Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Wire

It took me a while, but I finally finished the entire run of HBO's critically acclaimed series The Wire. When I say it took me a while, I mean that over the course of the past two years or so, I've attempted to watch it at least three times, but always quit or got side-tracked before finishing the first episode. It just never clicked, I never had the time to devote to it, and I just didn't really have the motivation. But just this past November, my sister Tanya told me she bought the first season of the Wire and raved about it, so I decided to give it another try. Long story short, it finally clicked, and I just finished the last episode of the fifth season a little while ago.

A lot of people have called this the best TV show of all time, and while I don't really agree, I do think it's a tip contender. It's certainly the best police procedural show I've ever seen, and it may very well be the most authentic and realistic and dramatic show I've ever seen. But it doesn't have Star Trek in the title, so I can't really call if the best TV show of all time. It is brilliant, however, and also maddening, frustrating, obtuse, and at times truly unsatisfying, but I think that is all intentional, and it adds to its mythic level of intensity and reality.

Season one is a slow burn that introduces the mythology of the show at an insanely leisurely pace. The characters are slowly introduced after weeks worth of episodes, and the entire criminal investigation doesn't even start until about halfway through the entire season. The series is set in the city of Baltimore, and it is told from the view-points of the police officers as well as the drug dealers on the streets. There are no heroes and no villains, although the people on both sides of the law do things that could be considered admirable and monstrous. The first few episodes are incredibly slow paced and at times hard to follow, but once you make it about three episodes in, you'll be hooked.

Season two was nowhere near as good as the first season, and it ranks as the worst of the entire series, in my opinion. The focus switches from drugs in the city to the tribulations of dock workers, stevedores, and union workers in the harbors of Baltimore. Oh, and they also sometimes deal drugs. And kill people. Season two sets up the only real complaint I have about The Wire: the often ridiculous use of coincidence and happenstance to bring branching plot lines together. The murder one character investigates just happens to be connected to the investigation on dock workers somebody else is investigating, which happens to be connected to a feud the major is having with an enemy at the dock. Too much! Throw into that the fact that the dock workers just weren't all that interesting (at least not in comparison to the drug dealers from the first season), and you have a generally weak season. A weak season of The Wire is still better than the best seasons of almost any other show, however, and it's well worth watching for the great character moments from the outstanding ensemble cast.

Season three is a return to form for the series, and it is where The Wire starts to establish itself as one of the best TV shows of all time. We are back to the streets of Baltimore, but the focus opens up and deals with the politics within the police cultures and drug dealers. The entire plotline about "Hamsterdam" is absolutely brilliant and thoughtful and entertaining, even if it's also completely impossible to believe. The writing and direction is so impeccable that it all somehow comes together and makes sense. Great stuff.

Season four focuses on the school systems of Baltimore's inner city, showing how broken the system is and why these kids get sucked into selling drugs, doing drugs, or just being innocent bystanders in the world of drugs. Needless to say, it's the most depressing season of TV you'll ever watch. From a structural, acting, and writing point of view, this is probably the best season of the show, which makes it a front runner for the best season ever shown on TV. It lacked a truly great resolution in the season finale, but that makes sense. It's not as though they were going to end it by having somebody fix the system.

Season five is my personal favorite season, since I think it has the best overall story and the most clearly defined plot. The central theme of this season has to do with the media and how the press and the police and the people at city hall all feed off of each other and get out of touch with what's actually happening in the streets of Baltimore. I guess none of these people watch The Wire. Like season three, the central plot is somewhat unrealistic, but it is so clever and well done that it doesn't matter. Most earlier seasons of The Wire keep you watching because you want to see what happens with the characters, but this one definitely sucks you in because the story is so gripping.

And that's The Wire. Go watch it. Maybe my sister will let you borrow season one.


Justin Garrett Blum said...

Hmm...I never even realized this was a detective show. I've only seen a few minutes of it.

Glen Anthony Checkley said...

Truly unfortunate that the show ran its course. Was truly an enjoyable five seasons.