About a year ago now, I started The Wire, a show that’s often hailed as one of the best shows in modern television. It took me about 9 months to watch the entire 5 seasons. 9 months might seem like a long time in this day of binge watching, but given that the creators took 5 years to tell their story, it’s not that long. It also took me longer because I watched some other shows along the way. One of which was this show about a school teacher diagnosed with cancer, who then turns into a meth cook. It’s called Breaking Bad and you’ve probably heard of it. Another show that distracted me from The Wire for a little while is the 1960s science fiction show The Prisoner, which is one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen.
But anyway, back to The Wire.
Season 1 and 2 focus mainly on the drug world and how a case is built against drug crime. We see the formation of the major crimes unit, and we’re introduced to a lot of the characters we’ll be following over the next 5 seasons, as they build their case against the Barksadle family. The lead is Dominic West as the loveable wild boy McNulty. He’s probably the closest The Wire has to a lead character, but in some seasons we don’t see much of him.
Season 3 goes into the political side of things, as politicians use the war on drugs in their election campaign. Game of Thrones fans will appreciate Aiden Gillan as Thomas Carcetti, who is less shady then his Westerosi counterpart, but still manages to be an interesting character. He does seem to genuinely make a difference, but his faced with many problems when he is eventually elected into office.
The 4th season is my favourite, and possibly my favourite season of television. We follow 4 kids from the streets as they go through high school and have to face the challenges of staying within education or getting drawn into the world of the street. What I liked about this season so much is the arc each of the 4 main kids have. They don’t end up where you expect them to when the season first starts.
Having shown us the world of crime through the police, the street, the politicians and the kids, the final season of the The Wire shows it to us through journalism. The creator of The Wire David Simon worked in journalism before moving into TV, so this allowed him to bring some of his experiences to the show.
Even though The Wire is a heavily serialised show, and there is a strong thread running throughout it, with each season having it’s own focus on something, it makes it just that little bit different. It helps build season after season on the world of Baltimore the show runners having created and are portraying.
Often when something is highly lauded as ‘great’ and ‘amazing’, I do have the attitude of ‘yeah, really?’. I did the same with Breaking Bad (which, for the recorded, I really liked) and it was always in the back of my mind when watching The Wire.
But it is brilliant, in both it’s simplicity in character and it’s complexity in story. The Wire isn’t full of the flashy ‘science’ montages you get in crime shows like CSI, it has police doing POLICE WORK. Which may sound boring, and audience members who like the stylised stuff like CSI will find boring. But what kept me griped and watching were the characters and the story.
Basically being a cops and robbers show, we see life on the streets of Baltimore through the eyes of the gangsters and the police. The police aren’t the highly sophisticated cops you get in movies, and the gangsters aren’t all criminal masterminds (though there are a few cleverly placed and executed in the show), they’re played more as just regular people. I think the term ‘realism’ is a little over used in fiction lately, were audiences have been trained to expect everything to be real and believable, so I don’t use it here likely, but the The Wire does have the sense of realism and it’s what makes it so good.
It’s the realism that makes you go ‘oh shit!’ when a character from either side of the war is shot. Gun fights aren’t something done a lot in The Wire, which may seem like an odd thing to say about a cop show, but because you get to know the characters and grow to love them, when they do happen it really hits you hard. There’s a cop shot in season 1 when on an undercover operation, it’s really the first time we see the effect of violence in the show, and it’s really harrowing.
It also took me as long as it did to watch because I don’t think it’s a show you can binge on really quickly. There’s that much going on in each episode, and that many things moving, that you need time to process them. I did watch the last 4 episodes back to back, but with the rest it was the case of 1, maybe 2, episodes a night.
And you do need to give it attention. Like most serialised shows, you do need to invest your time into it to get something from it. But it’s worth it, because it’s all connected. Every detail matters. And it is one of the best shows you will watch.
Breaking Bad is pretty good too.