on 1 July 2007
Over the last few years the quality of the US dramas have been outstanding. The shortned List -: 24, West wing, Battlestar Galactica Rome, Deadwood and of course The Sopranos.
I borrowed The Wire on the strength of this and it was very hard going at first. It had a gritty and unappealing setting(inner city Baltimore). The Pace was pendantic and there was so much street slang and police jargon, it did not seem to be going anywhere. I had not even read the reviews. I was truly going to return it. But at about the 6th or 7th episode. I began to understand the reason for the earlier seeming directionlesness.They were laying the foundations, indeed there was line I think the character Lester made about building things piece by piece till all the characters fit. I aslso began to realise what the writers had done they had created a whole universe, I simply had to see things in thier context.
Now having watched all 3 Seasons on DVD. I concur with the other viewers is saying that this is truly an extraordinary piece of work, A tale of an American city taken from different perspectives as an allegory for something that is happening in the society at a more profound level. Kudos to the writers for the complexity and depth and to HBO for being so bold (as they have always been). The acting is simply seamless, you could be forgiven for thinking you are watching a documentary. The show scope is breathtaking. It has truly raised the bar on what televison can produce
on 14 October 2008
I watched the first episode of the Wire a few months ago and wasn't sure what to make of it and allowed the box set to gather dust on the shelf. However, while on holiday I started watching 2 or 3 episodes at a time and suddenly it had a rhythm that wasn't there before. This isn't some quick fix TV like Lost or 24, this unfolds like a novel (unsurprising as the show features writing from the likes of Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos) and rewards the viewer who follows the simple instruction on the cover of the box 'Listen Carefully'. I'm now on series 4 and it gets better and better - I envy those who haven't yet discovered this brilliant series - they have such an treat in store for them.
on 24 June 2007
It's no wonder this series hasn't caught a massive audience. It's intelligent, it doesn't depend on cheap theatrics and easy hooks, it asks viewers to think for themselves, it refuses to run clichés and stereotypes, its characters are often amoral or ethically flip-flop just like real people, it doesn't hand over the story in neat little bites, it relies on small beats of emotion to redirect the narrative arcs and it absolutely refuses to make allowances if you miss anything of importance. When you add the methodical attention to detail in police work, the unfiltered slang used by the gangs, the unremitting bad language, the use of drugs and the occasional splashes of genuinely unpleasant violence it really is a winner. Oh yeah, and it takes its time and goes really slowly as well.
If reading the above you think it's a description of TV hell then goodbye. Don't let the door bump your backside on the way out. On the other hand if it rings any bells with you, then you have to watch this. The closest thing I can compare it to is...nothing else. There's never been anything quite like it. I read someone else here use the word genius and I think it is. It's a novel written for TV.
A word of warning, though. I was in episodes 5-7 before I started loving it. Up until then it was appreciation then it all clicked into place and I went back and played the whole thing from the start.
Also the 2nd and 3rd seasons are even better but you need to begin with season 1.
on 30 March 2005
The Wire was made by HBO an american cable network. By being on cable HBO avoids the censorship and popularism that makes much of the american TV that we receive bland (if polished), this has allowed it to create series of the quality of the Sopranos and Deadwood. The Wire has failed to "break out" in the way that those series have and was only shown on FX289, a little watched SKY channel, in the UK. This does The Wire a grave injustice as it is arguably superior to either of the aforementioned shows as it possesses an ensemble cast as strong as either of them with fantastic performances from Idris Elba and Andre Royo among others. However, it is in plot that The Wire surpasses any other show I can recall, most detective shows are episodic containing one or two crimes at the start of the hour that are solved in the last 5 minutes. The Wire breaks this mould following a team of detectives trying to catch Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell two dealers who control the drug trade in East Baltimore over a whole series rather than an episode. This perhaps accounts for The Wire's lack of success on TV as one missed episode means you fail to see the jigsawlike case completed and fully understand what happens. The show is also unusual in that it shifts perspective between the police, criminals and addicts and in doing so becomes more than a CSI style whodunnit, and more a show about institutions and the people within them. In short the most fantastically clever thing on telly.
