The Definition of “Good” TV, Ctd


A reader writes:

I find Todd VanDerWerff's comments severely lacking. "The Sopranos" and "Arrested Development" are hardly the only two good models for television. The elephant in Mr. VanDerWerff's piece is "The Wire". That series followed no frame or conventional TV show structure and is more comparable to a novel than anything seen before. 

Mr. VanDerWerff claims that non-comedic TV is "serialized drama – often on cable – that probes the darkest limits of the human experience and has a bad-boy protagonist". This would be a pathetic description of what "The Wire" depicts in Baltimore. It's drama and certainly probes the darkness, but it has no protagonist. It is not about one person, but many. It reveals the tapestry created by the many threads of life woven together in a community. It also goes far behind the white sensibilities that Mr. VanDerWerff claims permeate all good TV shows these days. It is a cliche to say that the decisions of one life affect others and we have responsibilities to each other, but watching "The Wire" I was struck by the fact that the show moves beyond the cliches and shows us the real faces and lives.

Paula Marantz Cohen, an English professor at Drexel University, describes why she taught an undergraduate course on "The Wire":

Joseph Conrad famously proclaimed his goal as "above all, to make you see." Conrad was aiming to do this, of course, "by the power of the written word." Movies and television may seem too attached to literal seeing to make Conrad’s conceptual "seeing" seem relevant. But a show like The Wire is an exception. It requires you to follow closely a complex plot and the often oblique, slang-ridden, and profanity-soaked language. It means determining where a character is feigning or authentic, where a storyline involves foreshadowing and where it is false or cheesy (very little in The Wire is). In this way the show is a literary work. Indeed, the quality of seeing—how rich and contradictory this is with respect to characters’ motives and the implications of their actions—becomes an index for how good the work is, regardless of the medium.