The Wire (HBO) – The alternative take

What do you need to know about it?

The Wire is an in depth HBO police drama show set in Baltimore centred initially around the police’s efforts to reduce the drug trade. It was actually about a different slice of the cultural American pie. Or as show creator David Simon puts it (this quote is on wiki and several other places)

“really about the American city, and about how we live together. It’s about how institutions have an effect on individuals. Whether one is a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge or a lawyer, all are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution they are committed to.”

Each season focusses on a different slice, focused via the eye of the police. In order over the five seasons they are:

  1. how circumstances underlie the illegal drug trade.
  2. the decline of the working class jobs (in this case centred around the Docks).
  3. how city government is set up to fail within the existing system
  4. The schooling system in lower income neighbourhoods
  5. The print news media and decline in the value of journalism.

I should point out right now that this is not a cop show of good guys and bad guys in the traditional sense. It is intentionally “real” so characters are good and bad in shades of grey, and often a victim of their circumstances, the environment they were born to, or grew up in. Almost equal time is given to cops, drug dealers, politicians, dockers, or whomever the story is focussing around.

Wait till you meet cops, Mcnulty (new definition of screwed up cop), Bunk, Lester, Kima, Cedric Daniels, Herc and Carver, Prez, Rawls, then admire how they all develop and change over the five seasons.

Wait till you meet Omar (the gay, clever stick up man), Bubbles, Avon, Stringer Bell, D’Angelo, Bodie, Snoop (female assassin) , or Proposition Joe. Wait until you hear how Clay Davis says the word sh*t, bringing a colour and rhythm that you’ll be dying for him to say it again (it is so good, that in the right contexts it occurs several more times). So many characters, so many stories.

There are clever scenes such as the infamous Mcnulty and Bunk, crime scene examination, using only the word fu*k. It is a whole lot more intelligent than it sounds. It’s good on details, more things go wrong than right. Justice seldom happens. The show is perfect and brilliant.

Where did I first become acquainted?

II wasn’t a convert from the beginning. I think I read reviews in the Guardian newspaper where they were constantly referring to how good it was. Then I bought the first two seasons on dvd. By the time I got through them, I think season three was out as well. I probably watched season four and five over the net as the show was never well serviced with good viewing times, in the UK (although I think the whole thing got a re-airing after the show ended).

The show is just brilliant. For me it is a close call with The Sopranos for the best drama show ever. I also love Justified but that is a completely different show that I love for different reasons. This is nothing like that, but in all likelihood, if you like that, you will like this as well, just in a different way.

What to buy:

All five seasons. It is a continuing story. It’s like five novels on the screen. All are brilliant and will be amongst the best drama you will ever buy or watch.

Anything related to look at:

Look it up on or HBO go. Read the wiki page. Check out the mini series “The Corner” a kind of precursor to the Wire (and also good). Oh just watch the show.

Anything else?

A lot of the cast were either in HBO drama “OZ” or have gone onto plenty of other shows, for example, several members are now in David Simon’s current drama (also very good), “Treme”.

It might be a bit detailed for some tastes, and it takes a few episodes to get going. This is primarily because of the amount of characters, and the detail in the stories. It is not episodic in nature, therefore you cannot pick and choose episodes. It is more like each episode is a chapter in a novel. But it is worth it. It is a genuine contender for the best drama show ever.

Lexicon word of the day: Kurtosis.


5 comments on “The Wire (HBO) – The alternative take

  1. crubin says:

    If I had to choose this or “The Shield” to watch this summer, which one should I go with? I think you said you’ve watched “The Shield” as well. They both look great but only so much time…

    • Elliot says:

      I would go with this. The shield is good (and much more violent), but the wire has an incredible amount of depth. Because of this it takes a few episodes to really get going, but if you stick with it it is very rewarding. I don’t know anyone who started watching this show and then didn’t love it (probably should have mentioned that point in the post).

      • crubin says:

        I’ll keep it in mind for this summer when there’s not as much happening on TV. Thanks for the recommendation. Am always looking for good cop drama.

  2. Will definitely be looking out for this one 😉


  3. rzab says:

    The Wire without doubt had become one of the best shows on tv, and it made its way into the top 5 HBO sex scenes, check it out:

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