I haven’t talked about The Wire yet. This was a TV series created by David Simon that aired on HBO for four seasons between 2002 and 2008. It may, in my opinion, be some of the greatest TV ever created.
The high concept of the series is the formation of a Major Crimes Unit in Baltimore to bring down some organized crime within the city. But that falls so short of what the series was about. It is about crime and its causes. It is about policing. It is about poverty. It is about life in an inner city. It also tells a story. Each season is a story arc and the whole four season set is a single big story.
The creator of the series has a far more pessimistic view of life than I. No solutions are presented over the course of the series. In fact, some problems are presented as being pretty much insoluble.
The first season starts by introducing the homicide and narcotics cops who struggle to police crime. It also focuses on a single location that is a drug pit and the kids who sell the product. It shows the drug bosses and even some criminals who prey on the criminals. The season progresses slowly but suspensefully. “The Wire” from the series title – a tap on the phones of the suspects does not even appear until after the half-way point in the season. If you are annoyed at the CSI shows that skip police work to show a montage and have DNA results analyzed in 30 seconds, this provides a much more realistic approach.
A task force is formed and we see the bureaucracy churn. Approvals are sought and funding is approved. A warrant is not a sure thing and requires volumes of reports and justification. When the task force is formed they don’t automatically get the “best-of-the-best” but also get some of the oddballs that didn’t have a good fit elsewhere in the force.
One of the thrills of the series is that even though it has a purpose and needs certain “types” of characters it doesn’t cheat. Every character is fully realized. They all have back stories and motivations, goals, joys and sadnesses. There is a point to the story and the hand is firm on the tiller getting there, but mostly you just watch the characters drift through their lives.
The series is violent (although cops rarely pull their guns and there is never, ever a gun fight) and the language is what you would expect in a gritty HBO series. It is not as in your face as Deadwood or the Sopranos, but it is filled with profanity and obscenity. For these reasons, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. But it is rarely gratuitous. (Although there is one scene with the gratuitous repeated use of the curse MF that feels brilliant to me.)
The second season switches gears and investigates crime along the docks. This may be the weakest season as there is little obvious thematic overlap with the first season. However, during the course of the season you see the roots of the poverty in Baltimore and a glimpse at the type of crminals behind the criminals in season one.
Season three is my favorite and I think the strongest season. It moves back to the inner city and introduces the school system into the mix. The series arc follows a group of young boys. It is awesome and heart warming and heart breaking.
Season four introduces the politicians and the journalists. It completes a fairly holistic view of its subject matter. It also wraps up plot threads introduced way back in season one. But the problems themselves are not resolved.
The writing is the star of the show. However, the acting is top notch. A giant ensemble. It is very well done.
Finally, I should mention that it is often very, very funny. There is no laugh track and much of the humour is dark, but it is funny nonetheless. (There is also some slapstick and goofiness – but it grows from character.) The characters inhabit a dark world, but it is not without its joys, loves and pleasures.
My brother owns the series. I rate it as double-plus good.