Let me begin by saying that #45 was the worst episode of The Wire I’ve ever seen.
Now that I have your attention… I’m serious. 45 was over-the-top preachy, with Prez, Sampson and co. reciting talking points instead of real dialogue in the teachers’ lounge. The moment where the one random teacher started talking about No Child Left Behind really made me want to turn off the television. How does a show that’s so good at making its critique through narrative and character and all the trappings of fiction wind up just spouting politics? And let’s not even talk about Herc. He’s not so much an example of what the show is doing wrong; he’s just so unbelievably bad at being a cop that it’s getting hard to watch. There was a moment when he and Carver were the same, but Carver has become good and Herc has just become the biggest, stupidest, oafiest oaf on the force.
But worst of all, on 45, were the kids. You would have thought that Prez’s moment in the classroom of last week never happened for how they were behaving. And not like I expected The Wire to turn into To Sir, With Love and give us an after-school special where now all the kids just love learning and want to go to college, but a little building on his successes would have been nice. It’s so, so frustrating to witness how little they want to learn. I could turn this on Prez and say it’s his fault, but to be fair, it takes a while to become a good teacher. This is one reason why programs like Teach for America are in some way flawed: Unless you’re a real natural, it takes a few years to figure out how to be consistent with kids, how to not give in to them, how to resist the pressure to try something new every other day because you’re looking for an instant solution. And maybe my desire to see the kids turned on to math because of one moment of inspired teaching proves that I’m looking for instant gratification on the show. Maybe it does. But I feel so worn out watching the kids. Don’t they want to learn at all? These are the ones who are still showing up — you would think that they would want to get something out of it. And no, the occasional revelation that Michael does his homework does not satisfy me. Maybe this is realism, maybe I’m just having a hard time accepting The Way It Is. It tires me.
But I have a bigger problem, and it’s that I don’t understand what the show is doing with these kids as voices of social critique. Let me back up a bit: I could listen to String, Avon, Omar, D’Angelo, Bodie challenge the hypocrisy of the police, the state, the education system, all day long. I am endlessly fascinated by the cross-overs between the criminal and the straight worlds. But I do not like being lectured to by a child. When Namond stands up and starts shooting his mouth about how all the adults are hypocrites because they smoke, I just want to give him a spanking and tell him to go play with his pals. And what really frustrates me is that I don’t understand what Simon & co. are doing with those moments: Are these moments for us to realize how naive Namond (and all the kids by extension) are? Are these genuine criticisms of the state? Are these moments an indictment of our previous sympathy for the outlaw elements because they reveal the limits of the game (ie, unlike String, who made decisions and had dignity, Namond is basically gun fodder lying in wait)? What is going on? Normally Colvin cuts Namond down when he starts riding his high horse without a helmet, but the scene just ended, leaving its meaning obscure.
I guess, too, that I’m just getting a little bit sick of watching kids. The Wire has always been a very grown-up show with very grown-up themes. In some way, perhaps, using children as such main players limits the show, even as it extends its reach into the educational system. I want more Omar; I want scenes with De’Londa; I want more Carcetti; I want more Sampson and Prez (at least when they’re not parroting policy memos). I love Dukie, I love Michael (and let me here say that I was obviously wrong when I said that no way had Michael been molested — dude Jumped from Bugs’s dad), I love Randy, I even like kids in real life. I’m just starting to sour on watching them every week — especially when I feel like they’re preaching to me, dropping knowledge that they don’t even have.