on 15 August 2005
I include films like the legendary Chinatown and the epic L.A. Confidential in the statement made above. This show captured police work more accurately then any piece of fiction I have ever seen. It deals with one case over the whole series which is the only way to give it justice.The case is against a prominent Gangster in Baltimore called Avon Barksdale who is effectively running half of Baltimore's huge drug business. One man by going to a judge behind his bosses backs begins the case that nobody wants. That man is Mc Nulty, an egotistical, self centered cop who will use anybody to get what he wants and in the world of grey that the Wire creates is probably the character with the most moral standing in the show. Through the thirteen episodes you get to know both sides of the story as we follow the cops and the gangsters and find characters to like and dislike on both sides. You will find yourself more frustrated by the bureaucracy within the Police Department then the actions of the gangsters, this is a detailed, realistic series with some stellar writing and performances. Even if you hate cop shows you will love this.
on 19 August 2005
I've been a fan of The Sopranos since it began, and have been extremely heartened by the news that there will be a new series in 2006 of what I thought was possibly the finest TV show ever. Until now.
The Wire is a multi-layered story of drugs, murder and political corruption in Baltimore. All those gritty elements from that earlier Baltimore classic Homicide:Life on the street are here, but the plot is infinitely more complex. (Former Homicide cast member Clark Johnson has directed episodes 1 and 2, to add to his portfolio which also included The Shield). It explodes with surprises. So many characters turn out to be not what first impressions suggest they are.
It's fascinating to see how a disparate group of characters are brought together to pursue an investigation that everyone in a position of power wants to see fail. But they start working together and as small successes come in, they start to roll. It's difficult to talk around this brilliant series without giving the plot and its myriad twists and turns away (and there are twists right through to the end) and spoiling anyone's enjoyment. Just do yourself a favour and buy it!
One small thing, although there are pretty good opening credits to The Wire, the opening titles to The Sopranos are still the benchmark that remain to be surpassed.
I'm placing my pre-order for Series 2, which reports say (and it's very hard to believe)has improved on perfection.
on 26 April 2007
There isn't enough space to write about how good "The Wire" is, but I'll do my best. This show is unlike anything else I have ever experienced in any medium. People often look down upon tv for being too passive; less of a spectacle than a movie and less rewarding than a book. "The Wire" proves all these assumptions wrong by expolring character, plot and themes on an exhaustive scale never before seen on tv. On a basic level it focuses on one single case, but the success of the show is down to how all the characters affect this case, be they street level dealers or major players. This is mirrored on the law enforcement side as we see all the action from raids on the streets up to the quiet conversations in the chambers of the courthouse.
The facts that have led to a luke warm reception and criticism are the very things that make "The Wire" a truly unique show. There is little action in the first two or three episodes and the number of characters is almost endless. If you expect a conventional heroes and villains plot with cliffhangers at the end of each episode then this won't be for you. If you appreciate moral ambiguity, unresolved storylines and dialogue that sometimes needs subtitles for a native English speaker, then you might enjoy "The Wire". As I mentioned, there is a focus on more than a few characters which gives you the feeling of reading a long novel. The realistic approach to sets and dialogue give an almost voyeuristic feel, it's as if you are standing at the end of an inner city street when the action is going on and you are compelled to watch.
On a purely personal level I have never really been a fan of Cop Shows and I always avoid the Crime section in bookshops. I think the biggest reward for me has been my enhanced understanding of the politics of crime and crimefighting. It's left me feeling pretty negative about law and order and slightly confused about the people who I previously thought of as being baddies. One last word of advice: try to watch the whole thing in an intensive period of time, it makes it easier to follow the plot(s) and get involved in the characters.
