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.

1 comment:

Peter Lynn said...

Cutty really would have to get an expanded role in a hypothetical season 6, since Simon has mentioned that he was tempted to write a storyline for him in season 5, but this was precluded by the smaller episode order. Of course, I'm kind of glad they just left him alone, in a good place; I always worried that coming back to Cutty could only turn out badly for him.