The Genius of The Wire

June 16, 2008

HBO’s excellent TV series The Wire, has finished up its fifth season, which I caught up with recently off the net. What a truly excellent televisual masterpiece it is. Here is a show about big ideas, more than just a drama, its about superstructures spiraling out of control in the broken US of today’s Baltimore. What Scorsese achieved in Casino, and what he has been reaching to achieve again in many works since, The Wire has has fully realized… over its mammoth 50 hour time span.

To potential viewers of The Wire, I advise the following to get its full effect. You must watch it on DVD or off the net in blocks, like a long film. Not in weekly installments, or whatever. You will get its true power and breadth of vision best this way.

The show has many standout performances the best being some of the following; Adre Royo as Bubbles, Dominic West as McNulty, Michael K Williams as Omar, Idris Elba as Stringer Bell, Jamie Hector as Marlo Stanfield, Felicia Pearson as Snoop, Aidan Gillen as Councilman Carcetti, Wendell Pierce as Bunk, Frankie Faison as Burrell, Gbenga Akinnagbe as Chris Partlow, Dom Lombardozzi as Hauk.

Created by David Simon the show is the most honest and realistic portrayal of the utterly ineffectual American war on drugs. More than that it is a daring portrayal of the life, depression and misery of urban African American’s in the US, as they negotiate ‘the game’ or try to stay away from it, and its murderous wake. Many do not succeed…

The Wire reaches for social critique and achieves it brilliantly as the various bureaucracies fail, and fail again, to protect its citizens and even its own members from the jaws of doom. Each season is set against various new superstructures, that come in with each new season, then hang around, deepening the work. The 1st season starts on the dock, the second looks at the street, then politics, then education and finally The Media. These different structures have their own rules and law, especially that of the street, and the brutal reality of its stories, well documented in The Wire.

The issue of surveillance, the wire of the title, is also a sub plot and also references our own voyeuristic viewing of the shows various tragedies. We are wired into its world.

Main character McNulty is a brilliant TV anti hero, drunken morally corrupt, and yet, a dedicated do gooder cop. He is clearly worn down by ‘the system’ the series documents, a fallen hero, and goes through many different story arcs to the beautiful finale. The show is clever with McNulty too, for example, in one season he is a mere beat cop and is hardly in it! Like Sopranos with little to no Tony… very clever. Street Junkie Bubbles is another stand out character, as homeless smack head at the bottom of The Wire’s structural heap. Bubbles story is traumatic, humbling and rather moving, over the five seasons. The three main gangsters of the piece Avon Barksdale, (my favourite) Stringer Bell and Marlo Stanfield all reveal different aspects of the harsh reality of this ‘life’. Bell’s clever real estate hustling, University attending gangster is classic and its a shame he gets bumped off by toe cutter Omar in Season 3. Omar is another fucking classic, he steals from these “hard ass niggers” and gives back to himself. But Omar is a nuanced bad ass a counter foil to McNulty, he has his own moral system and is not afraid to enforce. When his blind best pal is tortured in season 5, you know some serious shit is going to go down. Omar is sort of like black Baltimore Chopper Read. His penultimate moments in season 5 are well done.

Compared to HBO’s other masterpiece The Soprano’s, The Wire really measures up. The Wire gets better with each season, where as The Soprano’s started well and wound down until it just stopped, literally. The Wire builds a incredible televisual spiral mind fuck, that in my opinion could be the best thing HBO has ever done…

Any Wire fans out there? Thoughts?

3 Responses to “The Genius of The Wire”

  1. Greg Maxwell said

    I’m a huge fan of The Wire. One thing to notice is the screenwriting credits. Notables of the noir/crime genre like Dennis LeHane, George Pelecanos and such contribute a more literary sensibility to the stories. I have friends who live in Baltimore, they tell me it’s every bit as decayed and dangerous as the series portrays. The final series tied up the story threads properly, unlike the Sopranos. I’m glad they ended it when they did. Another series of McNulty escalating his screwing with the system without getting caught would have stretched credibility. I place it above the Sopranos in the genre and level with Deadwood for quality of the dramatic achievement.

  2. Yes I think it is excellent and far superior to the Sopranos.

  3. The Wire is my and Peggy’s favorite show.

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