Through The Wire
By Matthew Singer 05/30/2013
After years of aborted attempts, I finally accomplished what I consider a major personal milestone this past week: I made it past the third episode of The Wire.
That probably reads a bit shocking. “A television writer who hasn’t watched the (alleged) best show of the aughts?” you’re thinking. “Those actually exist?” Well, yes, it’s true. But, as I said, it’s not for a lack of trying. I must’ve watched the first episode at least three times before ever moving on to the second, then watched it twice more before getting to episode three. Let it be known that it’s not because I found the pilot so grindingly slow that it took an act of sheer will to keep going or anything — although I will admit those first few episodes don’t exactly compel compulsory viewing. It’s because, for at least four years, I’ve felt beholden to a number of people when it comes to viewing The Wire. I’ve promised to share the experience with other latecomers. And those assholes were holding me back.
Sorry, “assholes” is maybe too strong a word. But that’s the kind of resentment shared TV-watching can breed. When it works out, the communal experience of the digital age can be a beautiful thing. In an era when water coolers, let alone water cooler moments, no longer exist, the advent of DVR preserves at least some semblance of cultural universality, even if it’s confined to the universe of a single friend group. The double gasp from my crowded living room at the climax of Breaking Bad’s fourth season, for instance, made that episode even more personally memorable.
When it doesn’t work, however, it can keep some people from being able to do their damn jobs.
Of course, The Wire has been on my must-watch list since . . . well, since it ended. I won’t pretend I was there from the beginning. When the gritty HBO crime drama finished its final season and became the cause célèbre of a devoted cult flabbergasted by the lack of appreciation from the culture at large, I made it a priority to dive in. But then, so did my roommates. No one owned the DVDs, and the show wasn’t on Netflix instant. We had to download the episodes, or watch through another friend’s HBO Go account. We tried to set a time to get through a few episodes each week, but the cumbersome nature of doing so kept us from ever getting into a rhythm. Thus, I ended up seeing that first episode multiple times. I could’ve watched, alone, on my computer, but that would’ve been cheating — as grievous a crime as exists.
In the last few months, we’ve all gone on to different living situations. I now live with my girlfriend, who’s already seen the entire series. I am free to watch, and I’m finally digging in. (My old roommate, unbeknownst to me until recently, is on Season 4.) There’s great satisfaction in reclaiming some level of personalized, individual enjoyment, but there is also a tinge of sad nostalgia. I wish we could’ve gotten there together. Perhaps that’s why television is the most polarizing art form: Because more than any other, it can bring us together, and just as quickly tear us apart.
I Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.