview where the guys from South Park talk about how their personal lives leak into their writing, their ongoing issues with censorship and free speech and how they can still enjoy doing the show at the start of their 10th season. It highlights the writing process they go through and it should be helpful in showing how difficult it is to stay funny, relevant and not have your message misunderstood.

3) Still Sick, Still Wrong: 10 Years of South Park, Rolling Stone Article, 2007

http://www.rollingstone.com/news/coverstory/south_park_still_sick_still_wrong/

This article is similar to the ABC article. It pulls the curtain back on the writers and gives people a glimpse into what it takes to write an episode and get it on the air in a way that doesn’t compromise the quality. The writers seem to express a strong love for the show at the same time as a growing disinterest and hatred for what it’s become. Both the ABC and the Rolling Stone article make the point that at any point these head minds behind the series are ready to walk away, and apparently want to, but they want to keep making it even more.

4) The Deep End of South Park: Critical Essays on Television’s Shocking Cartoon Series, Leslie Stratyner, McFarland, 2009

This is an analytical text about why South Park exists, how it was started and the direction the author thinks it is headed. The author argues that South Park is an extremely relevant source of cultural satire and, despite bad taste and shocking antics, it’s a series worthy of academic study. But is all of that something Matt Stone and Trey Parker would appreciate hearing or is it just mangling what they set out to do with this series?

5) South Park Webcasters Told To Stop, Wired, 1997

The show that got its start online grew too big for the fledgling, mostly 56k at best, method of delivery. Comedy Central’s lawyers had to step in and shut down sites that were streaming the show and helping it spread. This is significant to take a look at how the Internet helped a show like South Park get started, how it might have been impossible for it to happen earlier or later in history even with a similar show and Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s long term plans for digital distribution.

6) South Park to Offer All Episodes Free, Wired, 2008

10 years later, after shutting down all streaming sites, Matt Stone and Trey Parker took it upon themselves to offer their content for free online. This is a very progressive attitude towards digital distribution, isn’t greedy at all and shows how they’ve come full circle from their origins. It’s also the kind of thing that you couldn’t do unless you had complete control over your show in the way they have for over 10 years.

7) Comedy Central makes the most out of irreverent, and profitable, new cartoon hit, New York Times, 1997

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/10/business/media-broadcasting-comedy-central-makes-most-irreverent-profitable-new-cartoon.html

This article takes a look, form the persepctive of the New York Times, at the very popular and profitable new series for Comedy Central. Comedy Central wasn’t a network known for large amounts of original programming, and it looks like South Park really shook up the whole network in a way The Simpsons did for the early Fox network.

There are a ton of articles and interviews out there and I plan on finding more, but this is a start for the ones that stood out to me.

Spike Lee’s Financial Success

Someone made a comment in class today that Spike Lee never really had any huge box office success, but you only have to go back as far as 2006 to his huge hit: Inside Man. This movie made 88 million dollars domestic and over 180 million dollars worldwide. It’s not alone on a list of profitable Spike Lee movies. The Original Kings of Comedy, Jungle Fever and Do The Right Thing all grossed over 30 million dollars with a production budget of under 14 million (significantly under 14 million for Do The Right Thing). Inside Man was so successful there is going to be an Inside Man 2! Thinking of the author inserting himself into the story, especially literally inserting himself like Spike Lee and Hitchcock, it’s important to think about Spike Lee’s addition as being distinctly marketable to this project. In addition to his artistic vision and directorial style, his voice throughout and physical presence book-ending the film are commodities that are worth something to the moviegoing public who is eager to see the next Spike Lee joint the same way audiences flock to Scorsese and Tarantino pictures. Clockers, on the other hand, was not a huge financial success. I wonder if Scorsese was attached if it would have been bigger, but the only thing for certain is that it probably would have been much different. Scorsese would have probably played up the DeNiro part more (why have him in the movie if he’s not the main character?) and you probably would have seen more equal parts of pointing the finger at the white and black communities for any kind of culpability. On a completely unrelated note, it’s funny to me that Scorsese passed on Clockers to do Casino and now the two are neighbors at your local Blockbuster drama section.

South Park

I’d like to take a look at South Park, mainly the authors of the show Matt Stone and Trey Parker. I want to examine how the show started, how it evolved, where it is now and their overall relationship to it/the creative process the whole way. It would also be relevant to look at adaptations of South Park, mainly the South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut film and how writing a movie and learning that kind of structure impacted the format of the series. I’ll also look at the influences of South Park, the influence South Park has left on culture and more importantly what the story of Matt Stone and Trey Parker means to future TV authors of tomorrow.

The Camera on the Wall

Where does the camera crew end with The Corner? At first there’s direct interaction with the camera, but as the show goes on suddenly we’re left with a series that resembles shows we’re more used to: traditional narrative with the handheld camera that has become more gimmick than revolutionary technique in recent years. The Corner will have scenes where there’s clearly a documentary camera filming, complete with reactions by those being filmed, and then take the viewer inside scenes that no camera would possibly be allowed in.

Why is this? I think it has something to do with establishing authenticity early so we can accept the whole thing as real because we accept the whole thing as some kind of documentary. The viewer knows, thanks in part to the flashback sequences and closing credits music mentioned in class, that this is most definitely a constructed TV show but there’s also a desire from Simon to give viewers something that’s as close to real as possible. He does this by giving us real stories with real names and he attempts to trick us into even thinking the actors are real thanks to the documentary lens.

It’s not something new to modern viewers. There’s the Blair With Project that tried to scare viewers more because there was a debate if it was real or not. There’s Cloverfield that tries to scare the viewers into thinking the monster is real because this footage was really captured. There’s the recently released Paranormal Activity that tries to scare the viewer into thinking the ghost is real because this footage was really captured. Then there’s…the Corner. One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong.

The Corner is also trying to scare people. Scaring people who can afford HBO subscriptions into thinking this is real because they’re viewing it as sort of a documentary. Unlike the Cloverfield monster, the Blair Witch and the demon from Paranormal Activity this drug problem actually is real because Simon and Burns went out and captured it. When affluent people hear about how drugs are ripping apart communities it’s usually vague and there’s no tangible impact. The Wire tries to change that by forcing the viewer to drink the documentary Kool-Aid and suspend their disbelief. It’s interesting that inner city crime and drug sales can only be sold to viewers as real using the same camera tricks used to verify the existence of godzilla-esque monsters and deadly demons.