Friday, March 30, 2012

Wire March Madness: Semi-final & Final Analysis ("Final Grades")

We're almost at the end of March, and thus it's time to conclude this month-long Wire March Madness tournament. It's been quite a ride. I thought about having the final on April 1 and then naming wild card entrant No-Heart Anthony as the surprise winner for April Fool's Day, but then I realized that joke is only as amusing as the time it took you to finish that sentence. So, we're taking care of the entire Final Four right here, right now.

Recapping the tournament thus far…

* First Round

* Second Round

* Third Round

* Quarter-Finals

Sixty-four characters began this living rebuke to Grantland's half-assed Wire tournament and now, we've reached the end. -30- Four great characters remain, who will truly reign supreme as the king of Baltimore?

Institutions Bracket Winner vs. Crime Bracket Winner --- Frank Sobotka (#2) vs. Stringer Bell (#1)

In a weird alternate reality, can't you see these two being friends? Stringer and Frank shared similar views about hard work, discipline and at the end of the day, just wanted to better themselves. Needless to say, adding Stringer to the mix would've improved Frank's operation a hundredfold, and if Frank had joined the Barksdale gang….uh, well, I'm not sure what he would've added. Maybe Avon needed something heavy lifted by a forklift.

It's kind of ironic that Frank won the Institutions Bracket given that he was eventually killed because his attempt at going beyond his being a stevedore into crime got way out of hand. Conversely, Stringer's grab at "institutional" power and becoming a legitimate businessman backfired and he ended up dragged back to, and crushed by, the criminal world.

Two fantastic characters, two iconic performances and only one winner. To be honest, I didn't think for a second about taking Frank over Stringer. Could be another victim of the "more episodes, larger story" theory, as Frank's arc was completed over one season while Stringer's (similar) fall took a full three years to fully develop. As much as I love Frank Sobotka, I simply can't justify putting him over one of The Wire's signature characters. The bell has tolled for Frank Sobotka.

Streets Bracket Winner vs. Police Bracket Winner --- Omar (#1) vs. The Bunk (#2)

I mentioned during my last entry that Omar's only "mistake" during the series was falling into the ambush at the apartment set by Marlo's crew. While it's true that Omar's subsequent busted ankle was a key factor in his demise, that wasn't his mistake. Omar's entire criminal lifestyle was the mistake, as brilliantly pointed out by the Bunk in what I would call the single greatest scene in the show's history.

In two minutes, Bunk essentially destroys the Omar mystique. Bunk isn't totally on point with the details in this scene (Tosha is more than an innocent victim, as Omar knows) but he nails Omar dead to rights. As great a character as Omar is and as heroic as he seems in comparison to the Barksdales and the Stanfields of the world, Omar is still contributing to the culture of violence in Baltimore. In a way, I felt this scene was almost David Simon's comment on how the show's fans themselves shouldn't glorify Omar, who is arguably as terrifying as Avon or Marlo simply because Omar isn't seen as "bad" within the Wireverse.

And, the coup de grace, the brilliant "kids acting like Omar" line that ends up all coming together two seasons later since Kenard was one of those kids. Omar's mystique is what eventually kills him.

I've been comparing Omar to Batman throughout this entire tournament, with perhaps Omar's death being the key factor. I read an essay or article once years ago that discussed what would be the most fitting end for Batman, if DC Comics decided to kill the character off once and for all. The author proposed that, thematically, it would make sense if Batman were to be killed preventing some garden-variety holdup, with one very lucky thug finally getting in the fatal gunshot that a thousand more polished villains couldn't --- it would be a perfect echo of Bruce Wayne's parents being senselessly killed by a random mugger.

This scenario stuck in my mind for years and then it played out on-screen on The Wire as Omar met his final end not in some legendary shootout with Marlo, Chris and Snoop, but was simply shot from behind by a small child in a variety store. Omar never saw it coming. His legend lived on on the streets, but as evidenced by the Baltimore Sun's dismissal of the killing, Omar became just a statistic.

This one scene was essentially the tiebreaker in picking between Bunk and Omar. As great a character as Omar was, as moral as he claimed to be, to some extent he was indeed living a lie about himself. Bunk (probably the most self-assured person on the show) pointed that out to the extreme. This was the Wire's equivalent of the "Batman's presence is harming Gotham by engendering all these rivalries with lunatics" argument.

Despite the fact that the show has had so many amazing characters, it still raises eyebrows whenever Omar isn't number one in a competition like this. Omar won the Grantland tournament pretty easily, and if you polled 100 Wire fans (roughly the same number who watched the show when it was on HBO, hey-o!), I suspect Omar would be named the favourite character by a solid majority. Omar is a great, great character…and yet at the end of the day, I'm picking Bunk Moreland.

FINAL MATCHUP The Bunk (#2 in the Police bracket) vs. Stringer Bell (#1 in the Crime bracket)

After all that, I guess I'm pretty much obligated to pick Bunk to win the whole thing, eh?

Bunk is the Wire's constant. When I picked Bunk over Lester in the third round, I noted that Lester was a "supercop," though with some hindsight, I think Bunk Moreland is the overall best pound-for-pound officer on the Baltimore force. He's essentially a blend of McNulty and Lester, taking both men's best qualities and eliminating both men's main weakness, in the sense that Bunk is willing to 'play the game' a bit more within the department, whereas McNulty will get into a pissing contest with any superior and Lester takes quiet pleasure in bucking the system. It's easy to dismiss Bunk as a good-time, hard-drinking comic relief character but aside from the odd hangover at his desk, it doesn't affect his work. He is nothing less than a stable, competent, entertaining man who plays just as entertaining and as important a role in the pilot as he does in the finale.

Does Bunk not have the ebbs and flows of other characters, like Stringer? True. And yet, this is actually Bunk's strength --- he knows who he is and is content with his lot in life. Virtually every plot in dramatic history is centred around a character's desire for change, and how their attempts to change either lead to their betterment or to their doom. Inactivity is traditionally punished; Hamlet, the most famous tragic character in literature, is famously "a man who cannot make up his mind," and his failure to act until it's too late is what costs him.

All this being said, the three TV series I would cite as the greatest of all time --- The Wire, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld --- are fuelled not by change, but by the status quo. The Simpsons never age, never drastically alter their family dynamic and it's even a running joke how things don't really differ from episode to episode. On Seinfeld, it was a similar running joke that the four characters were stuck in their own self-involved bubble, though this was a joke that wasn't totally revealed to the audience until the finale when the four were finally punished for their self-absorption.

And finally, on The Wire, the entire theme of the show is that the cycle will just keep repeating itself, with every generation getting a bit worse and new faces replacing the old. Sydnor is the new McNulty, Michael is the new Omar, Dukie is the new Bubbles, Carver is essentially the new Daniels, Mike Fletcher is the new Gus and Slim Charles is on his way to becoming either the new Stringer or the new Prop Joe, depending on if his reach exceeds his grasp.

There is no new Bunk. There is just one Bunk, still solving crimes, smoking cigars, pissing on railroad tracks, wearing the occasional pink housecoat and being the world-weary conscience of the Baltimore Police Department. He may never change, and the Wire's Baltimore may never change, and that just might make him the city's ideal protector.

Fun fact: my pal Eric named his two cats after Bunk and Stringer. I suspect his vote in this final matchup would be dependent on which of his cats has been less of a pain in the ass that day. They have a habit of hopping up on the top of his fridge and looking down over the room like gargoyles. Yikes.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wire March Madness: Quarter-final Analysis

And then there were eight! The ocho! Cal Ripken's number! (Fitting, for THE Baltimore show.) Click the links to catch up on the first, second and third rounds and now let's dive right into discovering our final four.

Streets Bracket….
#1 Omar vs. #2 Bubbles
So yeah, Omar Little. What is there to say about Omar? He's a bolt of superheroic lightning within a show that otherwise stayed as within the bounds of realism as possible. He's the guy who always has a plan, is (almost) always able to carry out said plan, and always has an answer for every tough situation, whether it's being framed for a murder he didn't commit, facing off against (and then owning) Maury Levy on a witness stand or battling Brother Mouzone before they both realize they're being used. Omar was Batman. He only made one mistake in the whole series, falling into the ambush at the apartment and injuring his leg. If Omar doesn't do that, and thus let his guard down so Kenard eventually offs him, Omar was on track to take Marlo down. Remember, Omar's seemingly half-assed plan of going to the corners and openly calling Marlo out was that inspired Marlo's enraged "My name is my name!" speech. Had Marlo learned of Omar's actions while he was still alive, Marlo no doubt would've taken direct action and more than likely would've left him open to get himself got by Omar. Even with a busted leg and seemingly off his game, Omar was still on pace to take down yet another enemy.

