Meh. That’s my reaction to the first episode of the The Wire, Season 5, which premiered last night on HBO. I had debated whether to watch it at all, since Netflix had delivered the first disc of Season 4 only a couple of days before. The quandary: whether to watch the new season as it airs weekly, or hold off until I get through Season 4. I chose poorly. I regret tuning in last night, since it opened with one of those “previously on The Wire” montages that pretty much spoiled any surprise the Season 4 discs might have held. Aarrgh. Sometimes I miss the days of Dallas, when if you missed an episode, you were just out of luck until the show went into syndication years later.
But I’m still interested in this final season of The Wire, since it evidently focuses on the collapsing newspaper industry, via a fictional Baltimore Sun. As someone who escaped the real-world collapse (only slightly dazed and brushing off bits of debris), I’m happy to see it exploited for entertainment purposes. Corporate-run newspapers have never been more ripe for satire and criticism, and I am optimistic David Simon and company will not disappoint.
To start with, though, we get a stereotypical grizzled city editor — think of a very profane Lou Grant — bellowing for budget lines and lecturing reporters on usage and gleefully telling a council president to stuff it. I’m sure there are real city editors who match that description, but I’ve never met any in person. We also get a slick, transplanted editor who delivers the dread line “do more with less” — and I have met a few of those. We get a newsroom crammed with overflowing desks and a lot of empty chairs. Check. We get a plucky young female reporter who ventures into a den of iniquity and returns with a front-page story about city corruption. Uh, hold on: In the real world, in the spirit of doing more with less, reporters tend not to leave the building unless something like 9/11 comes along.
The rest of the show offered few clues that this final season is headed anywhere in particular. McNulty is still a womanizing swine; Bubbles is still battling addiction; there’s still trouble between the factions that rule Baltimore’s drug trade; and the police effort against those factions is still crippled by politics. The theme of this show is dysfunction, I suppose, that in police departments or schools or city governments or drug gangs or dying newspapers, one step forward almost never comes without two steps back. No doubt this season will soon find its legs, but for now, the first episode left me with the feeling that I’ve seen it all before.