James Zborowski
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Complexity and clear-sightedness in The Wire
in Complexity / simplicity
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The Wire (HBO, 2002–8) enjoys a well-deserved critical reputation as an example of complex television. This chapter seeks to supplement and complicate this view, by highlighting and investigating elements of clarity, redundancy and simplicity in the programme’s aesthetic design. First, Erlend Lavik’s suggestion that The Wire exhibits minimal narrative redundancy is challenged, via a close analysis of first-season episode ‘The Buys’. It is argued that The Wire uses narrative redundancy, and that this does not qualify the series’ complexity but in fact enables it. The chapter’s broader argument is that The Wire’s particular aesthetic distinction is to offer a complex representation of its narrative world, and to do so with a style characterised by clarity and straightforwardness. The chapter makes a case for the interrelated aesthetic and ethical virtues of what it terms ‘clear-sightedness’. This mode of representation, however, can be seen to harbour epistemological assumptions that have been subject to critique, and the main example of such critiques that the chapter engages with is that offered by Colin MacCabe in relation to the ‘classic realist text’. The Wire’s end-of-season montages are critically examined as moments where the programme’s delivery of ‘epistemological gratifications’ (Bramall and Pitcher) risks undermining the virtues of its overall way of seeing. However, the chapter concludes by arguing that the programme as a whole successfully avoids succumbing to the overcertainty that is the risk of its clear-sighted mode of presentation.

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Complexity / simplicity

Moments in television


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