The Wire

A program that won the hearts and minds of seemingly less people than it takes to fill an extras list for an episode of CSI: Miami. Does The Wire deserve more credit and popularity? Or is it cooler knowing its great without anyway else agreeing?

Major Crimes Unit. Lizard man second from left

The Barksdale Crew  street dealers. Nothing particularly funny about them, they all look....well kind of normal. Wait maybe a Boyz II Men crack is in there somewhere... I'll have a think.

Carver expresses his surprise upon being told CSI was infintely more popular than The Wire

Just The Facts

  1. The Wire was an American drama series set in Baltimore and ran for five seasons between 2002 and 2008.
  2. It is famed for its realism amongst critics and fans alike as well as its multilayered exploration of all aspects of inner-city drug culture.
  3. Its authenticity stems largely from its two creators, David Simon and Ed Burns.The former an ex Baltimore police reporter while the latter worked as a detective in Baltimore's Homicide unit.

Why Horatio? Why Why Why???

Arguably the greatest crime series of all time. Mainly because policeman are actually allowed to say the word fuck in it. The Wire won every accolade under the sun without actually ever being truly popular. Why? Because of a lack of advertising, a conspiracy from those above or are people really just too stupid to understand such an unashamedly complex plot. Proof seems to point to the latter. After all when David Caruso is spouting off lines such as a dead bus conducter punching his last ticket in front of record high audiences you tend to lose faith in the intelligence of TV viewers, even of humanity altogether. Nethertheless I feel the swaying of public opinion is a task worth taking on in this instance. For such a superbly produced program to merely acquire cult status is a crime in itself, and as Horatio Crane might say; 'TV crime, hmmm the plot thickens.

What am I talking about

First of all I'm not even sure I should be writing about The Wire, being from England and all. Not in a 'what do you know about Baltimore living 3000 miles away in London' kind of way. But the wisdom of our TV schedules always ensures quality, in an any way gritty type of American programming should be shown at the most inconvenient time or not shown at all. An example is OZ, this no holds barred prison drama was shown around 1am ensuring it would only ever be watched by inebriated fellows returning home from a club or insomniacs pleased that it isn't the summer and therefore they don't have to be taunted by the site of Big Brother contestants sleeping soundly on their TV screens. The Sopranos, 11.30 pm on a Monday night. The word graveyard slot was surely invented for that specific time. The same could be said of The Shield which appeared late on a Friday where all the types of people who would love watching The Shield are in the pub drunk and acting how they think Vic Mackey would. But for The Wire, well they did something really special, took it to the next level if you will. They simply didn't show it. I mean at all, with each passing season in America there were merely grumblings of it in the UK. 'Oh yeah, I hear that Wire shows good.' 'Oh yeah I saw a 3 line review of it in Empire, what channels it on?' The conversation unsurprisingly ended not long after. Until one day, a full two years after the final series aired in The US, our favourite public funded broadcaster the BBC decided to give it a run. TWO YEARS after it finished. Brits all over the country would avoid IMDB like the plague in case the next 5 seasons were ruined by Americans, perfectly reasonably I might add, discussing in detail a show that had long since departed. But we got there in the end I'm pleased to say and thank god we did.

The main players

The Wire has too many characters for one person to analyse in an article such as this unless of course he shamefully just picked his favourites and stuck them in. So here they are:

The Law

Jimmy McNulty: A drunken, womanising Irish-American detective. Need I say more? Well yes I suppose i should. McNulty is the unheralded main character of the show. A passionate man with a surprising dedication to his work and a strong disdain for the drug trade he feels has destroyed his city. Despite being drunkenly in the arms of random beauties most evenings by clocking in time he is ready to take on the apparent scurges of Baltimore with a cheery smile and a steely determination.

Cedric Daniels: The head of the Major Crimes Unit, those charged with the task of bringing down the drug game. Daniels has the task of balancing the demands of those above him and placating those below, particularly McNulty who he is often in scrapes with. I've put him in my list of favourites as he has the mannerisms and particularly the walk of a lizard on two legs.

