Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Addicted to drug(shows)

I’m deeply entrenched in HBO’s The Wire. I’ve just finished the third season which isn’t too bad since I started a few months ago. I’ve been trying to plow through the series as quickly as possible, which isn’t to say I’m not enjoying the story. In actuality, the show is as engrossing and impressive as the accolades would have you believe.

It’s just that I feel as if my free time is scarce as it is. I haven’t even tried to add up how much time five seasons of an hour-long show is consuming out of my life, and it’s probably best not to know.

Also, I learned my lesson with The Sopranos which I watched at a leisurely pace of years in between episodes. Needless to say I was lost as to what was happening several times. “Wait, I thought that chick was whacked last season!” “When did that guy get made??”

Last week, I noticed that one of my roommates had purchased the first season of Weeds and left it in the living room for us roommates to watch. Naturally, I need another television show to occupy my time. After viewing a few episodes, I noticed how jarring it was to go from one drug show, The Wire to another, whose tone and viewpoint was in such contrast. The Wire is all about an unflinching depiction of the misery and corruption within the ecosphere of drugs, where even the good guys are flawed and capable of evil things. Weeds goes about drugs in a much more saccharine and light-hearted way. Addicts are friendly, successful family guys; rival dealers “threaten” each other by dinging cars with pennies; and the drug suppliers offer fresh baked cookies.

I find the contrasts enthralling. I noticed a similar relationship in movies like The Matrix which treat guns in a nonchalant manner. Throughout the movie, bullets are whizzing by, guns are whipped out and discarded, people are blown to bits, and we the viewers watch with giddy amazement. Then, a movie like American Beauty will feature a single gun, fired once, and the gravitas of it deeply affects all of the characters in the story. It’s amazing how people are able to take similar subjects and wield them in drastically different ways.

Back to The Wire, which benefitted from my trip back to my parents’ house for the holidays. I was able to sit through a pile of episodes in those few days. My parents even sat down to see what the buzz was all about. My dad, having missed out on the first 25 episodes was completely lost. Through him, I realized that over the course of the series, the character roster had grown to easily over 20 and plot threads dated back to the very first episode. The Wire is definitely not a show you can just casually watch, which while is more demanding on the viewer, also results in richer payoffs in the story.

My mom’s reaction was much more interesting. She pointed out how everyone is bad, and the whole story is so bleak. Why would people want to watch such a depressing show? Why don’t people like happy stories that make them feel good? I sort of laughed it off, but she has a point. Why are we so much more interested in drama and conflict? Shakespearean tragedies, unrequited love, depictions of war... We can’t get enough.

I’m thinking, who wants to watch happy people in love? Everyone hates seeing people like that. Look at all the shows that got dull and unpopular after their leads got together (also known as the Moonlighting effect, or for us younger people maybe the X-files effect). The only show that seems to be capable of bucking that trend is The Office, and even then, it’s being treated very gingerly and Jim and Pam have been pushed to the background much more than in previous seasons.

Still, I don’t think we’re always just focused on the bad, horrible things. There are plenty of happy, feel-good love stories out there. I consider myself a romantic most of the times. But damned if I don’t enjoy a good story of suffering. The Godfather and it’s epic demise of Michael Corleone’s soul? So great.

For now, I’m trying to end the run of The Wire soon. I’m expecting amazing things. Terrible, awful things. But amazing nonetheless.

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