The comedy quotient of season two was definitely upped with “Undertow.” Humor’s probably more difficult to execute within the realistic framework this series has created, but this episode was really consistent with the chuckles. The outright comedic plot thread was Omar prepping for his testimony against Bird, with his casual attitude toward murder and the thought of him in a yellow suit jacket, but there were a number of humorous touches in the other storylines; we have Herc’s “props” as he performs hand-to-hands with the south-eastern dealers, Carver getting covered in tar as he climbs across rooftops, Stringer brining his college courses back to the street, and the ADA almost being able get the stevedores to admit the pier is next to the water. There have certainly been jokes in this series before now, but I’m hard pressed to recall another episode this funny.
As the show’s comedy has expanded, so too has the scope of its characters. Domestic problems aren’t limited to McNulty anymore, being explored by Daniels and Greggs. We’ve also got paternal relations being explored with Ziggy and Frank, a young couple starting out with Nick and Aimee, and problematic in-laws with Valcheck and Prez. The personal lives of the entire cast are a lot more robust this season and it makes everyone feel better rounded. Coupled with the increased humour this makes the overall tone of the show more light-hearted. This isn’t to say that season two hasn’t (and won’t continue to be) pretty grim at times, but the variety is a welcome change. The light hearted elements don’t detract from the realism, if anything, they enhance them. Life isn’t all doom and gloom and, if The Wire is to claim to be the most real thing on television, it needs to master life’s more pleasant elements.
The humour isn’t just about expanding the backdrop, it also accompanies a hopeful plot turn. Frank’s got plenty of reasons to keep working with the Greek here. His men aren’t offering the police anything they can use and he’s offered first double, and then triple, his usual fee and, as Nick points out, one good day at the port doesn’t really change anything. Of course, that good day does have Frank feeling good and willing to tell the Greeks what they can do with their illegal bullshit. Nick is, of course, right that nothing has really changed and, were it accompanied by the bleakness that used to characterized The Wire, Frank’s choice would seem completely foolish. However, primed by an episode’s worth of laughs, the audience is also inclined to feel hopeful. Why do I think the good times won’t last long for either us or Frank?
Ziggy’s problems have only been exacerbated since getting some money. He seems to be more a skid now than the last time I watched this season.
“Is there anything they won’t steal?”
McNulty’s obsession certainly seems noble this time around, likely because he’s got no one to take down with him.