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4.7 out of 5 stars
The Wire: Complete HBO Season 1-5 [DVD]
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292 of 309 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 31 August 2008
On the surface, The Wire is generically a cop drama, focusing on the attempts of a dedicated team of specialists to take down a drug kingpin. If that were simply the case, The Wire would stand as the best cop show ever made. However, it is so much more than that. The Wire is a dissection of a modern North American city, cutting through the socio-economic strata, depicting the lives of kids selling drugs on the corner, the bureaucratic management of police and their target-driven policies, the politicians attempting to balance what should be done against what needs to be done, school kids trying to walk a fine line betwixt education and the temptations of the corner and the drug barons organising their empire.

Even that description omits numerous other characters, plot threads and entanglements. More importantly than the Dickensian scope, The Wire has such a vivid sense of authenticity: much is shot on location in Baltimore, Maryland aka Bodymore, Murderland, that its depiction of life in an urban ghetto, the images of whole blocks of derelict slums, shattered lives, the poor and the desperate seem reminiscent of footage of Baghdad, post-U.S. invasion.

This authenticity might be derived from the fact the programme has two principal creators, David Simon, who worked for many years as a police reporter for The Baltimore Sun newspaper and Ed Burns who is a former homicide detective who worked extended drug surveillance cases. Such is The Wire's authenticity, that one real-life dealer from Baltimore commented in an interview that the only unrealistic thing about The Wire is that no m*f* in it watches The Wire!

The Wire is another phenomenal HBO drama. Previous dramas from that station have included Oz, which had quite a few cast members that ended up joining The Sopranos or The Wire. Oz has an immediate brutality quite distinct from anything else. The Sopranos has a witty overt intelligence that is instantly recognisable. Deadwood has such sophisticated linguistic construction. The Wire shares the complex multi-levelled plotting of these great series but is a more slower-burning affair.

As with the above-mentioned dramas, the ensemble cast of The Wire is outstanding and it could be inappropriate to highlight any one person in particular. Omar, a guy who makes a living robbing drug dealers has garnered some media attention but for me, The Bunk brings some much needed humour to the series.

Never winning many awards, having much commercial success or any high profile media interest, The Wire has nonetheless come to be regarded as quite possibly the finest drama series ever made. That's a big sell but entirely justified. There has never been anything approaching The Wire's depth before. Watch this series and all others seem one dimensional in comparison.
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136 of 145 people found the following review helpful
Another HBO masterstroke. David Simon and Ed Burns creation The Wire is so good it literally spoils other TV for you. You watch CSI and Criminal Minds and it feels like an insult to your intelligence.

Each series takes on a different "theme" or institution; in the first series it examines the workings of the drug trade and the police in Baltimore. "Bodymore Murderland" says the graffiti.

From the very outset this show is palpably different, the characters are complex with good and bad sides. The lines of what is good and isn't are blurred you don't root forthe cops. The casting is inspired and the characters plausible due in no small measure to the fact that they are either Baltimore characters or an amalgam of a number of characters. Bunk and Bubs really existed.

Series two moves into the crumbling docks and deals with the economics and the death of the port in this once great and proud harbour town.

Series three centres upon town hall and the corruption and the importance of demographics in deciding who runs the town.

Series four goes into the public education system - where the parallels between the statistics over real results in the education system and the police resonate with much of what is going on in the UK.

Series five closes this great drama by examining the role of the press and its effects upon perception in the city - where what goes in the front page is not the most important story. The death of honest investigative reporting in favour of sensationalism. The heart breaking series closing montage demonstrates that life goes on. There are no fairytale endings. Life goes on.

The storylines and characters are inventive and brave. This series is made for DVD it's complex and rewards the patient and intelligent. David Simon himself describes it as a visual novel - which is a great analogy, once you get past the scene setting early episodes and you can't put it down. Without the irritation of commercial breaks you can get with the narrative thread and the pace of the story lines. In amongst this seemingly bleak background there are stories of hope and despair but there is a humanity to the whole thing.

60 hours of absolute gold. It says much for how subversive this show is that irt has been continually overlooked by the Emmys. I think David Simon must be proud.
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150 of 160 people found the following review helpful
on 12 September 2008
Having watched all 5 series in a very short space of time (over the past 2 months)this might colour my review slightly, however as of writing I can safely say that there has never been anything better I have seen, and that probably extends to movies as well as previous television series.

