House vs The Wire. Procedure and Complexity in Contemporary US Serial Television Drama

Sebastian Armbrust

Abstract


Over the last decade, US serial television productions have garnered critical acclaim and academic attention for their complex and innovative narrative structure. Labeled Quality Television and “not TV” (promo slogan of the pay-TV channel HBO) to signal their cultural value over the presumably lowbrow standard television fare, they have preferably been compared to more reputable narrative forms, such as the novel. This paper picks up on Mittell’s suggestion to read The Wire, one of contemporary television’s arguably most complex productions, as a procedural instead. This genre of television is characterized by a highly formulaic structure, resolving a profession-specific problem within each episode. The Wire’s episodes are neither formulaic nor self-contained. This paper compares The Wire to House, a typical, formulaic, contemporary procedural. It explores to what degree The Wire is, nevertheless, structured by comparable principles and how narrative theory can contribute to the analysis of serial plotting.