Okay, so Omar is Batman. His various boyfriends were the Robins (taking the "Batman's partner" things to an extreme). Butchie was Alfred. Kimmy and Tosha were, say, Batgirl and Huntress. Omar didn't really have a Commissioner Gordon, per se, though McNulty came closest. Brother Mouzone was, like, Green Arrow. I feel like this analogy is breaking down.

Question: did Omar and Bubbles ever actually have a scene together? I was thinking about this just now and, crazy as it sounds, I can't recall off the top of my head a time when these two (arguably the show's most iconic characters) ever directly interacted. That was another fun underrated aspect of the Wire's labyrinthine stories --- it was always exciting when you'd see two well-known characters finally meet for the first time. By the way, if I'm overlooking some super-obvious Omar/Bubbles scene and the fact that I'm forgetting it makes you question my status as a Wire fan, then I apologize.

Police Bracket…
#2 The Bunk vs. #5 Carver
Ellis Carver's Cinderella story is finally over, as the Bunk knocks him off and heads into the final four. I said my pieces about both characters in the last round, so I'm not sure I really have much more to add. "Hey Mark, do you regret not taking McNulty over Carver last round so you'd have more to say here?" Nope! Brevity is the soul of wit!

Institutions Bracket…
#1 Tommy Carcetti vs. #2 Frank Sobotka
Pundits have pointed to the Wire's second season as when the show really took off, and it's a solid argument. If the Wire gets canceled after S1, it goes down in history as a terrific and layered cop show, but "just" as a cop show. By putting the drug trade on the back burner and exploring the docks in S2, however, the Wire really kicked things up a notch and showed that it wasn't just an amped-up version of Homicide (David Simon's previous show), but rather a much more all-encompassing kind of project. As the saying goes about the show, S2 was the first sign we got that Baltimore was the star of the Wire, not any specific character.

This all being said, I'm not sure I agree with the argument. I'd say it was really S3 that what we know as "The Wire" really came into full focus. As much as the docks were a new world for the show, it was still based around the investigation into the dead women in the loading bin and the (at first) trumped up investigation into Sobotka's union affairs. If you stopped watching the show after the first two seasons, you could've guessed that each season would focus on a different type of case for the Major Crimes Unit, but there would still be a case at the heart of what was essentially still a cop show. Season three, however, puts the MCU itself aside to focus on the Hamsterdam story and the politics at City Hall. Sure, the MCU does finally bring down Barksdale, but it's a pyrrhic victory since Marlo has already risen to take Avon's place and the other major target (Stringer Bell) is already dead, which ticks McNulty off to no end. S3's lessened focus on police work set the stage for S4, where the cops are decidedly supporting players and they spend the entire season just solving the mystery of the bodies in the vacants.

Anyway, though Frank is the symbol of S2 and Carcetti is (arguably) the symbol of S3, this is just me shooting the shit about the program. Frank Sobotka is the better character and my pick to win the Institutions Bracket. I waxed rhapsodic about how great a character Carcetti was during the last round, but really, I can't help but pick Frank in this matchup. In just 11 episodes, Chris Bauer created a character so memorable that he was able to follow Stringer & Avon as the show's "big bad" for a season…though, of course, the Greek was the biggest bad of S2, and part of Sobotka's appeal was that though he clearly was crooked, he was also clearly a man in over his head in terms of dealing with "actual" crime. Bauer had the added degree of difficult of acting alongside some fairly weak links in the cast (Nick and Ziggy) but nevertheless absolutely hit a home run in the role. Once I gain time travel abilities and am able to go back and fix things so that the Wire wins all the Emmys it deserved, Bauer absolutely picks up a supporting actor award for his work in this season. It's just too bad we couldn't see more of Frank but, of course, his story wouldn't have been complete without a tragic end.

Crime Bracket…
#1 Stringer Bell vs. #3 Avon Barksdale
If you put together a list of the Wire's greatest scenes, two very high entries (top five at least) would be Stringer and Avon finally fighting it out, and Stringer and Avon on the balcony. What a fantastic, three-season long dance of friendship and brotherhood between these two characters that eventually ends in ruin.

I almost feel that Stringer is so highly regarded amongst Wire fans that it makes Avon underrated by comparison. Even if Stringer had never existed, Avon would still be a very memorable characters, smart and fascinating in his own right. We never get it fully established who exactly came up with the Barksdale crew's elaborate system of codes and pagers, and you would think had it been Stringer alone, he would've brought this up during his power struggle with Avon, so it was likely a joint effort between the two men.

You can feel the "but" coming and here it is. Avon is a great character, BUT, maybe he said it best himself: he's "just a gangster, I suppose." It's like what I said earlier about S1 of the show --- it's fantastic but it's "just a cop show, I suppose." The later seasons are what really turned the show into a unique masterpiece, whereas it's Stringer and his businessman's code of ethics that really elevates the Barksdale gang into a unique and top-level crew. Avon ultimately got the last laugh on Stringer on the show, but it's Mr. Bell who advances in the tournament.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mad Men, the video game

Hot on the heels of the Breaking Bad RPG, here comes the 8-bit Choose Your Own Adventure-style video game based on Mad Men. Pure comedy and well worth going back and clicking through all possible options. The race to Bert Cooper's office is almost surely the funniest part.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lionel Messi Is Pretty Good At Football

Lionel Messi is 24 years old (shares a birthday with my brother, in fact) and yet already has a case as a the greatest footballer of all time. By the time his career is over, hopefully at least ten years down the line, he will have a case as the greatest ATHLETE of all time.

Messi recently became Barcelona's all-time leading scorer with 234 goals, which of course has been immortalized almost instantly on the internet. Watch it now before Saturday, when Messi next plays and will inevitably score again, making the whole thing seem quaintly outdated.

(N.B. the music in this video is as terrible as Messi is talented.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wire March Madness: Third Round Analysis

With the first and second rounds in the books, we're into the sweet sixteen of our Wire characters tournament and the race is on to see if I can actually finish this thing before the end of March. Though, the actual March Madness tournament technically ends in April, so I feel I have some breathing room….," he said, creating an excuse for himself.

Streets Bracket….
#1 Omar vs. #5 Randy
Congratulations to Omar for his victory in the Grantland Wire Character tournament! Now that he's conquered the minor leagues, can he step up and capture this tournament as well? He's handily dispatched two opponents already and, frankly, Randy stands about as much of a chance here as he does of getting out of the group home as a well-adjusted human being. Hey Elite Eight….Omar comin'.

#2 Bubbles vs. #3 Michael
In picking Randy over Dukie in the previous round, part of my logic was based on the point that while Dukie's character arc was strong, the actual character himself was sort of nondescript. As Dukie was the "new Bubbles," one could argue the same about Bubbles Classic, except that Andre Royo's performance was so charismatic and strong that Bubbles always felt like part of the mix even when his character was busy with what were essentially side-stories. That being said, the writers did well to involve Bubbles in most of the major plots from season to season without it feeling tacked-on; given how central the drug trade was to the overall series, there was unfortunately no shortage of things for an addict to do. Bubbles was of course a key informant in the cops' investigation of the Barksdale gang, he lost his pal Johnny to Hamsterdam, tried to enroll Sherrod in school and was even a Baltimore Sun delivery man in the fifth season. Had they found some way to make Bubbles a long-lost cousin of Horseface Pakusa, they could've even put him into the docks story….well, that one's maybe a stretch.

After talking this long about Bubbles, it's probably not hard to guess I'm picking him in this matchup, though Michael is such a strong character that it's a close call. This show delivers so much cynicism, though, that I can't eliminate one of the few characters with a legitimately happy ending quite yet. Bubbles gets the win.

Police Bracket….
#1 McNulty vs. #5 Carver
Well, here's your upset. Carver beats McNulty. Here's why…

Harken back to the second-ever episode of the series. Carver, Herc and Prez are drunk and decide to bust into one of the Barksdale towers, resulting in a near-riot in the projects. It's easy to point to that moment as rock-bottom for all three men, but Herc went on to do all manner of crappy police work while Prez ended up shooting another officer and quitting the force entirely. So the near-riot was essentially par for the course for those two --- but not Carver. Over five seasons, we got to see Carver evolve from being as poor a cop as Herc and Prez into a legitimately fine police officer. Last round I compared Carver to being the cop answer to Bodie, as both grew wider understandings of police work and the drug trade, respectively. In Bodie's case, though, all he did was realize he was in too deep and it ultimately got him killed. With Carver, however, he was continually learning and improving himself from his experiences. No cop from the original major crimes unit is as changed from the first season to the last as Carver; in fact, you can argue that none of cops really change much at all, making his evolution stand out all the more.

"Ellis Carver: The Show" could've been a great series on its own. The fact that he was a relatively minor cog amidst the cast of characters is a testament to just how deep a show The Wire was. But hey, while Carver is terrific, do I really like him enough to pick him over Daniels in the second round and now #1 seed McNulty here? The answer is yes. Let the incredulous comments start in 3, 2, 1…..