In a programme of great, great characters (the list is endless, Omar, Avon, D'Angelo, Bubbles, Daniels, Bunk, Rawls - not exactly likeable but certainly brilliant, and of course Stinger Bell) Jimmy McNulty rises just about to the top - quite simply one of the best and most enjoyable characters you are likely to see.

'Multi-layered' is one of those descriptions that you read and often it doesn't mean that much, but is some critics attempt to sound intelligent, but in this case the definition is spot on. This can be viewed on so many levels and each series brings something different. The story regarding Bubbles in itself is a masterpiece, they could take out all his scenes from across the 5 series and put them into a film, and it would win oscars across the board. To an extent Omar's story runs parallel, and whilst this doesn't pull on the heart strings in quite the same way, it is still exceptional.

My only slight criticism would be the level dips slightly in my opinion in series 2 (although people do disagree with that, so maybe is just how I see it and how I loved the storyline and characters of series 1 and 3) but 3,4 and 5 are exceptional. In a very, very (very) sad way by the end these characters felt like your friends, and it was pretty emotional that last episode montage.

Before it was the Soprano's, which I loved and was fantastic, but ultimately it didn't sustain it too well over the whole period, and don't think it had the depth of the Wire and did focus on one character a lot more, even if Tony Soprano was one hell of a character. I certainly don't remember as feeling as 'involved' in that as with the wire.

Films I have seen since, even very good ones, have felt slightly odd and light - how can a film develop a character over 2 and a half hours in the way this has done over 60 hours. Impossible.

One word of warning, if you're expecting a Prison Break / 24 / Lost type series, you're in the wrong place. This isn't cliffhanger television, or popcorn television in the way those programmes (much as i enjoy the first 2, not seen lost) they are fun and enjoyable, but ultimately there is no real depth to them.

And another - pay this the attention it deserves, you need to sit and watch this properly, not be doing other things whilst its on, it requires, and deserves, your full concentration. You will be rewarded.

One tip - I needed subtitles for a lot of it, it does help.

Enjoy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 March 2014
I watched The Wire on the recommendation of numerous friends who said it was better than Breaking Bad, which I had trouble believing at the time.

Having now watched the entire series from start to finish in 9 days, I have finally concluded that 'The Wire' and 'Breaking Bad' are equally outstanding pieces of television. They are very different from each other, so the biggest surprise after watching The Wire is that the two are compared so frequently, and judged against each other, as if one of them has to win.

For me, The Wire is reminiscent of 'old school' police drama (Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, etc) but taken to an entirely new level of realism. Unlike those, you don't necessarily root for the police as the 'good guys' (and some of the traditional 'good guys' are truly vile characters in The Wire). It's the the intricacies and complexities of the plot that keep you hooked throughout, so much so that it doesn't really matter that the 'key' character focus changes from series to series.

Breaking Bad, by contrast, was more unique in it's concept and it's not easy to find anything to directly compare it with. It's this originality that makes it stand out so much. Compared to The Wire, it's centred around a smaller group of characters, and seeing the evolution of the relationships between them is a big part of the draw that keeps you watching, as you literally have no idea where it's heading next. It's the more 'character-centric' of the two, but still feels more original in concept.

Ultimately, there's no need to pick 'a winner' between the two, as both are outstanding, and groundbreaking in their own way. Both are definitely worth the time investment.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 8 February 2009
There are a few absolutely remarkable series (often coming from HBO) but "The Wire" stands in a category of itself. It is purely and simply a masterpiece of the visual arts, rich in so many ways that structuring a comment requires an effort.

At the beginning is the concept of a serie dealing with police - mob relationships in the style that could be called absolute realism, including the broader context of the American society. Viewing this has more efficiency than reading 100 PhDs on the American urban society (and frankly - pace to PhDs' writers - is a little bit more entertaining). This should be mandatory viewing for each candidate mayor in a big city, to enligthen the difficulty of guaranteeing security and fighting against drugs.

After this comes the script, incredibly sophisticated. Each season goes in a sligthly different direction, and this increases the global power of the serie. In each season, there are ten different intrigues, which sometimes converge according to the logic of individual behaviour and sometimes diverge again. Each character is provided with his/her own pulsions, contradictions, falls. And this is done without losing - ever - the viewer's attention, which is a narrative miracle.

Then come the dialogs. Sharp, raw, sometimes highly cynical. The political sequences are absolutely amazing from this point of view.

