My question for Jose focused on the ways the show shades in the characters of those involved in the Barksdale organization over the course of the first season. This was one of the big differences between The Wire and other police procedurals at the time (and largely now) – the criminal element was rarely viewed with such soft eyes, or so sympathetically. Indeed, two of the most sympathetic characters throughout the first season (Wallace and D’Angelo) are reluctant drug dealers questioning what they want to do with their lives and whether they can break free of the game. However, the show also managed to shade in many of the other criminal characters who were happy with their lot in life.
This primarily happened, as best I can tell, through scenes using the violation of audience expectations for the criminal characters for humor. There are two particularly good examples of this phenomenon. First, the scene when D’Angelo assumes Wee-Bey, the Barksdales’ toughest soldier, is going to murder him. D’Angelo is instead instructed in how to take care of Wee-Bey’s precious collection of exotic fish, a hobby that the audience is meant to fins funny (after all, when was the last time you saw a drug dealer and murderer who was this enthusiastic about a fish named Jezebel who “think she cute”).
Second, look at the scene in “Lessons” when McNulty discovers Stringer in his macroeconomics class at the community college. This scene indicates something about Stringer’s character we otherwise wouldn’t have known (that he is interested in running legitimate businesses) by placing us in McNulty’s shoes. McNulty is just as surprised and intrigued as we are to see Stringer calmly answering questions in the class. Then, when Stringer uses the language of his class (elasticity) on his employees at the copy shop who are trying to bring some “corner bullshit” to his real business, the audience gets laughs out of the juxtaposition.
Those scenes are both quite effective, but I wonder whether they’ll lose their power over time. Part of the reason (I at least) find them so good at what they’re trying to do is the low expectations we have for drug dealing characters on television, since most procedurals are from the standpoint of law enforcement. But if The Wire‘s tendency to treat these characters well and render them sympathetic becomes the norm, will these scenes be as funny, or will they just be perceived as doing what will then be necessary, minimal character work?