#2 The Bunk vs. #3 Lester
How awesome was the scene when Lester and Bunk stroll into the police bullpen in S2? After years of being ignored and taken for granted, here's Cool Lester Smooth, rocking a killer suit, partnered with the Bunk and ready to wreak havoc on Baltimore's criminals. A show that was just Bunk, Lester and Beadie Russell solving crimes would rank high on the 6822-entry list of Wire spinoffs I would totally watch. (Show #6682: a remake of 'Marty' starring Horseface Pakusa.) Though it did take them a season to find those damn bodies in the tenements, Bunk/Lester is the real dream investigative team of The Wire, certainly more capable and professional than Bunk/McNulty.

This is a monster, PPV-worthy battle here in the sweet sixteen and yet for some reason I didn't think about it too hard before sending Bunk onwards. What gives? Lester, as great a character as he is, is never presented as anything less than competent and a veritable supercop. Bunk, for his part, is often drunk, sloppy, and is just a humble motherfucker with a big-ass dick, and yet he's as good as any cop on the force. Bunk is just simply more fun, and yet not so fun that he doesn't take his work seriously. It's Bunk, remember, who is aghast at McNulty's "fake serial killer" plan, whereas Lester eats it up. It's Bunk who also gets a taste of having his talents wasted when he's sent chasing after Dozerman's lost service weapon. I dunno, I think if I had to pick one Wire cop to investigate a crime I'd still take Lester, but Bunk is a very close second.

Crime Bracket….
#1 Stringer Bell vs. #4 Proposition Joe
As you can tell from the seedings in this sweet 16, I'm not straying too far from popular opinion in my picks, or maybe it's just that I did a great job of seeding these brackets (*self high-five*). And yet here in the crime bracket, we've somehow come to this absolutely titanic matchup in just the third round of the tournament, one that could easily stand as the overall final. I don't think anyone would argue Stringer as the #1 of the crime bracket, but you could've at least made a case for Prop Joe as #2 given his overall influence in the series. And yet, it would've seemed somehow wrong to put Joe (who prided himself on staying in the background and not calling too much attention to himself outside of his Pat Riley basketball coaching gear) so high on the list, and ahead of Marlo and Avon, the two leaders of the Baltimore drug trade.

What a tough matchup. As much as I love everything about Prop Joe, I'm going to cast my vote for Stringer. Call it just a case of Stringer being more of a headline character than Joe, since both were equally great characters, well-acted, unique, and beloved by Wire fans. I wish it didn't have to be this way, Joe. Had I not stuck to regional bracketing, he would've very possibly made it to the semis, at least.

#2 Marlo Stanfield vs. #3 Avon Barksdale
For instance, Prop Joe would've beaten either of Marlo or Avon. This is like if you had Djokovic and Federer in one half of a tennis bracket and Andy Murray/David Ferrer as the other semi --- the actual final is going to be pretty anti-climatic. (Uh, for the purposes of this comparison, pretend Rafa Nadal skipped this tournament.)

In the last round, I advanced Marlo over Slim Charles with the argument being that Marlo's nihilism was more interesting than Slim's general good-dude-except-for-the-whole-drug trade thing. Now, I'm going to reverse course and pick Avon over Marlo because….well, Avon's raw emotion simply made more of an impact on me (and, I'd argue, the series) than Marlo's cold detachment, though it's very, very close. The series itself probably wouldn't agree with me, given that Marlo "wins" in the end while Avon is cooped up in jail, a shadow of his former self. Yet I can't think of Avon without two of the very greatest of Wire scenes; he and Stringer passive-aggressively chatting on the balcony after Avon's release, and then the scene when the two best friends finally come to blows over Stringer's role in D'Angelo's murder. When it's a razor-thin matchup like this, I have to turn to what Bill Simmons calls those "chill scenes" that stick in your memory for years to come. Avon may have lost the game to Marlo but at least he'll get some small measure of revenge in the bracket.

Institutions Bracket….
#1 Tommy Carcetti vs. #4 Clay Davis
Here's a rant that even I myself may not totally believe in, but I think there's a point here somewhere. Okay, here goes….Tommy Carcetti is The Wire's most underrated supporting character. Think about it, he's a guy who literally becomes the most important figure in the city and thus, one of the most important characters on the show over the last three seasons. His storylines and the way they affect what's happening on the street (and vice versa, how the street activities affect his political decisions) are endlessly fascinating. As a character himself, Carcetti is likeable yet kind of rotten at the same time --- he isn't an outright villain like so many other figures of the institution since he seems genuinely interested in helping Baltimore yet he's definitely got a scheming side to him. Heck, the first or second time we see Carcetti he's cheating on his wife. Interestingly, David Simon has said he's regretted that scene since it too automatically painted Carcetti as just a philandering politician (you'll note Carcetti is a devoted family man for the rest of the series, including turning down a horny Theresa D'Agostino). This dichotomy makes Carcetti endlessly interesting, since you feel you have a decent handle on his character yet you're never entirely sure how he'll respond to any given situation. The same guy who wants to end Burrell's clearly corrupt reign commissioner is also the guy who'll throw Baltimore's schools under the bus because he doesn't want to accept aid from the governor's office because Carcetti has designs to be governor himself before his first mayoral term is even up.

Yet, with all of this going for him, Carcetti is almost never mentioned as one of the Wire's best characters. Don't get me wrong, everyone likes Carcetti --- there's nothing but good things to say about Aiden Gillen's performance and the incorporation of city hall into the show's world was widely praised. However, Carcetti is just kind of there in terms of how he's perceived within the greater Wireverse. Maybe it's because fans simply couldn't look past how he is, at heart a "corrupt politician" and thus didn't seem as original a creation as some of The Wire's other characters.

This is all my way of explaining that while I think Clay Davis would ride sheeeeeeeit to a win over Carcetti in a lot of brackets, in my eyes, it's not a close race. Just as he does on the show, Carcetti comes out on top.

#2 Frank Sobotka vs. #3 Gus Haynes
Put it this way: when you have one of the most conflicted, morally ambiguous, corrupt but eminently likeable characters on the show against another character who has been called "implausibly saintly" by no less a TV expert than Michael Schur….well, guess what, nice guys finish last. Even Gus, a man who knows a good story when he sees one, would know better than to cut Frank Sobotka's run short this quickly. Get out the red pen and cut Gus' name from the bracket.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Random Nonsense

It's possible I could be embarking on a new era of creative genius here on the blog since I've gotten a new, comfy chair. For the last several months, I've just been working on an old wooden chair taken from my old apartment's kitchen table, which was suitable but not exactly comfortable. The other day, said chair finally broke under the weight of my backpack. (Thankfully it didn't break under the weight of my fat ass, since then my transformation into a cartoon character would be complete.)

Now, however, I've moved one of our living room's chairs upstairs and it's a treat. It looks like one of those chairs you'd see in a trendy hipster's apartment from the 1970's --- it's rounded without a real back, but with a deep enough dip that it provides support to both my back and my aforementioned fat ass.

Don't underestimate the importance of comfort in the creative process. There's a reason Aaron Sorkin does all his writing while wearing a snuggie and curled up in lavender bedsheets (citation needed). In the past, I've been sitting in that wooden chair, simply banging out prose to get it over with so I could stand up and remove myself from the torture of that uncomfortable seat. Now, however, I can just sink into luxury and allow my imagination to run wild like a cow departing a barn that's on fire. See? Would I have been able to come up with an analogy that silly had I been cooped up in a wooden chair? Mooooost likely not.

….and, with that goddamn cow joke, the new era of creative genius is officially over. It was fun while it lasted.


I enjoyed Casa De Mi Padre and laughed at several points but I can't help but shake the thought that the movie was pretty pointless. Just saying, "Will Ferrell stars in a send-up of Mexican melodramas and it's entirely in Spanish" is a funny idea, but that idea never really goes beyond that. You get a few obligatory jokes about the low production values and some of the signature shots (like the zoom-in closeup during dramatic scenes) are of course copied, but…that's it. There's no added layer of inventiveness that really takes a satire to the next level. To use one recent example, 'Walk Hard' milked every possible bit of mileage out of spoofing musical biopics but it had enough depth that it was a hilarious movie even to those who'd never seen Walk The Line or Ray.

While I guess I'd give the film a borderline recommendation, I'm still not sure why it was an actual movie. You could do the same premise in a 15-minute Funny Or Die video and hit all the same beats. One highlight: Genesis Rodriguez, good lord. I rarely use the word 'luminous' to describe a woman unless she's swallowed a light bulb, but Rodriguez is as stunning as it gets. And, since I called her stunning and not luminous, my streak continues!


