The Wire vs UK TV

There was a hospital drama on BBC One a few nights ago. After having just enjoyed a marathon session with The Wire, I tried to examine why the BBC drama wasn’t as good.

Some exceptions aside first: the BBC drama seemed authentic in its medical speak. It was as well researched as any street corner on Baltimore, but its aims and ambitions aren’t in the same league as The Wire.

The doc drama isn’t setting out to dramatize how a public health system functions in the UK against a political and bureaucratic backdrop. It is not examining the types of people who would willingly put themselves forward for a job that requires exacting skill but in a profession which is also chronically underpaid.

It uses of the arena of the hospital is to easily set up and establish new conflicts week in week out – fast fiction.

With fast fiction, a simple small story about how treating a patient touches a physician’s personal life can be immensely satisfying. But in this case the the chief plot concerned a nurse suspecting that her doctor boyfriend was cheating on her – all because she discovered he was planning a trip to Rome with someone else. She proceeds to confront him. He denies it. Then she finds a rough guide to Rome in the locker of the lady she suspects of having an affair with her boyfriend.

Now, in the next scene, she could have grabbed a machine gun and shot him, but my level of interest wouldn’t have peaked in any way.

So why does this fail as a story where The Wire succeeds?

Why is a scene about corner boys trying to capture a homing pigeon (it happens in series 4 of The Wire) more riveting than the revelation of an affair or breakdown of a relationship?

I think the difference lies in not what happens, but why what happens is important and what it means to the people involved.

In The Wire, we glimpse a shred of hope for the boys and their future by showing that, if they can work together, then they can achieve what they want. We’re also introduced to a character who, initially disowned by the group for smelling and not having enough money for clothes, reveals his knowledge about homing pigeons and wider intellect.

These simple series of scenes are important not because of what happens – catching a pigeon is hardly edge of your seat entertainment – but what the encounters will eventually mean for the characters involved as they go to school and grow up in a city marked by violence.

The BBC doc drama could have made slight changes to the story to make it work. You could have had the woman wanting to break up with her man, and when she finds out about the affair, she has the perfect excuse to end it. She ends it and maybe wins back a bit of pride to help her in her next relationship. Only when she does end it, the man’s pride is hurt and he redoubles his efforts to win her back!

OK. That’s hardly Shakespeare, but at least it’s different, slightly meaningful and could raise a few laughs.

Noble ambitions for us all.

posted by admin at 7:36 pm  

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