Compelling third season of `Wire' goes inside City Hall

Critics' picks: New DVDs

August 06, 2006|By DAVID ZURAWIK

THE WIRE: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON -- HBO -- $99.98

HBO's The Wire is a TV series that seems tailor-made for DVDs. Story lines and emotions in this compelling meditation on urban life are not artificially reduced to provide closure and a reassuring worldview at the end of each hour as many television dramas do. (Think Law & Order.)

Quite the contrary, creator David Simon and his highly talented team of writers and producers have instead aimed for a far more literary form of storytelling in which episodes play like chapters in a book -- referring back and building on moments that came before, even as they leave viewers wanting to immediately see what's next when the hour comes to a close.

This DVD scheduled for release Tuesday covers the most recent season, which ended in December 2004 with two drug addicts picking through the rubble of a failed experiment to create a decriminalized drug zone. The inner-city Baltimore terrain that they navigate looks like a war zone after the bombs have fallen -- with buildings, hopes and lives destroyed.

The final overhead shot of the two junkies shuffling off this bitter stage evokes a cosmic sense of sadness for the path they tread. It is one of the most poignant moments that I have encountered in 25 years of writing about television. The third season of The Wire is chock full of such dark and soul-stirring poetry as it examines the role that the politics of City Hall have played in shaping the urban landscape today.

Ultimately, nothing is more important than the storytelling on The Wire, but Season 3 also offers some outstanding performances from Idris Elba as drug dealer Stringer Bell, Andre Royo as drug addict Bubbles and Wendell Pierce as Detective Bunk Moreland.

Simon and several cast members will be at the Sound Garden in Fells Point at 7 p.m. Tuesday to sign DVDs. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Ella Thompson Fund. Details on the event and the charity are available at ellafund.org.

Special features: The Museum of Television & Radio in New York brought the creative team and much of the cast together for an illuminating exploration of the series in 2004. That symposium is included, along with several audio commentaries. Hearing Simon and director Karen L. Thorson explaining a drug war in their drama as a "microcosm" of the war in Iraq makes the viewing experience that much richer.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

PRISON BREAK --Fox / $59.98

A structural engineer (Wentworth Miller) gets himself sent to prison so that he can break his brother out. Sound like a stretch? How about this: He has the blueprint to the prison (with planned escape route) tattooed on his body. And, yet, it's one of the hottest dramas on TV. A new season starts Aug. 21 -- let this DVD be your introduction.

David Zurawik

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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