From David Simon From David Simon, creator and co-writer of HBO’s triple Emmy-winning mini-series The Corner, this unvarnished, highly realistic HBO series follows a single sprawling drug and murder investigation in Baltimore – one that culminates in a complex series of wiretaps and surveillance. Told from the points of view of both the police and their targets, the series captures a universe where easy distinctions between good and evil , and crime and punishment are challenged at every turn.
The Wire is hands down the best TV show I have ever seen, partly because it’s the closest to a novel that you can get on a televisual scale but saying that doesn’t really cover just how much depth the viewer is treated to throughout its five seasons.
Now on my sixth watch through, it’s about time I tried to put down – to some degree – why this TV show is rightly regarded as one of the best shows ever and for me the greatest. It’s hard to know where to begin, especially as I will be avoiding spoilers throughout so I shall begin with the opening scene which is posted at end this part of the overview.
In under three minutes the viewer is sucked into a story about a street murder as well as being introduced to some of the key themes, revolving around the street and ‘the game’. Within 14 seconds it’s already established that young children show little horror or surprise about a death so close, the offhand way it’s dealt with is frightening in its own way and the overall feeling is that business must go on. It’s as powerful an opening as one could want and but a taster of the masterpiece yet to come.
First time viewers need to know that this is a slow burning show that you will need to stick with for a few episodes in order to fully appreciate what it does so stylishly, not to mention working out who everyone is. It demands the viewer’s attention by not giving an easy ride or compromising its artistic integrity, which happens so often in the mostly down format of Television. The plot in itself takes its time and as such culminates into a realisation of just how clever it is when season one ends; the impact is perfectly pitched
The Wire’s way of telling a story was not really suited to TV as it is a medium that demands instant gratification and the complexity of this show doesn’t allow for such simplistic outlooks. Now it is out on DVD and streaming on the internet, watching a handful of episodes at a time is by far the best way to watch it. One can only imagine how challenging it would be to watch an episode a week and try to remember who everybody was and what was going on without the benefit of the all the episodes to hand, hence the initial poor ratings.
That it carried on for another four seasons is an impressive feat, especially as story arcs reach through all five seasons. Some cop shows show elements of realism but have to do so within the structure of the narrative, that defines their outlook so are restricted to what works within that format. The Wire on the other hand is a no holds barred telling of stories on both sides of the legal divide and doesn’t shy away from critiquing the damage that is done through various circumstances and policies and how there is blame and corruption everywhere.
The amazing ensemble cast make you believe, in what they do and who they are, the range of actors spread over the cultural and social divide of rich and poor makes for a complex and rich cross-section of the dysfunctional society. The state of Baltimore from the streets to the political institutions is infested with rot to say the least and the powerful acting challenges social views and transcends other TV shows with its unhurried unfolding of layered, intricate stories that actually matter.
The backdrop to the show is the massive murder rate through drugs; the lack of opportunities, hope and social inequality. It shows the struggle of the police and sheer inevitability of failure for a under financed war on drugs. Crime, poverty, the lack of a plan to combat it all sees a rise in apathy, violence and a descent into a hole too deep to get out of without radical change to Baltimore’s establishment. It’s a representative city that could be anywhere with the problems it has, it’s not about who is right it’s about life and how people handle the callous world they find themselves in.
As you would expect from a realistic show with subject matter like this, it isn’t the happiest but there are elements of humour in it that help break up the bleakness, yet it has the viewer caring for plenty of the characters; making their triumphs and tragedies mean something more because they just feel so natural and authentic. The progression of character and plot are never forced, whereas with traditional cop shows there always seems like an element of crowbarring things in for the sake of a plotline but everything here is so well written and plotted in rich detail that it rarely puts a foot wrong.
As the seasons go on the show builds into something more ambitious than other cop dramas and reaches out into varied facets of Baltimore and the people who have the power, it shows how things interlink and the effect on the citizens. its a unsentimental, cynical and uncompromising depiction in all aspects but it is bang on the nose when it comes to the points it makes and then nails home with the perfect dramatisation. This is a must watch and I have plenty more to say on it, if for some reason you still aren’t convinced.