The Wire is, at first glance, Yet Another Cop Show, about a group of disparate and conflicted police officers working to bring down criminals who are often not much better than they are. Yawn. However, there are two things that mean that people should take this seriously. Firstly, it's made by HBO who, up to a couple of years ago anyway, seemed physically incapable of making something unless it was absolutely gripping and awesome. Secondly, it's the creation of former police writer and journalist David Simon, whose previous show was the brilliant Homicide: Life on the Street.
The Wire kicks off on the mean streets of Baltimore, Maryland. A murder case against a young black man named D'Angelo Barksdale collapses when one of the witnesses is scared into retracting her testimony. The furious judge learns from homicide detective Jimmy McNulty that D'Angelo is a junior member of a far-reaching criminal gang run by his cousin, the extremely elusive Avon Barksdale. This gang controls all the drug supplies on the west side of the city, and are protected by a labyrinth of legit front organisations. Determined to get some payback, the judge uses his influence to have a special joint homicide-narcotics unit formed to bring down the Barksdale gang, with McNulty assigned and an up-and-coming officer named Lt. Daniels placed in charge.
The investigation into the Barksdale organisation by the unit forms the backbone of the first season of the show, but that's just one side of the story. We also get to see the investigation from the POV of the criminals themselves, most notably D'Angelo as he finds himself free but busted down to supplying the lowest of the estates, as well as the kids who work for him. A dangerous, unpredictable third faction is also in play in the form of the one-man army Omar Little, a criminal whose personal code means he can only steal from other criminals. The police try to form an alliance with Omar to bring down Barksdale, but their erstwhile ally has an unfortunate tendency to blow away the criminals they're trying to get locked up, which makes this a difficult task.
The appeal of The Wire is hard to explain to those who haven't seen it. It's fairly slow-moving (although never dull) in places and arguably takes two or three episodes to really kick in. It's also pretty unforgiving if you miss an episode. Flashbacks to prior episodes are non-existent, and plot points and character and emotional arcs often turn on a single conversation from several episodes earlier. You need to pay attention here. Luckily, that's made easy by the tight writing, the ingenious methods the criminals go to avoid being caught and the even more intelligent methods the police need to use to investigate them, and the acting. It'd be almost impossible to single out any of the actors for praise. British actor Dominic West has the closest thing to a central role as McNulty, and handles the character very well, but Lance Reddick (more recently seen as the enigmatic Abbadon in Lost) holds every scene he's in as the formidable Lt. Daniels. Clarke Peters develops his character of Lester Freamon from almost a background role to that of the most intelligent and confident officer on the team in a natural and impressive manner. John Doman's constantly-infuriated performance as McNulty's commanding officer and eternal nemesis Major Rawls has to be mentioned as well.
On the criminal side of things, British actor Idris Elba (formerly seen as Vaughn in the excellent Ultraviolet) impresses as Stringer Bell, Avon Barksdale's trusted number-two man, and Larry Gilliard Jr. provides the main criminal POV as 'D' Barksdale, as he tries to claw his way back up the organisation amidst growing concerns about how the family does business. For most people - including Barak Obama - the stand-out performances in the show belong to two of the more morally ambiguous characters, namely Michael K. Williams as the dangerously unpredictable Omar and Andre Royo as 'Bubs', a street informant struggling with his own drug addiction. Royo's performance was so convincing that whilst filming he was offered a heroin fix by a passer-by who thought he badly needed it, and later referred to this as his 'street Oscar'.
The cast is uniformally brilliant, the writing is fantastic and the show is, surprisingly, very funny. Whether it's the stories of some mind-bogglingly stupid criminals, or the ridiculous difficulties the team faces at getting a desk into their basement office, or Bubs' methods of identifying suspects for the police observers, the show has a jet-black vein of comedy which gives several laughs per episode. This is necessary because the show can be quite bleak, showing as it does wasted young lives amidst the crumbling tenements of a poor city, and a lot of the characters die in rather unpleasant ways over the course of the investigation. The investigation also ends messily, and the fates of many of the characters is left wide open for the second season.