The 10 greatest hole-in-ones in mostly recent PGA Tour history. I'm going to tell you right now, the #2 entry (Jonathan Byrd's ace during a playoff to win a tournament) should've been #1. Yeah, I realize #1 was a wild moment given who was involved (no spoilers but you can probably guess) but good lord, Byrd WON A TOURNAMENT on a HOLE-IN-ONE. That's the ultimate Hollywood golf ending and it actually happened in real life.


"[Channing Tatum] deadpans so well here he might start looking at Cary Grant movies for remake ideas." -- Roger Ebert, in his review of 21 Jump Street. Just because you thought you'd live your life without ever once hearing Channing freakin' Tatum compared to Cary freakin' Grant.


I'm presuming this is an elaborate photoshop or a page specifically printed for this gag, but needless to say, I whole-heartedly hope and pray that it's real.


The 25 Greatest Spider-Man Stories Of All Time. Having given up regular comic reading in 1999, I can't say I'm familiar with a lot of these tales (Reign, a thinly-disguised ripoff of Dark Knight Returns? Holy shit, what happened to Flash Thompson?!) but there are some seriously good storylines on this list. Somd quick observations….a) the death of Harry Osborn is way too low, b) it's very cool that "When Cometh The Commuter," one of the goofier issues in Spidey history, made the cut and c) If only they had found room for the Clone Saga and Maximum Carnage HA HA HA just kidding.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wire March Madness: Second Round Analysis

Grantland may be wrapping up its half-assed Wire characters tournament, but this is the big leagues, son. We're just getting into the second round! Click here to review the opening round matchups and now let's dive into the…what's the clever term for the round of 32, anyway? You have the final four, elite eight, sweet sixteen, but nothing for the round of 32. The Dirty Thirty-Two? That just sounds odd.

Streets Bracket….
#1 Omar vs. #9 Kimmy
To continue my 'Omar as Batman' analogy, if you were running a tournament of best Batman characters, you sure as hell wouldn't have Bruce Wayne getting dropped by the Huntress in the second round. Hey sweet 16, Omar comin'.

#4 Dukie vs. #5 Randy
Think about S4 of The Wire. After three wholly unique, layered seasons, David Simon and company want to take it a step further and investigate Baltimore's school system. This requires a casting issue unlike any other on a show that had already done well to juggle dozens upon dozens of intricate characters. All of our favourite characters from the previous seasons were shunted to the background behind four young actors, who were asked to carry one of the more dramatic storylines in television history. The only familiar faces were (of all people) Prez, who had been seen a little more than a fuckup over the previous three years and now suddenly was going from the force to being a teacher and Bunny Colvin, who was still a relatively new character in his own right. The Barksdale mob was almost entirely gone, the police spent the season chasing their own tails (not even solving the mystery of the missing bodies until the finale), our ostensible lead McNulty was barely even in the season (Dominic West wanted to spend more time with his family in the UK), the mayoral election was still being resolved…yep, it was essentially all up to the four kids to make the season sink or swim.

And it worked. I'm not quite in the "S4 was the pinnacle of television" camp, and in fact it might not even by my favourite season of The Wire, but needless to say, it was a great, great season of TV. The unsung hero of S4 might well have been Robert "Prop Joe" Chew, who in real life is a veteran of operating children's theatre companies and mentored the four actors, as well as several other young actors on the show. Y'know, just in case I needed more of a reason to have Prop Joe go on a deep run in this tournament, this is a great tiebreaker.

This could potentially be the only matchup in the tournament that pits two of the kids against each other, and it's definitely the toughest call of the second round. By a hair, I will pick….Randy. It's so, so, close. I just felt there were a few more sides to Randy, whereas Dukie's storyline was just so down all the time that the character himself almost became an allegory. Once again, Dukie gets the short end of the stick.

#3 Michael vs. #6 Butchie
This worked out nicely, we have the 'new Omar' against the original Omar's mentor. Who will Michael turn to for advice and guidance? Cutty? I can see it now, Cutty is sparring against an old rival, who loads his gloves with some kind of substance that gets into Cutty's eyes. Cutty wins the fight (naturally, since he oozes badass) but is eventually blinded. Boom, Cutty becomes the new Butchie. It's all just a little bit of history repeating. Michael wins just as quickly as I can load that great old Propellerheads song up on iTunes.

#2 Bubbles vs. #7 Cutty Wise
Cutty barely squeaked through the first round and now his run comes to an end here. David Simon has spoken on a couple of occasions that had he felt particularly inspired to make a sixth season of The Wire, it would've been about Baltimore's Hispanic community and/or the immigration issue, though Simon admits that the idea would've been hampered since nobody on the writing staff had any particular experience in that area. Thinking about it, I'm hard-pressed to cite any major Latino characters on the show besides Alma Gutierrez and Omar's boyfriend Renaldo (and even then, "major" is stretching it). Cutty, if I'm not mistaken, was one of the only characters who spoke Spanish, given his time working as a day labourer, so he might've gotten a bit more of an expanded role had there been a S6.

Police Bracket….
#1 McNulty vs. #9 Herc
As I've written before, my first exposure to Dominic West was his role as Jigsaw in the second Punisher film. It was easily one of the worst performances I've ever seen in a movie. It was so bad that even if the rest of the movie had been good (which it assuredly wasn't), West's performance would've been enough to sink it. So, perhaps it was that memory plus McNulty's generic "he's a cop who plays by his own rules!" vibe made it hard for me to warm up to McNulty for at least a season, especially when he was amidst so many other more original characters. All this being said, I eventually got on board and am giving him a fairly comfortable win here over Herc. On my list of 'unanswered Wire questions,' near the top of the list is wondering if Gus Triandos or some friend of his ever let him know the weird way that he was immortalized by the show. In my imagination, Triandos is a big Wire fan and watched that whole sequence unfold with an increasingly, "Wait, WHAT?!" expression on his face. Er, wait, not that I'm often finding myself imagining about Gus Triandos. I have a girlfriend! Her name is….uh…. *frantically looks around the room* ….um….Blackberry….Window! Yeah, Blackberry Window, that's the ticket.

#4 Lt. Daniels vs. #5 Carver
I hate picking against Daniels in in the same week that this video came into my life, but it has to happen. Call it a minor upset if you will, but in my mind Carver is one of the true underrated characters at the heart of the show. There are actually a lot of parallels between this and the Avon vs. Bodie matchup over in the crime bracket; the younger character whose whole worldview is altered over the course of the series against the older, more stable character (though Daniels' stability is his strength while Avon's inability to adapt is eventually his downfall). Daniels is a rock that's always trying to keep the unit as untouched as possible from the departmental politics of Burrell and Rawls, and it's something of an unsung role that has to be filled.

#3 Lester vs. #6 Kima
Cool Lester Smooth. Freamon's character was an interesting and some might argue necessary inclusion into the police unit --- he was the virtual 'perfect' cop. If you're going to have bad cops, crooked cops, hardworking but flawed cops, lazy but natural po-lice type of cops, why not present the full range and have one guy that's just phenomenal at his job? Every instinct Lester had was bang-on, every tactic he employed more or less always worked, and it quickly became apparent that he (moreso than Daniels) was actually leading the crew. Like Daniels, Lester was the constant on the police side of things, though because Lester was more directly involved in the casework, his importance carried more weight. Ironically, Lester finds himself matched up against the other no-bullshit officer in Kima, and you could argue that Kima ultimately matches Lester since she had the sense to not get wrapped up in McNulty's crazy fake serial killer scheme. It's almost unfair that Kima is penalized for being slightly more relatable than a 'perfect cop' character, but it is what it is. Lester advances.

#2 The Bunk vs. #7 Prez
I should note that the seedings generally reflect each character's importance in the show, not my own personal feelings since that would essentially give the tournament away. Had Prez not been slotted into the No. 7 spot and placed into this unwinnable match against Bunk, for example, I think I would've voted him over Kima, Daniels and maybe McNulty amidst the remaining members of the police bracket. That's a testament to just how big Prez stepped up as a character in the legendary fourth season. I touched on this earlier, but perhaps the most astounding part about S4 was that not that the show devoting itself to these four kids this season, it was also making goofy old Prez the only major link between the schools and our regular cast of characters. Yet, Prez's path to teaching was completely believable and it continued his growth into a responsible person that we'd be tracking since the start of the first year. I'm sure my friends who graduated from teacher's college years ago and are still waiting to escape the supply list were ecstatic to know that Prez was able to get a job so quickly after he got his teaching degree.

Crime Bracket….
#1 Stringer Bell vs. #9 Chris Partlow
Congratulations to Chris Partlow for winning a very tight first-round match against his partner in crime Snoop. After a week-long multimedia voting campaign that involved blog votes, Twitter responses and Facebook comments, Chris edged out Snoop by a mere two votes. As Chris' prize, he earns the right to…well, get dusted by Stringer in the second round. All that work, effort and debate just to lose in a rout. I feel like there's a Mitt Romney joke in here somewhere. Chris will have to take solace in being the people's champ and quite possibly the biggest pure bad-ass in Wire history. (Now if THAT was a bracket, I feel it'd come down to Chris vs. Omar.)