Then come the settings, remarkably authentical. One needs to see how the discovery of slum houses is visually subtle (angle, light, colors, objects).

And finally come the actors. The competition in excellence between them is so tough that it is impossible to isolate one of them. One thinks about some characters long after having turned the television off. The power of the young actors is especially mesmerizing. They never overact, which must be difficult at their age and with such characters.

In conclusion, the more one sees this serie, the more one gets the impression that it will appear in the future decades as an essential stage in the history of television. Its creators can rightly feel proud.
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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2008
The thing that worries me when I see a load of 5 star reviews is "has this just been written by a bunch of undemanding fan boys?". I have certainly come across this in other areas of Amazon.

However there's no getting away from the fact that after 2 or 3 episodes of the Wire you realise you are watching something special. This is the Band of Brothers of urban crime shows. I will do my best to try and summarise why these series are so special into 3 main themes.

Firstly each series covers just one case. Unlike something like CSI things aren't neatly wrapped up in 1 hour. It shows the methodical nature of police work with police officers hardly ever touching a weapon...you know like real life. The series are happy to take their time, characters slowly develop sometimes over many series much like a great novel. This makes you care about the story, and you start to really care about the characters.

It also means the characters are rounded. Detective McNulty is the closest the series comes to a lead and the idea of a hard drinking cop isn't new, but it's the layers to him that count. At times he's the most reliable cop on the case at others acting like a self destructive animal because he's human and very, very drunk. But the story doesn't just dwell on the cops, the drug dealers have full blown characters too and you start to care for some of them like Michael in series 4 and 5 or of course the economics lecture attending Stringer Bell who wants to make the drug business more like a business using real economic models- now that is genius!

Indeed as the series continue they don't bin characters they add more so each series has a theme, the first is about the cops and the drug dealers, the second has all that plus the economic decline of a once great port city and how this effects the dockers, the third adds politics with the race to become mayor and how that makes police jobs harder, the fourth shows the decline of the inner city schools and the fifth adds the media into this heady brew.

Secondly the series are uncompromising, good people do bad things, bad people some times do the right things and there are no quick fixes to anything. Some episodes leave you shocked when a random act of violence can change a whole character's story. The Wire is certainly thought provoking.

Finally there's the change of tone. In the hands of the lesser writer this would all be unwatchably down beat, but the makers know this and so add light and shade to the whole thing. Characters laugh and silly things happen (I love one scene where the police trick one low level street dealer into thinking a photocopier is a lie detector machine) and at times when people do get a bit of luck or do the right thing, because they've been through hell it makes the happy moment even sweeter.

So if you've never seen them you really are missing out and if you have seen them then it's time to watch them again.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 7 February 2009
Simply stunning. The best drama I've seen ever. The authentic dialogue, the intricate plot, the characters, the acting - everything is superb. It is totally convincing in its portrayal of the complex inter-relationship (and similarities) between drug slingers, cops, politicians and the media.
It will stand many many viewings as it is easy to miss so much the first time round. Absolutely addictive, the trouble is going back to watch other TV - even the best TV now seems predictable, stale and cliche'd in comparison.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 July 2011
The reference in the title of my review is a quotation from the show's co-creator, David Simon. The entire show picks apart the various aspects of life in the city: the drug dealers, the workers at the port, the politics in the background, the education system, the local media, all wrapped up in principle storytelling of the police trying to construct wire-tapping cases against the high level drug pushers. I think that's about the best I can do for a one sentence synopsis, and it barely does the show merit.

Having read some other reviews online, here are some of the things you should bear in mind before you enter the world of The Wire:

(1) Be prepared to accept the swearing in the show. It's there, it's ubiquitous and it reflects life in Baltimore. I personally can't understand people who take offence to it; they're just words. Anyway, it's there and if you can't stomach the f-word then you'll probably never get through the show.

(2) Also be prepared to learn the local lingo. At first, it's confusing. I always assumed it was meant to be - you're dipping into their world and you feel like an outsider looking in because the language in particular is some cousin of English. However, it doesn't take long to learn that "re-up" means more drugs are on their way, etc. And in the short term, there are always subtitles to ease your way into it.

(3) You really do need to watch at least (and I mean, as a bare minimum) the first six episodes of season 1 before beginning to decide whether you like it or not. There's a lot of foundation laying and that's just the way it is.

