A Television Show That Will Make You a Better Writer (and Make Me Irrationally Emotional)

There will be better and more coherent posts regarding the series  
finale of the Wire, but I just wanted to offer my final  
recommendation/plea as a writer. “The Wire”–for those who haven’t  
heard/seen it– was a show that was on for five seasons on HBO  
depicting inner-city Baltimore through all the different arms of city  
life: the drug trade, the city police department, the mayor’s office,  
the unions, the newspaper, the city schools, etc. The series finale  
was last night. Like my profile on Friendster, it is now retired.  
And–although I do have a penchant for hyperbole– I swear to you  
that I am not being overly dramatic when I say that “The Wire” is and  
will forever remain the best and most complete form of entertainment  
I have ever experienced. And that goes for books, movies, television,  
internet shows starring Michael Cera, AND my roommate performing  
“Kiss from a Rose” at the Japanese karaoke joint in the Fenway. And I  
love karaoke.

Each season is a chapter in the most complicated and utterly  
authentic tele-novel ever written. It was created by a former  
Baltimore Sun reporter and a former Baltimore detective, and the only  
writers they’ve brought on to collaborate with are urban crime  
novelists: George Pelecanos, Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, etc. And  
they just nail it. All the characters are so well developed, so real  
feeling, so spot-on with their dialogue, so perfectly placed with  
their own arcs, and internal conflicts, you can’t help but grow  
despondently attached to them. I cried when my favorite character was  
killed. Legitimately. And he did (mostly) bad things.

I have been watching this show since it first came on, and although I  
normally take a loserish pride in staking any sort of trendy claim  
about discovering something, I have told everyone I’ve ever known to  
give it a chance. Anyone that will listen to me. I have pitched this  
show like I had some sort of major investment, like I would somehow  
benefit financially from its success, like it was written by one of  
my (financially well off!) siblings. But I don’t have any sort of  
publicity deal. I just appreciate art and  think this show is  
important enough that everyone should watch it. Yes, it has bad  
language (authentic cop/drug dealer talk!), and violence, and other  
vices that may offend, but I guarantee that watching this show will  
improve your ability to see and develop full characters and recognize  
the greatness that comes with real authenticity in writing. The  
entire show sounds improvised and ad-libbed, but according to what  
I’ve read, hardly any of it deviates at all from the script, which is  
the true litmus test of real dialogue writing. Even my dad (MY dad!),  
who won’t do anything I ask him and shies away from publicly  
admitting he helped create me, begrudgingly watched the first season,  
and ended up secretly watching all the other seasons behind my back  
because he didn’t want to admit I was right. Friends, The Wire is a  
show for writers. Trust me on this. Rent the first season, watch the  
12 episodes, and if you don’t like it or at least see what I mean, I  
will (probably) personally mail you a check for $8.99 in Netflix  
expenses. OK, so I won’t write you a check but you will definitely
not be invited to my Annual Wire Anniversary Gala next March
(featuring Kim Kardashian!).

Ok. Whew. I’m sorry. I’m all choked up. I will now step down off of  
my soap box, dry my eyes and resume what’s left of my regularly  
scheduled blog entry.

I am on deadline again for Boston Magazine, trying to finish up a  
quick essay piece re: an interesting phenomenon in city social  
circles. For fear of someone stealing my idea, I will NOT be more  
specific. My plan of attack is to write several hundred word blocks  
in stream-of-conscious fashion for two hours straight until I find  
something that actually sounds clever/accurate and then fashion my  
entire piece around that insight. FYI: I do NOT recommend this tactic  
for the GRE writing section.

This was really great, friends. Let’s do it again Thursday.

Also, the songs of 1998 will resume with Thursdays entry, but I was  
reminded last night that every make out scene from BH 90210 had this  
song playing in the background, and so it needs to be all over my  
Internets. You win, Steve Sanders!

No, I don’t want to fall in love (This world is only gonna break your  
heart). With you.

Wicked Game,
Chris Isaak

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19 thoughts on “A Television Show That Will Make You a Better Writer (and Make Me Irrationally Emotional)

  1. Tom


    Another note on next year’s The Wire Gala Event: Genevieve has to bring the cake.

