Some Thoughts on “The Wire: The Musical”

By Peter Honig

 (Every Friday, I will provide a Wire Link, a link to an article, clip, interview, or any other work about or related to The Wire. I will post the link and provide just a few highlights and comments in the form of “Burrell-friendly” dots.)

I am guessing that if you are reading this site, then you are also responsible for one or two of the half-million views of Funny Or Die’s “The Wire: The Musical.” The best way to kill a joke is to try to explain it, so I will spare the video from my analytic gaze. Instead, I will just offer my own favorite parts:

Highlights

  • The fact that this video got a half-million views in under a week. It is great that there are so many people who either love The Wire, or can’t resist a good internet trend.
  • The obvious thrill of seeing so many of the show’s cast members back in their old roles. Just seeing Omar’s duster and Kima’s hat made me nostalgic.
  • The joy of seeing unfamiliar faces playing other characters. Singing McNulty! Fat Stringer Bell!
  • “What the frick did I do?”
  • The burner song was actually pretty poignant. I had it stuck in my head all week. Poor disposable phone!
  • Snoop in a dress!
  • The Barbershop Quartet rendition of “Down in the Hole.” If they ever do make a sixth season, this needs to be the version they use for the opening credits.
  • The discussion this video generated on Davidsimon.com. Simon’s post itself is pretty brief, but it generated a fascinating back and forth between Simon and some of his readers in the comments section. Boy, did he hate that Grantland tournament!

A Brief Comment on Parody
Okay, so maybe I lied about that whole not-analyzing-the-joke thing.

This video has, arguably, a few targets, but I don’t think one of them is The Wire. The role of parody is to highlight the artistic forms that have become cliche and formulaic. So, for example, the instant-classic “Modern Warfare” episode of Community destroys the contrived tropes of action movies (with a few shots fired at Glee for good measure) by placing them into the absurd context of a community college paintball contest.

The problem is that The Wire has always aggressively shunned formula and cliche. So I would argue that the Wire aspects of the parody are actually tribute while the real target is the Broadway musical. In fact, the video uses the incredibly complex and dense nature of The Wire to make fun of the way a 90-minute musical would try to simplify five seasons of a television show (or other complex social issues), by reducing its challenging ideas to catchy over-simplified ballads and flashy dance routines. “There are complex problems inherent in the bureaucratic institutions…” and so on.

But for me, there is one more likely target that hits closer to home: the people who try to examine The Wire‘s ideas. I felt this most acutely with Larry Gillard Jr.’s reprisal of the famous chess scene. I haven’t written my analysis of that scene yet, but if I am being honest, I would guess that, before I saw this video, there was a pretty good chance I was going to say something along the lines, “chess is a metaphor for drug deals” and “chess doesn’t relate to the lives of the hoppers.”

I do believe that there is a difference between a critic or fan discussing the messages of a work, as I do, and the work itself explicitly stating its themes, as the musical does. But that is not really the point. At its core, comedy is a way to point out flaws of our more extreme behavior and bring us back to a balanced place. For me, this video is both hilarious and a healthy reminder of the potential traps that lie in wait for a blog like this: simplification and humorlessness. Or, as Avon tells D’Angelo midway through season one, “Take it light, but take it.”

Let me hear your piece…

 

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One thought on “Some Thoughts on “The Wire: The Musical”

  1. Frankly, it was a little sad to see those great actors relegated to a parody of their Wire roles. They do not deserve to be typecast, let alone parodied.

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