The Wire, The Greatest TV Show of All Time.

I’ve just finished running through The Wire for the second time and although I doubt I can do it justice, I would like to speak on it for a little bit.

I don’t think I would call this a review, more a list of platitudes and superlatives, but The Wire defies review and it defies categorisation. It does this because it’s not simply entertainment but it is life. The montage at the end of the final episode, without spoiling it, shows many of the younger characters stepping into the shoes of older characters, because like life, The Wire is not only cyclical but sempiternal.

It’s greatness lies in it’s deft ability to either bend and break the rules or to bury what would usually be genericisms with simplicity that never panders. As each one of those younger characters, be it Sergeants becoming Lieutenants or hoppers, in the shows parlance, coming of age, stepping into those bigger shoes, they all defy becoming archetypal – there are no archetypes here. Despite what we’re told about sticking to the “7 stories” or fulfilling those ancient character roles, The Wire’s greatness comes from sidestepping all of that for real, honest, three dimensional characters.

Baltimore is a city with over 600,000 inhabitants and David Simon fills it to the brim with wholly believable characters. His years as an investigative journalist may give him the edge but my home city of Bath had roughly 80,000 inhabitants and I will never be able to weave a narrative like he has around this place. I will never know it as closely as he knows Baltimore. Contrary to what the average cape-wearer might tell you, it’s not Lord of the Rings that contains moving images greatest, most expansive lore, nor is it Star Wars. It’s still The Wire, and as I’ve previously mentioned, it does it all without being mythic or reductionary.

It has slang by the bucket load, it has a dense, unique geography that prior to my viewing of this show was completely alien to me, now I feel like I could navigate those roads, find those landmarks. It manages simultaneously to be both scathingly intricate and erudite in it’s indictments of certain social and economic entities and yet wistful and nostalgic for a great city now long gone or even yet to peak.

It’s tireless deconstruction of everything that serves to stunt the city from reaching it’s potential is another asset that lends to it’s paramount superiority. It’s singularly unique in the fact that it is as critical as it is and that it never buries it in metaphor or overly artful parable. Everything is lead out in front of you, plain as day. Season 1 shows you how Police inefficiency lies, constantly charging up the chain of command until by Season 5 you’re shown that it hits the Governor and presumably higher. Everyone treats each other as a scapegoat for the multitude of problems that plague that unit. Drugs is the central problem in the town and it’s more closely tied to the Police force than you could have ever imagined.

By Season 2 Simon spreads his sites to the Port Authority, constantly tying everything to everything else – nothing before or since has matched the tightness of The Wire’s narrative structuring. Season 3 offers a very obvious, applicable solution for the entire drug problem and then introduces a host of political characters, showing you how they’d lobby against it. Season 4 see’s the school system pulled limb from limb whilst it show’s you how it can all be fixed while Season 5 targets and laments the dissolution of printed media without even veiling the fact that it’s the very same paper Simon worked at for 12 years.

It’s this closeness to the story and the characters themselves that Simon shares that puts another nail in the coffin of any other show trying to reach for that Greatest Of All Time status, such is it’s palpability. One of the many main protagonists, arguably the “main” character if there is one, is homicide detective Jimmy McNulty. Played with charm, humour, utter liveability, and utter believability (as is every other character here) by Brit Dominic West, McNulty is the first fictional bastion for Simon’s opinions.

McNulty has absolutely no regard for the “chain of command” and no concept of self preservation. He has his opinions and he knows he is right and he will fly in the face of everything that gets in his way, all in the search of truth, of real police work. No matter how many times his higher ups try to shut him down, he changes and adapts and carries on, not just like Simon himself but like the criminals he hunts on a daily basis.

Rather than an a deep analysis on the unparalleled genius of this show and it’s untouchable stature, this was really just an excuse to gush and proselytise. So let me leave you with these few reasons you should watch a few reasons why it is the greatest piece of movie image entertainment ever captured. Remember to be patient, everything in this show pays off, no stone is left unturned and no story is never left unresolved, it may just take 5 seasons for you to get that resolution. It will however, pleasantly surprise with how sensitively it’s all treated and how natural every facet of this amazing dismantling of the American Dream truly is.

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11 thoughts

    • Breaking Bad has the entertainment value but the social message that The Wire promotes so strongly and the gravitas it holds as a result just pushes it ahead for me.

      Plus I felt a little underwhelmed by BB’s finale.

      • I was a bit underwhelmed by the finale, too. Which is why the series are now close. I’d probably list BB as #1 and The Wire as 1a.

        Because, while I was underwhelmed by BB’s finale, I was equally underwhelmed by The Wire’s final season, at least until the finale. It’s not that either is bad, of course, just that they aren’t quite as quite as great as the rest of series caused me to expect.

        Though you are right. The Wire’s thematic application is more powerful than BB’s. Maybe that’s enough to make it better. I don’t know.

        Doesn’t really matter. Both shows are dynamically awesome. 🙂

      • I found with The Wire that every new storyline was slow to get going but by the last episode I never wanted it to end. Given David Simon’s journalistic past,I thought that season 5’s story arc was the most thinly veiled and thematically muddled, could never tell if he loved or hated his time at The Sun. Either way both are brilliant and I’m glad we have them both. House of Cards also has the potential to become something really great so I recommend that if you’ve not seen it.

      • I have seen it, actually. Earlier this year, I got sick, really sick, to the extent I lost 7 pounds over 5 days of not eating and barely sleeping. I was so sick that I watched way too much television. House of Cards was one such show.

        I liked it enough that I binged watched it over 15 hours, starting at midnight and ending by 2:00 PM the next day. (Remember, I was so sick I couldn’t sleep.) 🙂

        Anyway, I agree. House of Cards could be quite special. We’ll see where it goes.

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