Herc and Carver: These guys don't need a first name. They are the classic 'busting heads' police that we hear so much about. They have some classic confrontations with a street dealer named Bodie, attempting numerous tactics to bring him down including sweet talking his grandmother, the 'good cop, bad cop' routine with hilarious consequences as well as introducing his face to numerous Baltimore sidewalks. Dumb but funny. You laugh at them in the same way you laugh at people who trip over in the street. You feel you're a little too mature for that but deep down, you know you aren't.

Senator Clay Davis: A corrupt State Senator who makes my list simply due to his style of elongating the word shit in a totally unique way. Follow the link to see what I mean.

William 'Bunk' Moreland: McNulty's drinking partner who attempted to cover up a fling by drunkenly burning his clothes in a woman's bathtub before being queried as to how he planned to walk home afterwards. Does seem policework as well.

The Street

The Barksdale Crew: Highly organised group who run Baltimore's drug game in the first season and beyond. Seem to have a handle on all police attempts to nail them despite being constantly jacked by gay stick up man Omar Little.

Ah yes Omar, the shows dark destroyer, almost a comic book character in many ways. Omar is feared on the streets almost unanimously. Upon leaving the house one morning to buy cornflakes, Omar stops to light a cigarette in front of what turned out to be a stash(drug) house. The terrified dealers inside drop their stash at his feet upon seeing him arrive. Likes to whistle before he shoots someone. Nice

For God's sake just watch it

Based on all aspects of the Baltimore drug game on either sides of the obscure line between police and criminals, the Wire shows life from the addicts to the drug lords, from the police busting heads on the corners to the mayor and the police chief fiddling crime numbers in the plush offices of Baltimore's West side. The Wire has so many characters each bringing an added layer to the plot, ingeniously though, it avoids that time honoured balls up of overloading the viewer to the point where he or she ask themselves 'What was that guys name again, and what does he do?' Everyone of these characters will make you laugh and think during their time on your screen. Be it due to their stupidity and naivety, of which there is a lot, or through their ingenuity or cunning, also in abundance. You have the stereotypes of course but aren't stereotypes by definition based on something that was originally realistic, no matter how much its seen as taboo in the real world. You don't hear me cry foul over the main Irishman in the show being a drunk. In fact, I'd probably question its realism if it didn't.

Is this more like it Marshall?

The Wire is simply put the most realistic portrayal of an inner-city America we were always told existed but was only sporadically shown in its true light. Without the Hollywood dramatisation that comes with an 8 Mile, or Boyz n the Hood or to a lesser extent Training Day, well actually to a much lesser extent Training Day. It is what it is, not all crack addicts have a heart of gold, not all street punks are brilliant
Will Hunting-esque geniuses who had the unfortunate luck of being born on the wrong side of the track. Similarly, not all police are good honest folks struggling to work towards saving the city whilst trying to put two sweet, innocent children through high school on a detectives' salary. Some are just not very nice people, bastards pure and simple. Never has the line between the perceived good and evil been less clear. We're all dysfunctional pricks really, just some of us get our salary complete with a pay slip and a tax deduction while others get it in crumpled up piles of ten dollar bills. It's the way it is. We're all gonna spend it on booze, cigarettes and porn/girls so what's the difference? None is The Wire's answer. As Omar brilliantly puts it to the Barksdale Crews defence lawyer one day in court. Upon being called a parasite of the drug game he responded 'Just like you man, you got the briefcase, I got the shotgun.' Everyone here from top to bottom takes advantage of the drug game. Be it the aspiring Mayor who uses it as a tool to bring down the incumbent( who himself uses his power on an obliging kneeling secretary) or the corrupt senator who takes money from the drug kingpins and turns it into building contracts with a tidy little profit for himself. As the line frequently goes throughout the series 'The game is the game.' Indeed it is, and if you want a frame of reference when your peers are talking about the greatest TV Drama of all time I suggest you go out and buy the box set or, whisper, 'download it.' Otherwise get used to constantly feeling unfulfilled as you quote another Horatio gem from your barstool. I could go on but this writing has made me realise I haven't watched it in a while and really need to again. I advise you to watch it, I really do. If you ignore my advice? Well in the words of Senator Clay Davis, shhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitttttttttttttttttt!!!!!