    On a comment-related note, I recently also finished a story (not book-length, but completed nonetheless)…about giant lice. Congrats, Genevieve, on your book completion (not about giant lice)!

    This stuff is all related somehow. I’m not the guy who can quite figure that all out, however.

  2. Genevieve

    Awwwe, thanks for the compliment about my name guys. I occasionally wonder if I should publish under something less Cajun, but in the end I always stick with what I’ve got.

    This weekend I celebrated the completion of the book in a very mommy way. My daughter picked up lice from someone in her class and I’ve spent the last four days shampooing everyone in the house and spraying the place down with all sorts of critter-annihilating chemicals. Now that it’s all over tonight I plan to have a Jack & Coke and some chocolate chip cookie cake. Life is good.

  3. Barbour

    I’m always happy to hear someone other than me sing the praises of ‘The Wire’; that awesome piece of wonderous art that has never been fully praised and herald as so many other ‘lack-luster’ cable productions has.

    Here’s to The Wire! It will be sorely missed.

  4. Tom

    Oh yeah, I KNEW there was something I was gonna do this weekend! I forgot to rent The Wire! Instead I wasted five hours Sunday afternoon writing. I really need to get my priorities straight here.

  5. Shelly

    Ok just finished all 10 episodes in time for the afternoon line up of better tv programming. I can now check off Clark and Michael as well as my ab routine. Hopefully the rest of the day will be as eventful. Maybe I’ll get get outside, now there’s a novel idea.

  6. Tom

    Okay, so a technical problem is responsible for the lack of bloggage. No prob. The Hip Adductors…didn’t they have a hit in 1998?

    I agree, Big K, Genevieve’s name is much more glamorous. Good call on that. With all your Gala Event savvy, I’m wondering why one of your shindigs has not yet been profiled in thesuperficial.com. Seems like a natural to me.

  7. Kevin Alexander

    Shelly- Watch the entire Clark and Michael season in one sitting. It will take 2 hours but upon finishing those two hours, you will have the good kind of stomach cramps from laughing so damn much.

    Oh and everyone: the reason a post is not up today is because we are re-doing the blog sites and so I can’t post anything until tomorrow. I don’t understand the technical explanation behind said business so rather than rage against the machine, I am going to rage against my hip adductors at the gym.

    More tomorrow.

  8. Kevin Alexander

    Genevieve! Congratulations– it must be so nice to get it out… I’m proud of you. You deserve to eat really, really unhealthy for at least 48 hours:)

    Tom- truer words have never been spoken. Plus, Genevieve’s name is much more glamorous, which will no doubt make the Gala event attendance rise.

    Samantha- I’m sorry that they don’t yet carry The Wire or Netflix in Australia…but I’m more sorry that I don’t live in Australia. I spent 6 months there in college and get extremely jealous/irrationally nostalgic every time someone brings it up. I’m due for a return trip in the next two years, I’m just waiting for my credit card points to accumulate:)

  9. Genevieve

    Tom, you should spend a day at the fire department to hear the real storytellers. For my next project I want to gather all of the essays I’ve written about working there and the guys themselves, and make an anthology of them. I don’t know if it would sell, but I think the guys (and girls – I’m going to another station to interview women firefighters because there are none in our department) would like it anyway. Of course, I’d have to do some pretty serious masking of identities and such.

    Oh! Kevin, I finished the book!!!!!!!!!! I’m sending it off to the agent tomorrow. Wish me luck. I’m going to go collapse now.

  10. Tom


    I bow humbly and defer my genius to Google. Were it not for that wondrous search engine, I would be dumb as…something really dumb (Kev is so much better than I at the humorous metaphors).

    That said, Kev, I’m voting that you replace Kim Kardashian’s name with Genevieve’s for next year’s The Wire Gala Event. Kim is probably good for some color and all, but I’ll bet she’s never watched The Wire, and Genevieve has all these way interesting and weird stories about how people have died, and THAT, my friend, makes for good party conversation!

  11. Pat

    Oh and thaks to Tom, I’m glad you all found out what an AlphaSmart is. I’ve never met a writer who didn’t know before. I wrote an article once titled "Her Husband’s Name is Frank but She Sleeps with Alphie."

