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Hugely overrated - not in the same league as 'The Sopranos' or 'Breaking Bad'
on 18 April 2014
**Review of series 1 to 5 box set**
I bought this solely on the basis of the extent to which people seem to regard 'The Wire' as being TV at its very, very best, though I have to say I am somewhat disappointed.
Having watched 'The Sopranos', 'Breaking Bad' and also 'Homeland', I think I can safely say that I don't need my TV drama to be spoon-fed. However, with its complex plot, poorly-elucidated narrative and sometimes difficult-to-decipher dialogue, `The Wire' is certainly no easy ride, and I have found that, unless one is happy to have only a fairly vague idea of what's going on, or perhaps even no idea at all, it's necessary to maintain an unwavering, laser-like attention to detail in order to be in with a chance of staying on top of things. This can make for quite a frustrating and none-too-enjoyable viewing experience, rendering it more akin to revising for an exam, and even with 100% concentration, I'd challenge anybody to fully understand what's going on at all times. There is also quite an array of different characters/names to get to grips with, which certainly doesn't help matters.
In general, `The Wire' is rather dull and slow-moving, and even when something quite dramatic does happen, it seems to be poorly fleshed-out, even downplayed, making the whole thing feel like little more than a short-lived interruption to the plodding narrative.
In some respects, `The Wire' is incredibly gritty and realistic, sometimes brutally so, and for me this is undoubtedly its greatest strength. However, in many ways it also seems to be the very opposite of realistic. For example, in contrast to the highly believable speech of the drug dealers and gangsters, which is all very `street', the dialogue of the cops/law enforcement officials is largely one-dimensional, unconvincing and at times quite cliched. In addition to this, interactions between the various characters generally seem to be governed by the kind of stunted and implausible conversation that appears to be quite common in 'movie land', but which doesn't really occur in real life. I also found some of the cops/law enforcement officials to be so stereotyped that it sometimes felt as if I were watching some dire 1970s cop show, or that perhaps the only thing missing was a box of doughnuts. English actor Dominic West's American accent is none-too convincing, either, and certainly not as good as that of Damian Lewis in 'Homeland' or Martin Freeman in series 1 of 'Fargo'.
Unlike 'The Sopranos' and 'Breaking Bad', whose central protagonists are both fascinating and charismatic, and around whom the plot revolves, the key players in 'The Wire' are explored in much less depth, with the twists and turns of the storyline generally seeming to take precedence over character development. In fact, and with the possible exception of iconic stick-up artist Omar Little, the characters in 'The Wire' seem almost one-dimensional, at least when compared to a depressed, anxiety-prone Mafia boss with serious 'mother issues', or a mild-mannered, terminally ill chemistry teacher who slowly transforms into a murderous drug kingpin.
Apart from the occasional lighter/humorous moment, `The Wire' also seems to take itself very seriously indeed, and the whole thing has a very dour and gloomy, even oppressive, feel to it. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that it's largely set against an unremittingly bleak urban backdrop. However, both `The Sopranos' and `Breaking Bad' manage to incorporate their less-than-glamorous backdrops - organised crime in New Jersey and the New Mexico methamphetamine scene respectively - without such a sombre feel to the proceedings.
In short, I have found `The Wire' to be something of a disappointment, which is a shame, as I think there is a really good TV show buried in there somewhere. Although it will undoubtedly appeal to some more than others, I don't really understand why it seems to attract such enthusiastic adulation, and for my money 'The Wire' is certainly not in the same league as either `The Sopranos' or `Breaking Bad'.