The Wire: Season 1 (*****) takes a couple of episodes to build up a head of steam and get you into its headspace, but once that's done it never lets go.
on 20 March 2013
The Wire: Complete HBO Season 1-5 [DVD]
The Wire in my mind is without question the finest television series ever made......yes ever!
It doesnt follow the usual American 'Cop' show of good guys trying to catch the bad guys. It tells the story from the point of view of both the Police and the people on the streets of drug filled West Baltimore. Whilst it will do nothing for the Baltimore tourist board it brings to light many issues in modern day American cities - Forget Sex in the City and Desperate Houswives......this is the part of America they dont want you to see.
The acting, writing and staging is truly fantastic. Many of the characters you will come to love and root for - Stringer Bell and Prop Jo being my personal faves.
I didnt watch the Wire when it was first broadcast on British but having heard people talk about it, made sure I watched it from the beginning when BBC 2 showed it about 5 years ago. Since then I have told countless people that they MUST watch the Wire.
Believe the reviews on here - it is THAT good!
on 12 July 2009
When series co-creator David Simon compared his monumental work to Balzac and Dickens, his arrogance was not wholly unjustified; The Wire does not feature any traditional main character with which the masses can connect. Instead, there is the city of Baltimore, a desperate and torn dystopia struggling for its last breath; hanging on to its heart and soul amongst the crime and corruption, occurring on both sides of the law, which constantly threatens to suffocate it.
The Wire is not easy watching. Like all great works of art, it makes no concessions for its audience - just as Dostoevsky, Joyce, and Tolstoy had done before it. The frequent comparisons with literary behemoths are not incidental; The Wire dives into the psychology of its subjects, analysing and yet never judging, instead placing that hefty responsibility of perception on its audience. Rarely has this been done in television; when The Observer's leading film critic, Mark Kermode, dismissed TV as inferior to cinema and literature, in this respect, he was right. And The Wire is the exception to that rule. So don't expect to sit down and have an enjoyable 60 minutes on your first viewing; you'll be panicked and confused, feeling as though you've been left behind by a whirlwind of information. And you'll have to play catch up with the series with every minute, dissecting and contemplating each as it passes by.
This first series examines the conflicts and complexities of the drug trade, with the city's low life taking centre stage. The law enforcement don't act on any higher principles than those they are trying to put behind bars; instead of being motivated by bettering society, the police force is plagued by bureaucracy. Each episode is a slow-paced investigation into real life, and you get the feeling that the puzzle is often much larger than is possible of understanding. The slang is fast paced, and most often, incomprehensible. Any moments of comic relief are cursed with the underscore of constant dread. And the characters are exceptionally un-extraordinary; you have McNulty, the alcoholic cop who backstabs his superiors and friends in favour of what he believes to be the greater good; Daniels, the quiet and stern lieutenant whose righteousness blinds him from where his real responsibilities lie; or the wonderful Bubbles, who is possibly the most heartbreaking character to have ever appeared in a television series. Every scene featuring this pathetic, scheming junkie will have you next to tears with his pure and sincere humanity. Or take the entrepreneurial Stringer Bell, who towers over the drug dealers and the streets top dogs like a silent Machiavellian prince; educated on Adam Smith, hungry on power, and worst of all - controlled and organised. There are no Jack Bauer's trying to save the world in The Wire, just people - real people. Don't think House, Lost or The Sopranos; think Ibsen, Beckett or Pinter.
Every character is flawed; there is no hero and no villain. There is no good or evil. Morality is thin on the ground, and often it has a greater presence on the wrong side of the law. This is realism at its best, at its hardest hitting and at its most inaccessible. This is kitchen-sink television; so don't think you'll be in for an easy ride. But what you put in, you'll more than get out of it. When the history of television is written, The Wire will be at the top.