  12. Pat

    I sure hope they do reruns on Direct TV. All I know about The Wire is that the Ace of Cakes in Baltimore went to a cast party to deliver a cake. Wish I had know about it sooner. Anything to help my writing these days is a God send or in this case a Kevin send.

  13. Anna

    I haven’t had cable in certuries and have only just found out about netflix – can’t do that either. Sounds like something just up my alley. Send me a note with it comes out on disk.

  14. Shelly

    Yet another interesting and entertaining blog post. I don’t know how you do it or maybe I should say have the time to find all the linked material. I just got through watching the first season of Lost and can’t wait for my friend to give us the second season to plow through. So The Wire (which I’m sure you’ll take advantage of the 10% off The Wire gear sale) will have to take a place in line.

    As for Clark and Mikey, they have been booked marked for future watching. I’ll have to limit have much I allow to myself to watch in one day. But since I’m now living in the land of Canucks, I figure I should try to absorb as much Maple leaf culture as I can.

    Can’t wait to read Thursday’s post. Cheers.

  15. Samantha

    I don’t even know what Netflix is!!! How depressing…
    (We don’t have that in Aus)… And i’ve never heard of the Wire but it sounds interesting – if you guys get it there chances are it will appear on our TV in a year or so… I’ll keep an eye out!

  16. Kevin Alexander

    Tom– the hot links are up, man. It just took me awhile to put my game face on, what with all the crying. And you must at least have an old Blockbuster membership…dust that puppy off, and head to the movie store friend. You’ve got some pop culture to absorb!

    And Genevieve– I smell fictional short story derived from the stuff you can’t use. Just be sure and change at least one letter in each person’s name or inverse their first and last names. That way they won’t be able to tell you’re talking about them. That’s straight from the Alexander playbook (i have a playbook). You’re welcome.

  17. Genevieve

    Since one of my friends got me a Netflix membership-subscription thingy for Christmas I will take it as a sign that I must send for the show. I’m always on the lookout for art that moves me to tears. It totally beats PMS crying for no reason, or my dog left me type crying, or I stubbed my little toe type crying. Whenever I watch the movie "Immortal Beloved" I always cry at the end when they intertwine the scenes of Beethoven conducting his 9th symphany and a flashback of him as a boy running through the woods. It’s intense.

    Good luck with your deadline. I’m right there with you. I need to finish the newsletter for the fire department by the 20th, and some of the material is interesting but some of it is so boring. I need to find a way to make it more interesting, but they never let me write about the real juicy stuff that happens there. Like once they went on a call for a guy who was choking on…how can I put this?…an elongated electrical device. I think that’s how they worded it in the official report. And the poor man died. I’ve always felt bad for him, not just because he died but because of the whole embarassment of it. But from an objective stand point there are many elements of the whole experience that would make an interesting article but can I write about it? Noooo! Instead I’m writing about carbon monoxide poinsoning, which is a way less interesting way to die.

  18. Tom

    Hmmm…I’m at a distinct disadvantage here. I’ve never had cable. Well, there was that time when my roommate had it hooked up in the living room, but I quit watching it after an obsessive three days of wasted life. I will not say that everything on television is a waste (I’ve seen some cool stuff on Discovery and the History Channel while in hotels that have this craziness called cable television, plus there’s that uber-fascinating "How They Make It" show or whatever it’s called.), but I just don’t know how I’d get anything done if I ever watched television.

    I admire good writing in any form, including that required for good television and film (because I hate crappy television and film, which is largely why I don’t watch TV), and so I feel I’ve missed out on something by not seeing The Wire. I also don’t have Netflix, so I guess I won’t be renting it, but now I’m really interested in seeing an episode or two. I mean, it’s really THAT good??? I also like the idea of the crime writers being brought in. It sounds promising, and here I’ve heard about it after the last episode aired. I feel like I’m the last person to get running water in my house in my neighborhood or something (which, by the way is NOT overrated. I love my running water. I even have hot AND cold!).

    I may have to check this show out somehow. And, Kev, if you do have a The Wire Gala Event with Kim Kardashian next March, be sure to text me. If Kim can’t make it, text me anyway. If I can make it I’ll bring the cheeseburger pot pies.

    And where’s the Isaak hot link? I love that song, but maybe more for it’s Wild at Heart connection than anything to do with kids from CA and their troubled adolescent years.