Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Simon Mulls CIA Series

According to Broadcastnow (H/T Play or Get Played), David Simon is thinking about the CIA as his next muse. I do think this would be very interesting development and a cool idea to do a TV show about if done well. It's also more fodder for Simon's ability to twist genre conventions with what happens in reality. What's more classic than the Bond spy thriller, yet further from the lived reality of CIA agents?

As Treme wraps up its filming and goes down the paths where Simon has less control (namely, to the HBO programming execs), he starts to think of his next project. I wonder how he made the various decisions to choose his new work. GK was inspired by a book of the same name. We could see Simon's fascination with US foreign policy even as The Wire was in full production ("Got them WMDs! Shit's gonna blow you up!" "New Package! Bombs over Baghdad!"). The injustice done to New Orleans in Katrina's aftermath seemed to inspire Treme, or at least Simon's attraction to the city. Obama's recent release of OLC torture memos and public scrutiny over the CIA's role is an obvious suspect for a CIA series. Yet Simon's explicit interest in the CIA's "history" leads me to think he's read a few highly regarded works on the CIA published recently.

Buried in the article are a few other project possibilities. A show on the battle to desegregate public housing would be extremely interesting (to me) (Confidential to DS: I would be a great choice for background material researcher!). Likewise, dramatic rendering of the assassination of Lincoln is always great fodder for a miniseries, but I fear it's been done too many times to have much new ground to cover.

In any event, history plays a major role in all three show concepts. I eagerly await the next episode.

Monday, April 20, 2009

New York Times Wire

Via Unfogged, NYTimes Modern Love does The Wire. I guess it's a pretty good show on which to meditate about Life and Death; Love and War... I can also conclude that there are some bigger fans of the show than I am as I probably wouldn't choose to watch episodes of The Wire on my deathbed.

The NYTimes also published a brief story on moving the NYC cop beat reporter's office from Police Headquarters to an offsite location. While this doesn't theoretically damage the quality of reporting, it's just more evidence of the diminishing position of the media in places were it's needed most, local government. David Simon agrees. Besides the potentially diminished oversight capability (clearly reporters cover institutions better in closer proximity or they wouldn't always desire such conditions), closing the "The Shack" will destroy a lot of history for an ambiguous "command center."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Treme Is Coming

David Simon's new miniseries, Treme, has just finished shooting in New Orleans. I can't tell you how excited I am for this show. What could be better than a David Simon produced drama about jazz musicians set in New Orleans? The fact that Wendell "Bunk" Pierce and Clark "Cool Lester Smooth" Peters play leading roles. I'm not sure when it's set to show, but there will definitely be a viewing party at my house and you're invited.

Update: 4/20/09: The Thugz might be watching too.

Friday, April 3, 2009

It wasn't that good back then

One issue I've had with The Wire (and The Corner) is the sense of nostalgia about a past urban golden age in which jobs were plentiful, drugs were just business, people settled fights without murder, and neighborhoods supported each other.

Various historical texts have supported my thoughts. In the defacto and dejure segregated ghettos, life was different from today's urban environment, but life was plenty hard. The Times has an interesting article about a man shot in fifties who recently died. He became the oldest reclassified murder in NYC history. Just something I like to point out when various characters try to describe a brighter, shinier past.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What's in a Name?

One of those ****Spoiler alert**** entries.

I'm currently reading Barack Obama's first book, Dreams From My Father (I must say, it's way, way better than The Audacity of Hope which was halfway decent) and a passage struck me.