#4 Proposition Joe vs. #5 D'Angelo Barksdale
That "coached the four kids" tiebreaker might need to actually come into play here, since I'm picking Prop Joe with not some hesitation over D'Angelo. It's too bad that D'Angelo had to go so early in the series since you can make a case that he's the most compelling figure of the first season. Actually, while I'm talking the Barksdales, it hurt to leave out the underrated Brianna Barksdale. One of my favourite S1 scenes was when she's meeting D'Angelo in jail and just when you expect a grieving mother-son scene, Brianna tells her son to nut up and accept his sentence. It's a great little Lady Macbeth moment that reveals how deep Brianna is in the family business. Damn, I feel like I'm selling D'Angelo short by spending most of his last remaining moments in the tournament talking about his mom, but maybe that's fitting for a guy who always seemed captive to what his family wanted him to do.

#3 Avon Barksdale vs. #6 Bodie Broadus
Few characters in the entire show had as interesting a character arc as Bodie, but don't underrate Avon's arc just because he spent half the show in prison. Remember our last look at him in S5, still trying to keep some semblance of influence as a power broke between Marlo and the Greek. I couldn't tell if this was Avon actually still being a big man or, even more interestingly, simply trying to appear like he was still a player, acting all friendly with Marlo. As noted earlier, Bodie is a great, great character and deserves more than a sixth seed and a second-round elimination, but…it's Avon.

#2 Marlo Stanfield vs. #10 Slim Charles
Interesting dichotomy here between one of the universally-liked 'good' villains in Slim Charles, who tried to keep the drug trade as efficient and relatively humane as possible, against the sheer nihilism of Marlo. It's also interesting that these guys are the only two seeming winners of the entire drug war that brews throughout the series -- Slim takes over the co-op since basically everyone else is dead, while Marlo (as much as he seems to hate it) has now become legitimized after escaping prosecution. This is a close matchup but I'm endlessly fascinated by the entire Stanfield mob. If you dispute my call here and say that Slim was a better overall character than the monotone Marlo, think about the implied backstory of this guy. Marlo rarely acted himself on the show, yet he was still a guy who Chris Partlow took orders from and respected. Think how much of a bad mother you have to be to have Chris as your number two.

Institutions Bracket….
#1 Tommy Carcetti vs. #8 Norman Wilson
What was President Bartlett's old line about Leo McGarry on the West Wing? "Do you have a best friend? Is he smarter than you? Then he should be your chief of staff." The same applies to the Carcetti/Norman relationship. It's clear that for as much as Carcetti set himself up as a legitimate mayoral candidate in S3, he wouldn't have been able to get himself across the finish line without Norman's help. Wilson reminds me of another old line about how those capable of running a government are too smart to get into politics. As much as I enjoy Norman's understated dry humour, Carcetti has his number.

#4 Clay Davis vs. #5 Rhonda Pearlman
As much as I've bagged on Grantland's Wire tournament, it led to an entertaining podcast last week that featured Chuck Klosterman expounding on how much he enjoyed Ronnie Pearlman's character on the show. He enjoyed her ability to convey "WTF is happening here, can you believe this?" reaction shots in a realistic context without making it seem over the top. After listening to this podcast, I'm almost tempted to give Ronnie the duke here…but then again, one of her best examples of that face was when she was listening to Clay Davis's legendary testimony in his corruption trial in S5. This phenomenal scene (an absolute masterpiece of bullshit that shows just how smooth Davis is at manipulation) is the easy rejoinder to any criticism that Davis is just a catchphrase character. Ronnie gets to give one more reaction shot to the fact that she's eliminated from the tournament. Or, in this case, it's a reaction sheeeeeeeeeeot.

#3 Gus Haynes vs. #11 Nerese Campbell
I came surprisingly close to continuing Nerese's one-woman upset train into the next round but….naw. For as much crap as everyone seems to give Season Five, it's not like it's a bad season by any means. It's actually a very good season with pockets of greatness contained therein. Unfortunately, since other four Wire seasons were essentially non-stop greatness, S5 comes up a bit short by comparison. In conclusion, there's no reason to knock a great character like Gus Haynes just because his overall season and storyline wasn't up to par. Of course, this all being said, I do wonder if the Gus character wouldn't have been better served as a supporting role, while someone like Alma (or even a more fleshed-out Templeton himself) could've been the lead in the fifth season. Anyway, Gus wins and probably finds a half-dozen grammatical errors in this paragraph alone.

#2 Frank Sobotka vs. #7 Ziggy Sobotka
Frank wins this father-son showdown with the ease of a cargo container crashing down on a duck. Chris Bauer (a.k.a. Frank) will be showing up in a guest role on The Office soon, joining Amy Ryan and Idris Elba as Wire alumni who have had significant roles on that show. Now, as mentioned, I only started watching the Wire in late 2009, so since I hadn't had the roles drummed into my head, Ryan and Elba were just actors to me --- I didn't immediately see everything they did through the lens of "Beadie Russell has a thing for Michael Scott!" or "Stringer Bell loves soccer!" With Bauer, though, he will now and forever be Frank Sobotka. Chalk it up to the Wire's realism, but it will take a while before I'm able to see a lot of these actors as anything but their Baltimore characters. Like, if I met Gbenga Akinnagbe in real life, I'd start crying and begging for my life.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Lance Reddick, Toys R Me

Of all the correct things I've written (all eight of them!), I think the most on-point thing I've ever written was my description of Lance Reddick as an "evil Dave Chappelle." Now, just to complete the description, Reddick has delivered a Chappelle-quality comic performance in this Funny Or Die video. His facial expression alone after the kid initially badmouths his store is worth the price of admission.

(Yes, I realize that this Lance Reddick-centric post means that there's even more Wire content on the blog lately. Deal with it.)

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Coriolanus (Shakespeare Re-Read #1)

This is absolutely my own liberal viewpoint coming to play here, but I couldn't help think of the Republican party while reading Coriolanus. In the play, you have Caius Martius,* a warrior first and foremost and perhaps all he is, fresh off leading the Roman army to a legendary victory and now being courted as a candidate for consul. Martius has no interest in being a politician because he hates the phoniness of it and has nothing but disdain for the Roman people. Talk about your Mitt Romney and your John McCain all rolled into one, except those guys actually wanted to be in higher office. At least Romney is a slightly better pretender; he just has a frozen smile, rather than the McCain tightly-clenched frozen smile underneath the Captain-on-How I Met Your Mother-style crazy eyes.

* = Just to avoid confusion, I'll refer to the title character as 'Martius' rather than 'Coriolanus,' simply so I can save myself having to italicize the play's title throughout. Man, am I lazy. Stay tuned for my review of Hamlet, when I refer to the title character only as 'Joe Indecision.'

Most analysis of Coriolanus considers it to be a fairly right-wing, power-of-the-state type of play, but I'm not sure. As usual, Shakespeare doesn't create a straw man and presents both sides of the play's argument, but I'd argue both sides come off looking bad, complicating matters. The Roman people and their tribunes Brutus and Sicinius come off worse --- the people seem to have the collective logic and judgement of the "she's a witch!" mob in Monty Python, while Brutus and Sicinius are two of the flat-out sleaziest, underhanded characters around. They're unlikable enough that it obscures the fact that their overall goal (Martius is unsuited for public office since he hates the people, and thus must be stopped) is not wrong. Shakespeare definitely includes enough trap doors within the text that, at least to modern eyes, make us severely perceive Martius as a tightly-wound sociopath. He's a guy who literally is only at peace when he's in the middle of battle. Peacetime is less about peace to Martius than it about killing time before the next war breaks out. It was bred into him from birth by his mother Volumnia, leading to the extraordinary passage in Act I, Scene III when Volumnia and the gentlewoman Valeria are discussing Martius' son…

VOLUMNIA: He had rather see the swords, and hear a drum, than look upon his school-master.

VALERIA: O' my word, the father's son: I'll swear,'tis a very pretty boy. O' my troth, I looked upon him o' Wednesday half an hour together: has such a confirmed countenance. I saw him run after a gilded butterfly: and when he caught it, he let it go again; and after it again; and over and over he comes, and again; catched it again; or whether his fall enraged him, or how 'twas, he did so set his teeth and tear it; O, I warrant it, how he mammocked it!

VOLUMNIA: One on 's father's moods.

VALERIA: Indeed, la, 'tis a noble child.

