For about 16 months I have been pretty religious about going on the exercise bike at least 2-4 times a week. My secret is that I have set up a portable DVD player and watch DVDs of TV series that I missed during their first runs. I have picked shows that are more serial in nature so that I am motivated to keep watching. My first show was Battlestar Galactica. Last week I finished five seasons of The Wire.
The Wire played on HBO and was an extremely gritty portrayal of Baltimore, its drug trade and police and government reaction to the drug trade. The show was very cynical as it demonstrated that our institutions are just as corrupt as the drug runners they are responding to. What was really interesting is that each season the show focused on one institution as it responded to the urban ills of the early part of this decade. Season One concentrated on the Police; Two looked at the Unions and dock workers; Three examined City Politics; Season 4 took on the Schools; and 5 focused on the Newspaper industry. All was interwoven with the drug trade in Baltimore, the guys who controlled the drugs and the thugs who sold and controlled the street.
One was drawn into the series because of the characters. Characters, whether Police, drug thug, or politician were shown warts and all and you could be sympathetic to a character even though he was a ruthless murderer, a stats-juking bureaucrat, or a cynical politician. Also there were no sacred cows. Favorite and key characters would be killed off or shown cheating on their spouse. Characters were shown as complex people with conflicting motivations who sometimes made mistakes. Just like people in real life.
Season 4 was especially devastating. It concentrated on the schools, specifically four 8th grade boys as they tried to go to a school that is underfunded and sitting literally sitting in a war zone of the drug trade. My own kid was also in 8th grade as I watched that season and believe me his life is completely different than those kids. These four were also followed in season 5 and only one made it through as anything considered safe. But one became so attached to these kids that it was a kick in the gut to see how they turned out. In fact I even uttered a sad "oh Michael" when one of the kids made his first killing (shooting a street thug who had been on the show from the beginning).
As I mentioned above, The Wire is extremely cynical and dark. Its message really is that our Cities are failing, our institutions are failing, and that we are in an endless loop. We can eliminate some drug thugs, but others are ready to rise up and take their place. We can eliminate our urban slums but the things that make those places slums, just move to someplace else. Good people may try to fix things but The System beats them down and corrupts them so that in the end nothing happens. It sound pretty sad and grim and in a sense it is. But the stories are so rich, the characters so real that I heartedly recommend anyone to seek out The Wire and dive in.
Up next for the Exercise Bike? The Sopranos