Finally, and this is the biggest compliment I can give the show (and propels it to 5-star level, rather than 4-star like most good tv shows) is that it is the most re-watchable series I've ever come across. I found watching it again for the second time more enjoyable than the first - all the little pieces of the puzzle that passed me by the first time made complete sense the second time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 September 2010
The Wire has garnered more appreciation than any other television series, including an amazing 9.7 stars at IMDB. But how much of that is hype?

Its predecessor Homicide, the life and times of the Baltimore homicide division (broadcasted 1993-98), was based on a book of David Simon, the creator and co-writer of The Wire, and was awarded 9 stars at IMDB. Does that mean that it's almost as good as The Wire? No, it doesn't, so IDBM's star system is fallible.

Homicide is a decent series in itself; one could say that it's Baltimore's own Law & Order version (there were even cross-overs with that series), and some of the storylines and characters (like Frank Pembleton, Meldrick Lewis, Al Giordello, Tim Bayliss) are absolute great. But in the end it remained a "crime-of-the-week" series, solid but not particular outstanding, and its overrated stars must be seen more as a hommage to The Wire than that it has earned them on its own merites.

The Wire on the other hand, couldn't be more different. It's also situated in Baltimore, David Simon's hometown, but there the simillarities stop. This is storytelling the like of which has seldom entered the small screen. In a mere 60 episodes (compared with the 122 of Homicide) this series show the crumbling decay of urban life from all perspectives - the police, the drug scene, the politics, the corruption, the media, even the school system. It is, literally, breathtaking in its scope. Part of its stunning success is the stellar performance of an amazing cast of almost unknown actors. Part of it is the cinematographic quality of the shows, almost all shot at locations in Baltimore. But most of it is the storytelling.

No "crime of the week" or "body of the week" here. This is in effect a 60-episode movie. There is no "Previous in...", there is only a story that rolls on and on, asking the utmost concentration of its audience. You just can't hook into it at any given episode, you really need to start watching from the beginning. That's why it's probably better on DVD than TV. And HBO must be admired for sticking up to his guns!

But here you have it, an epic tale in which these writers, directors and actors brought alive the lives of the corner boys, the dealers, the detectives from the squad who try to bring down some of Baltimore's drug czars via wiretapping (hence the title), the top of City Hall, from the Mayor down to the police brass trying to obfusciate the crime rate figures, the city councillors, congressmen, senators, governors, school teachers, the harbour union, journalists, the life and times of people, not just standard characters.
It seems impossible to touch so many subjects in just 60 hours, but almost each character has been drawn in sharp lines with a depth that is almost Dickensian in ints intensity. It starts like a cop & robbers show, but it ends as an immense tapestry of people and events that leaves an audience by times gasping for breath. Where have we seen portraits of users and dealers and corrupt police and politicians in such a brutal and yet compassionate way? Many of them are deeply flawed but this series show that they are indeed people, and that is maybe the series' greatest strength.

US television series on the whole are not particularly well endowed with storytelling qualities - the reason why West Wing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Farscape or Carnivàle jump out immediately. But The Wire tops them all. Shakespeare, Dickens and Simons rolled in one.

There is one drawback; as one reviewer moaned, "Watching this show has ruined a lot of other television shows and movies for me." Well, if that's the price one has to pay, it's a bargain!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2011
Beware. If you get this complete set you are going to be abducted; seduced by the magnificence of what is in my opinion the best mini-series about cops and crime I have seen yet. I had never before seen an episode but bought it on impulse, put the first disc in the slot and was immediately arrested, watching the blasted thing until four am almost every night until it was finished, then thought 'What the hell' and watched it all over again, back to back. This is OK for me. I'm retired, but it could prove awkward if you have to do anything stupid like get up for work the next day. How long is it? 60 hours? I'll have to watch it again to time it, while resisting the temptation to continually rewind to review one of the thousands of 'great bits.' A truly remarkable piece of work. It is now causing grief within my family due to my son doing exactly the same thing. It's the only upside of him having to sit at home, frustrated due his being on sick-leave. And on a patriotic note, I'm intrigued by the number of Limies taking the best parts, as in 'Band of Brothers' (A close runner-up for Best Mini-Series of All Time.) Dominic West actually drew rave reviews (allegedly) for his Baltimore accent - from Baltimore cops. Not bad for an Old Etonian.

Buy 'The Wire' at your peril.
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