Yikes. By this point I thought I was reading a passage from We Need To Talk About Kevin. But again, though, this is my interpretation from 2012. Back in Shakespeare's day, this might have been seen as even a laugh line about the comical toughness of the family, plus it does foreshadow young Martius telling off his father near the play's conclusion. The point is, the generational craziness of Martius' family is just one of many signs in Coriolanus that Martius is a very flawed man. While the idea of popular rule is criticized just by the conduct of the tribunes and the Roman people, Shakespeare is also questioning the inherent right of the upper classes to just take power without any thought to what the public may think. It was a fairly radical (and even dangerous) thought for the time, which may be why Shakespeare obscured it by having the tribunes come off as just total dicks.

I used the Monty Python comparison earlier on purpose so I could plant the seed for this point: Coriolanus could arguably be seen as a black comedy. I think I got the idea from arguably the most famous scene in the play, when Martius is confronted by the angry, tribune-led mob and he just unloads on them, aghast that a) they would dare to criticize him and b) that they would then dare to actually think he would care about their criticisms. The tribunes then banish Martius from Rome, to which Martius responds with essentially, "You can't fire me! I quit!" and then he "banishes them" by expelling himself from Rome. This scene killed me. I'm not sure what was funnier, Martius' childish response, the fact that Cominius and Menenius (a powerful general and senator, respectively) are basically just running around this whole time waving their hands and getting increasingly bewildered at how this thing is escalating or the fact that this whole process DOESN'T MATTER.

I admit I could be off-base in my understanding of the political setup here, but as far as I understand it, the people and the tribunes don't technically have any power to remove Martius from office. He voluntarily goes through the whole show of meeting the people in the marketplace and then submitting to the kangaroo court of a trial in the forum all for what amounts to PR purposes, with Martius continually talked into it by his mother and Menenius. Say what you will about Brutus and Sicinius being bastards, but they're not dumb. They found themselves in a situation where an unpleasant candidate was being put into office and they had no hope of removing him….unless, that is, the candidate was such a hothead that they just had to push his buttons and Martius would essentially disqualify himself. Great plan! I'd say it was like playing chess when Martius was playing checkers, but Martius seems like the kind of guy who would flip the board in a rage if you dared to ever put him in check. (Also, he'd probably insist on starting the game with no pawns because he can't tolerate weakness.)

Coriolanus is probably more fun to discuss and see performed than it is to read, simply because the play has some structural issues and a bit of a "now we're here, and now we're here and now we'll jump over here for a couple of lines and now we'll go here" series of scene transitions. I suspect any adaptation, as we'll see in a moment, would omit or just combine most of these smaller scenes.

And the ending, man. I'm not going to use many Spoiler Alerts in these reviews since these plays are so well-known but since Coriolanus isn't one of the big-name works, I'll bend this once. After being banished, Martius joins his old Volscian rivals in their latest attack on Rome. When it looks like the city will fall, only a last-ditch plea from Volumnia, Virgilia and Martius Jr. (his friends call him MarJu) finally cracks Martius' spirit and he agrees to end the planned assault. Then, when Martius heads back to Volsci to tell them about the peace treaty, they just kill him. The end. I'm sorry, but that is just hilarious. How fitting is it that after a lifetime of wars, Martius meets his end in such an ignominious fashion. It completely undercuts the idea of the so-called heroic death that Volumnia spoke so rapturously of as the ideal fate for her son. I think the idea was to make Aufidius (the Volscian general who had played the Washington Generals to Martius' Globetrotters in a lifelong rivalry) seem cowardly by resorting to these tactics to finally beat Martius, but I've got to take his side on this one. Here is my adapted version of the situation….
Martius: Hi Volscians!

Lords Of Volsci: Coriolanus! Good to see you! Have you conquered Rome?

Aufidius: No, he didn't! He forged a peace treaty with them instead!

Lords: What?! Is this true?!

Martius (to Aufidius): HOW DARE YOU

Aufidius: He's not denying it!

Martius: Typical Volscian bullshit! Hey, remember the time I killed everyone in your city of Corioles? Remember who you're dealing with! I'm Caius Martius, the cock of the walk, baby!

Lords and every Volscian present: That's it!

*They all bullrush Martius and kill him. Aufidius dusts his hands triumphantly.*
Really, can you blame Aufidius or the Volscians in that scenario? Again, all one of Martius' opponents has to do is slightly incite Martius' temper and he just digs his own grave. Game, set, match, Aufidius. I'm surprised he never exploited this out on the battlefield. Like, Aufidius could stand on one side of a minefield from Martius and just call him names. Pointing out how he really puts the ANUS in Coriolanus would probably be enough for Martius to go into berserker mode and just stomp right into the minefield. It's a bit hard to take Martius seriously as a supreme bad-ass warrior when he's this easily fooled. You'd never see this happen to John Rambo. He kept a cool head. He only wanted a burger!

Admittedly, I finally got around to reading Coriolanus after all these years because Ralph Fiennes' recent film adaptation had finally opened in Toronto and I wanted to be familiar with the source material before seeing the movie. Fiennes' film is very good, nicely fitting the play into a modern-day setting that "is called Rome" but looks more like war-torn Sarajevo. A few of the updated elements fall flat (Martius' final blowup that gets him banished occurs in a TV studio complete with a booing, hissing crowd that makes it look like the most erudite Jerry Springer episode ever) but really, it's hard to go wrong with great Shakespearean veterans like Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox who just own the dialogue frontwards and back. The ending of the film is, if anything, even more abrupt, as Martius doesn't even make it back to Volsci --- Aufidius and his crew just leave him dead in the middle of a road. I'm glad Fiennes resisted the urge to call back to the "crows to peck the eagles" line by having Martius' corpse get swarmed by a murder of crows. There's probably a witty joke in here about a murder following a murder, but damned if I can make it. I'm no Shakespeare.


1. Coriolanus…'s only the first entry, so Coriolanus tops the table by default

Two of my New Year's resolutions were to lose 38 pounds and to re-read (and in some cases, read for the first time) all 38 of William Shakespeare's plays. At least one of these resolutions will come true. And, since in these modern times it's impossible to undertake a personal project without blogging about it, here is the first of a series of reviews/personal observances I'll make about the plays. Well, 'reviews' is a bit of a stretch. It's William goddamn Shakespeare. What am I going to tell you, "Don't bother reading this one, folks! What a stinker! Ol' Mark doesn't like it, so you should definitely believe ME over 400 years of dramatic criticism!"

It's better that you read these instead of waiting for a weight-loss blog, since brother, that ain't happening. The 'before' picture alone would break the internet.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Wire March Madness: First Round Analysis

Great minds think alike. Not four days after I unveil my brackets for a Wire-based tournament of characters, Grantland releases its own bracket. Now, not to sound like I'm blowing my own horn here, but…well, mine is better. Mine has 64 characters, a better divisional layout and mine also didn't leave out Carver, Slim Charles, Gus and a host of others in favour of making Serge "Boris" Malatov a #6 seed. Mark 1, Grantland 0. Now, some might argue that since I got the idea for a Wire tournament from a Bill Simmons interview anyway, Grantland isn't really *stealing* anything. To this, I say la la la la, I can't hear you.

But in any case, I'd better get cracking and break down my first round before, I dunno, Pinterest or some other site gets to it first.

Streets Bracket…
#1 Omar vs. #16 Kenard
Oh, sweet irony. This is literally the only circumstance where people would vote for Omar to lose in the first round since "that's what happened!" In terms of who's the better character, however, it's no contest. To be honest, I probably could've found better street representatives than Kenard but matching him against Omar was too good to pass up.

#8 Namond vs. #9 Kimmy
Just for the record, had 'The Four Kids' been able to be grouped as a single entry, they probably win the entire tournament. On their own, however, Namond is the weak link. Here's my first upset, as Kimmy blasts her way to victory. Don't feel too bad for Namond, he's living it up in the suburbs with Bunny Colvin.

#4 Dukie vs. #13 Walon
This matchup will probably take place at a rehab meeting in a few years' time, provided Dukie is still alive. Dukie wins this one, giving him one victory in his overall miserable life. Also, no knock on Steve Earle, but his version of the Wire's theme song in S5 is clearly the weakest one (not unlike S5 itself).

#5 Randy vs. #12 Brother Mouzone
Pound for pound, the Brother might've been the weirdest character in Wire history. On the show that embraced gritty realism like no other, here comes a guy who is more like a quirky, low-level Batman villain than he is a legitimate drug trade enforcer. I guess that made him an ideal (temporary) opponent for Omar, who was essentially a gangland Batman, but still, Mouzone really stands out, so much so that some might argue that the seedings here could be reversed. I'm giving Randy the win, however, since we had a full season with him and saw his character develop the most. Brother Mouzone was a fun sideline; Randy was able to deliver an emotional impact like this.

