I’ll cheat and say the following:
“Breaking Bad” is the better television show.
“The Wire” is the better work of art.
By that I mean “The Wire” could be translated more easily into other forms of art without losing what makes it great. Imagine an adaptation of “The Wire” as a novel, movie (or series of movies), or a play. With care, these adaptations might themselves be great. But it’s hard for me to imagine a “Breaking Bad” novel that is more than merely good. The show is too rooted in the serialized television format to be easily adapted without severe revision. It is excellently fitted to its format, helping to make it a terrific television show. “The Wire” feels bigger than a television show, as if television is just the medium and filter through which we experience a larger world that extends beyond the edges of our screens.
That said, I do think that people sometimes overlook flaws in “The Wire”. And I’m not talking just about season five (which I didn’t think was significantly worse than season four, although I admit it’s been awhile since I’ve watched either.) For example, consider the almost complete lack of interesting, well-rounded female characters. Yes, some of this is due to the subject matter (few drug gangs will be run by women, and female cops are greatly outnumbered by their male counterparts). Contrast this with a show such as “The Sopranos”, which managed to have a number of superb female characters despite similar crime / police plot elements. There is simply no female character in “The Wire” anywhere near as well-developed as Carmella Soprano or even Dr. Melfi.
Then there’s Brother Mouzone, a cartoon of a character whose best use is to make Omar seem less over-the-top by comparison. When they team up, we get a cinematic John Woo movie scene (complete with doves).
Disclaimer: It is 2am and I am drunk. This may all be gibberish tomorrow.
the wire is a total sausage fest. the 2 most prominent female characters (kima and snoop) are also lesbians. im not sure what that says about anything but it’s sort of interesting. the other 2 major female characters (pearlman and beadie) both sleep with mcnulty. the plot thickens
i said above i consider sopranos and the wire as equals and that is pretty much show but i think sopranos would be a better “work of art” (as BlackKnight defines it) if not just for the time span in which it takes place and the female characters (i struggled to remember female characters from the wire, i can’t stop remembering female characters from the sopranos). it’s really stunning to see how young AJ and Meadow were when the series started to how old they are are seasons end.
Could have been my post, except I only watched the first season before giving up on it. I just don’t see the joy in it; it’s not in my top ten shows, much less vying for #1 against the likes of Deadwood and The Wire.
When I finished watching the Wire a few years ago I concluded it was the best TV series I had ever seen. Breaking Bad is the only show that’s ever made me seriously question that since then.
Now, the truth is the entirety of season 5 of the Wire is simply not to the standard of the rest of the series. It’s bad in comparison, but not outright bad. But the first four seasons are amazing.
I think Breaking Bad tells a more interesting and compelling “story” because Breaking Bad is a story, the Wire isn’t so much a narrative as it is a window into the rhythms and movements in a city, especially in the police and criminal elements of that city (and later the political elements.) So to me it’s hard to directly compare them.
I’ll note almost everyone I know that doesn’t like Breaking Bad has the same complaint that there aren’t any “likable characters.” I don’t consider that a problem, I’m reminded of years ago I got a friend to read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and he said he hated it not because of the writing or the storytelling, but because he had no character he could identify with and like. I guess some people “need” that to enjoy something, but I don’t particularly need it and think sometimes it’s interesting how an author or show creator handles the atypical scenario in which there isn’t a good character to root for. (In Blood Meridian the best character in the book is still a murderer who kills children.)
Wow. I mean, I realize you said you were drunk in your other posts but damn. I’d be interested to hear what your sober brain makes of you needing to point out that Snoop and Kima are lesbians because (last time I checked) that still makes them women. I’m also at a loss to see why it matters who sleeps with McNulty. Care to shed some light?
If positive female characters are what you’re looking for though I’m afraid you’re not going to find any on Breaking Bad, either. Then again you’re not going to find too many male ones for that matter. Still, you seem to want to focus on the female aspect so: Walt’s wife not only cheats on him she hands over almost all the $ he makes (and bled for) to the guy she cheated with to try to fix a problem she was part of creating. Walt’s sister-in-law is a compulsive shoplifter (although when that issue didn’t need to be portrayed anymore it seemed to suddenly just go away) who, until the last season, was written more as a nag to her husband than a partner. Then there’s the different women Jesse has been involved with who are such shining examples of womanhood not to mention Jesse’s mother who is a peach as well.
Don’t get me wrong, like I mentioned before, the guys such too for the most part. Still, my overall impression of Breaking Bad is it is some kind of fantasy for men who don’t see themselves as privileged as James Bond. Weenie doormat Walter White goes from down and out cancer patient teacher struggling to support his family to drug kingpin badass who can figure out how to do anything with his mighty SCIENCE! Talk about your wish fulfillment nerdbait!
