by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & The Wire & r & & r & (OnDemand, HBO) & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & arly in The Wire's fifth and final season, sometime informant and perpetual junkie Bubbles takes his last best shot at staying clean. During an AA meeting he attends, we hear from a skinny young woman who talks about the hard task of living with her inner addict. "That bitch wants to kill me," she says.
It's an angle on the drug game you rarely get from cop shows, an example of how a show that initially seemed to be about a game of telephonic cat and mouse ended up being the most ambitious social critique of our time, attempting to touch on all aspects of our society touched by drug use. The direct combatants -- the fiends, pushers, kingpins, suppliers, stick-up kids, beat cops, detectives, feds, city councils, mayors -- were intricately drawn and rivetingly portrayed across the board. The side players and cannon fodder -- dockworkers, school kids, teachers -- were often more poignant, hinting about both the hidden reasons so many poor youth resort to pushing and the tragic collateral damage.
It wasn't perfect, and it ended with a bit of a whimper. Season Five was flawed, concerning itself with matters of less importance than previous years. The death of a daily paper is rough, sure, but not nearly as sad as the deaths of addicts and our schools.
That's what The Wire did, though: It found cracks in individual gears and attempted to explain how these lead to fatal systemic flaws. For that, The Wire was always a slow burner. A friend of mine half-observed and half-complained that there are never cliffhangers.
I always admired that. In a show fraught with gunplay, the show's creators could have easily written in big, gripping cinematic statements. With the exception of the series finale, which tended toward the saccharine, creator David Simon and his team -- to their immense credit -- almost never went the cheap route, choosing instead to make their statements moral ones.
I'm not going to pretend I know what real addiction feels like, but four days clean I'm already trying to figure out how I'm going to live without The Wire. My inner addict is in full-on withdrawal. And that bitch is trying to kill me.
All of America is asking: Will this be the week the season gets good? I'm sure my co-critic Ben Kromer will disagree with me here, but damn if the new mysteries aren't half as nail-biting or obsession-inducing as previous seasons. Worse, the flash-forwards -- to the castaways' lives after their rescue -- totally obliterate the "Who lives? Who dies?" question. (ABC, Thursdays, 9 pm)
Watching the handheld shaky-cam hone in on pie charts emblazoned on 200-inch flat screens while wonks talk in grave tones about the severity of Obama's NAFTA flub offers a clinic in how to wring drama from a stone. Judging by last week's Nielsens, people are watching. NBC should be taking notes. (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC; in perpetuity)
Saturday Night Live
The frequently mediocre sketch marathon seems flush with inspiration lately. The presidential race has given writers a chance to show a little political backbone and gets props from the press to the candidates themselves. Plus, there was the hilarious There Will Be Blood meets Food Network parody, "I Drink Your Milkshake." (NBC, Saturdays, 11:30 pm)