#3 Michael vs. #14 Dante
If Omar is Batman, then Dante is essentially his Jason Todd, ultimately a bad seed of a partner that causes Omar more problems than he's worth. (Yes, I realize Batman and Robin are just crime-fighting partners, not partners in the sense of Omar and Brandon/Dante/Renaldo. I'm not getting all 'Seduction Of The Innocent' on Batman here.) Dante brought some interesting complications to Omar's life but yeah, needless to say Michael is the clear choice.

#6 Butchie vs. #11 Sherrod
Were I the ringtone type, I'd want a ringtone of Bubbles saying Sherrod's name. The name just flows so smoothly off of Andre Royo's tongue. That's about all I can say about Sherrod, since Butchie is a man so tough that he was one of the few (the only?) to actually withstand Snoop and Chris' punishment, dying before selling Omar out.

#7 Cutty Wise vs. #10 The Deacon
Tough matchup here. Cutty is right near the bottom of the list of 'notable characters' and the Deacon is right near the top of the 'underrated minor characters who aren't quite enough to knock off a relative weak link like Cutty.' I thought more could've been done with Cutty in his two seasons as a significant player on the show. Maybe it was just that you'd think his character arc would involve him getting back into the game, except nope, his real purpose was to show what a guy could go once he actually did try to go straight.

#2 Bubbles vs. #15 Johnny
Friend vs. friend! This is a battle full of tears but come on, do you really think Bubbles is going to lose in the first round?

Police Bracket…
#1 McNulty vs. #16 Santangelo
Don't need a psychic to guess how this one develops.

#8 Bunny Colvin vs. #9 Herc
What an underrated, fascinating matchup of the first round. Colvin was a big part of two seminal Wire storylines --- Hamsterdam and the study group of the middle school students --- while Herc was part of the show from the beginning. Colvin made errors but was overall one of thoroughly good, honourable members of the Wire universe, while Herc grew more and more corrupt as the series went on. I recall reading one analysis of Herc online that identified him as one of the best kinds of villains, since you don't even realize he's a "villain" for the first four seasons. Sure, he's screwing up left and right and doing any number of sketchy things, but he's just depicted as a cop who cuts corners rather than being a legitimate bad guy. In S5, however, he joins up with Maury Levy, and then you realize, "Hey wait a second…" As you might guess, I'm leaning towards Herc in this matchup.

#4 Daniels vs. #13 Burrell
I admit to a bit of bracket chicanery to create the Omar/Kenard matchup, but I swear, Daniels and Burrell continuing their show-long rivalry was a happy coincidence. Also a battle of two of the great one-liners in Wire history --- "It's Baltimore, gentlemen. The gods will not save you." vs. "You'd rather live in shit than let the world see you work a shovel." Daniels clearly wins this, though I enjoyed Burrell's character as a living bureaucratic roadblock.

#5 Carver vs. #12 Beadie Russell
Ah dammit. My love of Amy Ryan is deep enough that I was fully prepared to vote Beadie into the second round of almost any bracket, but the police bracket is stacked and Carver is a great character. Carver wins here and you'll be hearing much more about him in later rounds. Spoiler alert? Spoiler alert.

#6 Kima vs. #11 Landsman
This is a closer matchup than you'd think at first glance. Of the approximately 200 Emmys that The Wire should've won (as opposed to the zero it actually won), one of the more hands-down Emmys was Sonja Sohn as best supporting actress for the first season. After that first year, however, Kima didn't really get all that much to do. She was certainly more of a key player in the unit than, say, Sydnor, but she still seemed to take a back seat to McNulty, Lester, Bunk and even Daniels (though Cedric had less to do in latter seasons as well.) Landsman, meanwhile, just kept cracking memorable one-liners for all five seasons and getting the occasional dramatic scene when he's delivering the wakes for departed officers. I'll be honest, I'm still clearly picking Kima but I at least thought for a moment about an upset.

#3 Lester vs. #14 Major Valchek
The most natural of po-lice against one of the crappier but most politically-savvy cops on the force. Valchek had no shortage of great comic moments in the series (starting the whole Sobotka case over an argument about a stained glass window, getting punched by Prez and the rueful laugh that I think all of us had when he's named commissioner in the series finale) and yet was still a very threatening and effective villain. As seems to be my custom in the police bracket, I'll talk up the loser before chalking up the win to the more obvious choice.

#7 Prez vs. #10 Rawls
This is almost unfair putting Prez in the cops bracket, since his biggest impact on the show was as a teacher in S4. That's the tradeoff for no 'education' bracket, however. Rawls was a good character but he's the clear loser here simply by dint of the fact that he didn't spend a season as the ostensible main character of the show. Maybe if S6 had been about Baltimore's gay community...

#2 Bunk vs. #15 Sydnor
Sydnor has two notable things to his credit. First, he looked like Ken Griffey Jr. Secondly, for a guy who was constantly praised as 'natural police' and one of the department's bright hopes, he didn't really get any key roles on Daniels' unit, did he? He was basically just the utility man, always there to cover a stakeout or take an undercover gig. It's a valuable job on an actual police unit, but in TV terms, Sydnor was always just an extra guy. You could argue he didn't break out at all until the series-ending montage when suddenly he seems to be on track to be "the next McNulty."

Crime Bracket...
#1 Stringer Bell vs. #16 Cheese Wagstaff
This might also be a matchup, with the same seedings, in my 'best names on TV' tournament. Stringer Bell. What a phenomenal character name. It works as one entity (Stringerbell), just Stringer, or even shortened to a nickname like String, or Strings. In hindsight, I should've put 'Stringer' on my list of potential baby names.

#8 Snoop vs. #9 Chris Partlow
Man oh man oh man oh man. What a matchup. The alpha and the omega of assassins, paired against each other in the first round. First possibly absurd definitive statement: I'd take Snoop and Chris over any other pair of fictional hit men. (Say what you will about Vincent and Jules, but I don't see Chris or Snoop being shot while exiting a bathroom.) Second, more probably absurd, definitive statement: Snoop and Chris retired undefeated. Now, of course you'll argue Snoop was killed by Michael and Chris ended the series sentenced for committing roughly 627,549 murders (only 417,801 he was actually responsible for) but to this I say so what. Chris clearly had no problems with eating that sentence. Snoop, meanwhile, was pretty non-plussed herself when Michael got the jump on her, plus, it's no shame to Snoop if she met her final end at the hands of the "new Omar."

The case for Chris: A complete iceman. He only lost his cool once, when his presumed own past as a victim of molestation caused him to just lose it and beat Michael's pervert stepfather to death. So respected that even Marlo took his advice. Unlike virtually every other character on the show, he didn't need a nickname to enhance his toughness; "Chris Partlow" sounds like a guy you took high school history class with, not a fearsome gang enforcer.

The case for Snoop: One of the purely more memorable characters in the series, though this is more due to Felicia Pearson more or less playing herself than playing a fictional creation. The necessary fast-talking, always-moving charismatic counter to the void that is Chris. Capable of both comedy (that amazing opening scene of S4 when she's buying the nailgun) and serious badassery (that same scene, in hindsight, once we realize just what the nailgun is for).

I've spent more time discussing this matchup than any other, so I'll leave it up to you. Who do you think is a better character, Snoop or Chris? I'll put a poll up on the blog or you can cast your vote in the comments. Winner advances to face Stringer in the round of 32.

#4 Proposition Joe vs. #13 Poot Carr
I mentioned earlier about how Cutty's character was sort of the "this is what happens if you go straight" story of The Wire, though really, you can include Poot in this category as well. Poot is just kind of around for everything, not really quite taking it all in or being as affected by it as Bodie, and then one day he decides to hang it all up and get a job at Foot Locker. And….that's it. If I had to guess at Poot's future, he'd just work at joe jobs for the rest of his life, telling tales to his co-workers about the wild stuff he got up to back in the day. Anyway, we all like Poot, but Prop Joe wins this in a cakewalk.

#5 D'Angelo Barksdale vs. #12 Vondas
I legitimately yelled 'Hell yes!' when Vondas popped up in S4, given how the show hadn't really addressed any aspects of the port storyline aside from Beadie's continued presence. So ol' Spiros gets this bit of credit for himself before being iced in the first round. As unstoppable as they are within the Baltimore crime world itself, Spiros and the Greek are a lot more vulnerable in the tournament because...

#6 Bodie Broadus vs. #11 The Greek
Another fun matchup. The guy who was constantly surprised by how things developed around him in the Game to the guy who was constantly on top of everything. In an actual matchup, Greek would have Bodie destroyed without even having to get up from his diner stool. In a 'who was a better character' sense, Bodie is the winner. It's a sign of how ridiculously deep the Crime Bracket is that Bodie is all the way down at the sixth seed.

#3 Avon Barksdale vs. #14. Maury Levy
It's hilarious that of all the terrible murderers and criminals on The Wire, none of them generate as much pure hatred from fans as Levy. To revisit the Herc topic, all of the shitty police work in the world wouldn't have cemented his heel turn like joining up with Maury Levy did. Avon wins because, well, it's Avon, but man, again, Levy would be a great upset pick in several other brackets.