That’s kind of the point though, and I don’t see it as nerdy as you’re trying to make it or as negative. Walter White is basically a very arrogant, egotistical guy that hasn’t made a damn of his life then he hits 50 and gets a lung cancer diagnosis and that rage boils over into him doing increasingly risky and unnecessarily evil things basically out of self-glorification.
It’s hard to see how it’s wish fulfilmment nerdbait for the audience though, Vince Gilligan does not portray Walt positively, he is not a good guy nor is he portrayed as happy or satisfied even remotely. He’s portrayed as miserable and unpleasant, and all of his accomplishments in the drug world turn to ash in his mouth after a brief period of elation.
I agree that Walt is fairly despicable and not very accomplished. Sure many people see it and see the same thing. On the other hand there are people who see Walt as the anti-hero and his antics are propped up and celebrated. If you take a peek around not just here but other places where TV is discussed (in real life too IME) he is sort of praised as a fearless badass. Hell, we have at least 1 person on this board who uses his picture as an avatar with some kind of crown on his head.
I’ve been watching Breaking Bad. I recently started watching The Wire from Netflix. I’m on season 3 right now. I think The Wire is better. For me it’s all about the characters. There is not one single character that I really like on Breaking Bad. Jessie come closest. In The Wire, I like most of the main characters, flaws and all.
I think this is a fair bit of self-criticism from Mr. Simon. His female characters in “The Wire” are simply not anywhere near as well-written as his male characters.
Compared directly, “Breaking Bad” is not much better in this regard. The male characters are more numerous and well-written (in general) than the female characters. However, the show is about 90% Walter’s story, 9% Jesse’s story, and 1% Other. In other words it isn’t trying to tell a sweeping, intricate, woven-layered story involving various groups and echelons of power in a city. When you tell the story of a city (and not just one or two particular people) then the relative lack of representation of a group is glaring. If you’re just telling the story of one or two people, then focusing almost exclusively on those two people isn’t a flaw. (Unless they’re boring or lack depth. However, I don’t think that is the case.)
And just to stir the pot a bit: If I had to choose which show to re-watch, I’d pick “Game of Thrones” over “The Wire” or “Breaking Bad”.
I love Blood Meridian, first off :). Best Western ever written.
Of course, I like Breaking Bad, too. Just not enough to watch another season of it.
The handjob-while-Ebaying scene early on (pilot?) exemplifies what I don’t like about the show: it’s not big on subtlety. That scene needed to establish that his marriage was unhappy, so it did so in a manner that made his wife a horribly unsympathetic character. They could’ve handled it with a touch more subtlety, made her sympathetic, and made his sex life look every bit as miserable.
Similar complaints about the flash-bang grenade later in the season that’s powerful enough to blow the windows out of an apartment but leaves human flesh (including eyeballs) intact. Yeah, right.
There were a lot of great moments in the season, but there were also too many eyerolling moments.
if you need light shed, right after i pointed out that kima and snoop were lesbians i said "im not sure what that says about anything but it’s sort of interesting."
like i said, im not sure what it says about anything but it’s worth considering that the 2 main female characters are also “token” (for lack of better word) minorities (yes i know omar is gay). the other 2 major female characters sleep with the series’ main alpha-male character.
i only realized this last night after thinking about female characterization in THE WIRE and found both points interesting and worth mentioning, though like i said “i’m not sure what that says about anything”. if my observations werent interesting to you that is fine. are you just trying to pick a fight? i could ask DS about this directly (NAME DROP! NAME DROP!) but i’m pretty sure he would concur with my “im not sure what that says about anything” assessment.
david simon’s miniseries “The Corner” is also worth watching. from what i remember there is some excellent female characters.
I am starting off by saying that both of the series are my top two favorite TV series of all time. They each are just SO good, even though awards don’t really get thrown their way as often as they should be. Breaking Bad, along with Mad Men, is really leading the way for this new Golden Age of television and I’ve never seen a series with plot points and climaxes as epic as BBs. That said, the Wire holds to the same standard. It is epic in every since of the word. There is no other way to say it, the Wire IS life. It is our rises and falls, our pressures and our failures. Its every police raid success story, backdropped by a narrative of corruption and how NOT successful it actually was. Characters that you have only known intermittantly for a season die and you cry your eyes out. Charcter that you have been with for 5 seasons suddenly die for no reason and you are left without any closure at all. Just like a day on the street. Your best friend you’ve been behind and rooting for all this time is suddenly gone…and thats it. No goodbye, no letter, he’s just gone, never to be seen again.
Simply put, the scope and depth of the Wire puts it above all other television shows that approach it and that is why I voted for it.