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Looking Forward to 2008: Matt Stiles

(Note: I have asked a variety of people to submit an essay to me to be posted during the month of December, to be called “Looking Forward to 2008”. This entry was written by Matt Stiles.)

Next year will bring us a tale about a big port city, a place with aging infrastructure, schools facing challenges and a police department crunching crime statistics.

I should probably mention that there’s a politically ambitious mayor in this story, too.

You think I’m speaking of Houston, right?

Well, not exactly.

In 2008, with all its promise of historic political contests in Texas and across the nation, the thing I’m most looking forward to is a great American television show.

I’m talking about The Wire, HBO’s gritty urban drama set in Baltimore. Most people think the show is about organized crime, specifically the drug trade. It is, and isn’t.

Entering its fifth and final season next month, The Wire really is about public institutions, the places critical to our society — police departments, local political entities, public schools.

In The Wire, an impressively realistic and honest series that has never received the attention it deserves, these institutions get a critical look. And what we see isn’t pretty: police officers paralyzed by bureaucratic brass, politicians making short-sighted decisions — and schools (and the families that send their kids to them) often failing. It seems every institution also lacks the ambition to solve its problems.

This season, the show is tackling what some see as another troubled institution: the newspaper business. The show’s creator, David Simon, is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who has complained that “the media, which is supposed to be the assertive watchdog of the political and social culture, the last hope of reform — they’re not here anymore.”

As heartbreaking as it is entertaining, The Wire would be depressing without the characters, especially wily Officer James “Jimmy” McNulty (Dominic West). He, like others in the show, is flawed. He drinks, carouses and disregards the chain of command. But sometimes Jimmy and the others break through the roadblocks placed by the system. Those moments are magic.

Their triumphs, like ours, are often subtle, fleeting or incomplete. The show isn’t tidy. The Wire is as real as television gets, and it masterfully explores the complexities of the cities we live in (and write about).

That’s why I’m looking forward to 2008.

Matt Stiles is a reporter and blogger for the Houston Chronicle.

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6 Comments

  1. I would have to say the nicest thing Matt Stiles has ever done for me, ever, is to introduce me to The Wire.

  2. I would have to say the nicest thing Matt Stiles has ever done for me, ever, is to introduce me to The Wire.

  3. I would have to say the nicest thing Matt Stiles has ever done for me, ever, is to introduce me to The Wire.

  4. I would have to say the nicest thing Matt Stiles has ever done for me, ever, is to introduce me to The Wire.

  5. I would have to say the nicest thing Matt Stiles has ever done for me, ever, is to introduce me to The Wire.

  6. I would have to say the nicest thing Matt Stiles has ever done for me, ever, is to introduce me to The Wire.