#7 Wee Bey Brice vs. #10 Slim Charles
Man, I'm going with Slim Charles. His rise to being one of the 'good' bad guys on the show was so measured and so gradual (like the man himself) that by the end, it's perfectly deserved that he gets the honour of killing that dirtbag Cheese. As for Wee Bey, for a guy that provided so many memorable moments (instructing D'Angelo about his fish, wolfing down that sandwich in the interrogation room while happily confessing to dozens of murders, etc.) it's stunning to remember that he was really only a major character in the first season. After that it was just a series of very memorable small cameos in the subsequent seasons. Great character Wee Bey, but Slim has him beat.

#2 Marlo Stanfield vs. #15 Wallace
My friend Eric suggested that I leave Wallace out of the bracket altogether, just so people could write comments along the lines of "Where the boy at, Mark? Where the fuck the boy at?" As memorable as Wallace was and as good a career as Michael B. Jordan seems to be building, Marlo is the clear choice.

Institutions Bracket….
#1 Tommy Carcetti vs. #16 Alma Gutierrez
Maybe the major Alma scene that sticks in my head is when she's trying to get a quote about a crime scene from Kima, who just brushes past her with barely a word. In the four previous seasons, we'd be like, "get out of Kima's way, parasite," but after we'd gotten to know Alma a bit, you felt for her since she was just trying to do her job. Fun fact: Lana "Alma" Paress is married to Larry Gilliard Jr., a.k.a. D'Angelo Barksdale. This has been all-Alma entry since obviously Carcetti wins this matchup and I'll talk a lot more about him later on.

#8 Norman Wilson vs. #9 Mayor Clarence Royce
I'm a sucker for basically any "sardonic wise aide" character, which may explain both Butchie's relatively high seeding and the fact that I'm giving Norman the win here. In fairness, Norman also had more to do than Mayor Royce, who I feel was maybe a bit under-utilized. Here was a guy who, in essence, was Tommy Carcetti several years down the line, once his bravado and enthusiasm for helping the city had been beaten down by years of politics. Had we gotten more from Royce in this vein, I would've voted him for the win.

#4 Clay Davis vs. #13 Marla Daniels
You kind of thought Marla would get a bigger role on once The Wire sheeeeeeifted focus to incorporate so much of city politics over its last three seasons, but nope, sheeeee just remained a background character. Sheeeeee's no match for the man with the golden catchphrase.

#5 Rhonda Pearlman vs. #12 Odell Watkins
Good ol' Ronnie Pearlman. To be honest, she didn't have much to do on the show in latter seasons other than just be "Daniels' girlfriend" (though, Daniels himself saw his role diminish as time went on) but it just wouldn't seem right not giving her the duke over Watkins, a character whose importance to the goings-on at City Hall never quite matched his profile on the show.

#3 Gus Haynes vs. #14 Theresa D'Agostino
The Wire's fifth season is the weakest since, for a show that revelled in showing many shades of gray, the newspaper setting was way too thin. You had the corrupt editors and the lying staff reporter against the totally honest, hard-working city editor and the more scrupulous rest of the reporting team. These weren't characters as much as they were David Simon's axes to grind from his own days at the Baltimore Sun. This all being said, Gus was still a strong character (very good performance from Clark Johnson) and he definitely has enough going for him to top Theresa D'Agostino. That's another great name, by the way. Not in the 'Stringer Bell' class, but just say it out loud…Theresa D'Agostino. Just rolls off the tongue.

#6 Scott Templeton vs. #11 Nerese Campbell
Upset! Nerese wins and, frankly, I'm not so sure it's actually an upset. If there was any non-criminal mastermind character on The Wire that you wouldn't want to mess with, it'd be Nerese, who runs over pretty much everything in her path at City Hall. Scott got a sixth seed because of his importance in S5 and the relative lack of depth in this bracket but let's be honest, there wasn't much to Scott besides "shitty journalist." His arc would've been much more interesting he had produced one actual good story (say, if he'd actually gotten a good piece from the Orioles game) just to show that he had some talent, rather than being an out-and-out liar that the editorial staff inexplicably supported. Thomas McCarthy, who played Templeton, is also a hell of a filmmaker, writing and directing such quality fare as Win Win, The Station Agent and The Visitor.

#7 Ziggy Sobotka vs. #10 Nick Sobotka
Oh man, here's another fun little coincidence of the brackets. Battle of the Sobotka cousins! Also, battle of two characters that I think most Wire fans would hope got knocked out early. I'm picking Ziggy here since I think he gets a bad rap as a weak link of both S2 and the series as a whole; it's a tricky character to master but I think James Ransone did a good job of keeping just this side of laughably incompetent. Also, while Nick was overall perhaps a more complex character, he was also at the centre of probably the worst-written and acted scene in Wire history --- him and his high school girlfriend, drunk on the playground. That scene, in comparison to everything else in the series, is the equivalent of mixing three seconds of Slipknot into Beethoven's Ninth.

#2 Frank Sobotka vs. #15 Judge Phelan
I'll save my comments on Frank since you know he's going on a deep run in this tournament, plus it's great that the entire Sobotka clan will be covered just in this one little segment of the bracket. Phelan really didn't have much to do after the first season and frankly, a case could be made for omitting him altogether, but since it was his relationship with McNulty and signature on the wiretaps to begin with, he earns himself a slot.

Friday, March 02, 2012

The Wire: March Madness

I don't know about you, but my biggest takeaway from Bill Simmons' interview with Barack Obama was the throwaway mention of Omar as the #1 seed for a hypothetical tournament of Wire characters. What an idea! After about 10 minutes of thinking and minor research (i.e. finding characters' last names), here's what I've come up with.

Streets Bracket
1. Omar
2. Bubbles
3. Michael
4. Dukie
5. Randy
6. Butchie
7. Cutty
8. Namond
9. Kimmy
10. The Deacon
11. Sherrod
12. Brother Mouzone
13. Walon
14. Dante
15. Johnny
16. Kenard

Police Bracket
1. McNulty
2. Bunk
3. Lester
4. Daniels
5. Carver
6. Kima
7. Prez
8. Bunny Colvin
9. Herc
10. Rawls
11. Landsman
12. Beadie Russell
13. Burrell
14. Major Valchek
15. Sydnor
16. Santangelo

Crime Bracket
1. Stringer Bell
2. Marlo Stanfield
3. Avon Barksdale
4. Prop Joe
5. D'Angelo Barksdale
6. Bodie
7. Wee Bey
8. Snoop
9. Chris Partlow
10. Slim Charles
11. The Greek
12. Vondas
13. Poot
14. Maury Levy
15. Wallace
16. Cheese

Institutions Bracket
1. Tommy Carcetti
2. Frank Sobotka
3. Gus Haynes
4. Clay Davis
5. Ronnie Pearlman
6. Scott Templeton
7. Ziggy
8. Norman Wilson
9. Clarence Royce
10. Nick Sobotka
11. Nerese Campbell
12. Odell Watkins
13. Marla Daniels
14. Theresa D'Agostino
15. Judge Phelan
16. Alma Gutierrez

Some notes...

* There is some obvious crossover between categories, but given how half the people on this show could fit into a 'crime' bracket, I wanted to keep things somewhat separated. 'Crime' is really essentially just the Barksdale and Stanfield crime families, plus a few major wild cards.

* To that end, Kenard (though a trainee-entry dealer) goes into the 'streets' bracket. Yes, this may have been in part because I intentionally wanted an Omar vs. Kenard matchup of irony in the first round.

* You could have a good argument about who was the biggest character not included in the tournament. Maybe one of the minor cops, like Holley or Norris? Principal Donnelly? One of the straw man editors at the Baltimore Sun? Brianna Barksdale? Sergei, the Greek's goon? Horseface Pakusa just because his name is Horseface Pakusa? Maybe I should've included play-in games for the #16 seeds.

* The odds that I'm an idiot and have forgotten someone REALLY obvious are 5-1. For instance, in my first draft, I somehow forgot Snoop, Chris AND D'Angelo Barksdale.

* Odds that Obama reads this: 34-1. Odds that Obama comments on it: 1500-1. Odds that Obama comments on it under the pseudonym of BullsFan43: 60-1.

* The crime bracket is absurdly strong.

* The only obvious call is Omar coming out of the Streets bracket just because he's Omar and is the favourite to win the whole thing. Besides that, however, you can make arguments for at least 4-5 different characters out of every other bracket, which is a testament to The Wire's depth.

* For the real March Madness, "You come at the king, you best not miss" should be the theme of every #1 vs. #16 game, with that scene shown going into and coming out of every commercial break. Once I'm president of CBS, this will be my first order of business.