Much of the book is about Obama's struggles at defining himself, and indeed African American males defining themselves against the duality of being Black in America. Of course Obama had a slightly different experience considering his literally Black African-White American heritage. This particular section comes during his first visit to Kenya, while waiting in the airport to see his family after his father has passed away. Permit me to reproduce the passage in its entirety:

I Completed the form and Miss Omoro gave it the once-over before looking back at me. "You wouldn't be related to Dr. Obama by any chance?" she asked. "Well, yes- he was my father." Miss Omoro smiled sympathetically. "I'm very sorry about his passing. Your father was a close friend of my family's. He would often come to our house when I was a child." We began to talk about my visit... I found myself trying to prolong the conversation, encouraged less by Miss Omoro's beauty- she had mentioned a fiance- than by the fact that she'd recognized my name. That had never happened before, I realized; not in Hawaii, not in Indonesia, not in L.A. or New York or Chicago. For the first time in my life, I felt the comfort, the firmness of identity that a name might provide, how it could carry an entire history in other people's memories, so that they might nod and say knowingly, "Oh, you are so and so's son." No one in Kenya would ask how to spell my name, or mangle it with an unfamiliar tongue. My name belonged and so I belonged, drawn into a web of relationships, alliances, and grudges that I did not yet understand.
While this passage concerns The Wire very little, it made me think about the struggles of each character, defining themselves against their names and legacies. Let's look at a few of the characters/families as examples.

Of course there is Avon Barksdale. The Barksdale name signified power and prestige that came with the family's business. What else could Avon do but run one of Baltimore's largest drug organizations. Avon defined himself by carrying on what his name signified for his community.

Then there is Namond Brice, the son of Wee-Bey Brice, a Barksdale hit man. Namond tried to define himself with the name Wee-Bey had created on the streets. He worked for Barksdale's organization, then tried to run his own crew, but his heart was never with the corner. No matter how much he tried, and how much his mother yelled at him, Namond was not one a corner boys. He had to define himself despite his father's name in order to achieve success after being adopted by a former police commander.

Then there is the man without a name, Marlo Stanfield. Marlo runs a drug organization that rises meteorically due to its cold calculating approach.  Marlo even eclipses Barksdale by the end of season 3. Where Avon is interested in continuing the family business and Stringer is interested in profit and business, Marlo wants power and reputation. By gaining these, he will make his name in the community.

Nothing makes this priority more clear than when Omar attack's Stanfield's reputation on the street.  When word of this gets back to Marlo, we see his most passionate outburst of anger in the show.


At the end of season five, the police have enough evidence to convict his organization but some of it is illegally collected. As a result, Stanfield walks free and gets introduced to the very businessmen that Stringer wanted so much to be himself. Yet, this sort of reputation is not what drives Marlo who slips away from a cocktail party to attack two men on a corner. Though his adversaries are armed with a gun and a knife, Stanfield takes the corner. Stanfield is cut severely but he's happy that "his name" and reputation have lived on to echo in the streets.

Other characters and situations reflect this name/legacy/identity theme. "Cheese" Wagstaff (played by Method Man), Prop Joe's right hand man, is the absent father of Randy Wagstaff from Season Four. Both are very interested in business, but the family connection is mostly missing. Name and family dominates season two as well. Ziggy Sebotka never fills the role his father Frank wanted for him as head of the stevedores union. The Greek's are most concerned with keeping their name quiet.

Many of these situations demonstrate the human dilemma inherent in finding identity that go beyond Barack Obama's specific difficulty with race and culture. Marlo's singular drive to make a reputation based on power is not confined to west Baltimore. Avon's attempt to perpetuate the family business mirror Frank Sebotka's. Yet Obama points out the particular difficulty of finding identity for young African American males. A teacher he meets in Chicago says:
At least the girls have older women to talk to, the example of motherhood. But the boys have nothing. Half of them don't even know their fathers. There's nobody to guide them through the process of becoming a man... to explain to them the meaning of manhood. And that's a recipe for disaster.
Though Barack's actual difficulties didn't provide inspiration to Simon, these issues live in places that many of HBO's viewers don't. Simon shows how he has a finger on the pulse of American urban life by bringing this theme to the fore.

At the very least, this could be one more reason why Barack Obama's favorite TV show is The Wire.