The Wire -Classic TV Show that Set a New Standard in Television
We are living in a Golden Age of television.
While there are still a lot of low quality shows on television, there are also a lot of series that meet and sometimes even surpass the depth and breadth of storytelling that you will find in a good novel.
These series have characters who are complex, can be flawed and above all are incredibly realistic, with characters you really believe you could know.
Recently these quality TV shows have been exemplified by shows like Breaking Bad, Homeland and Game of Thrones, but these shows were far from being the first truly, "novelistic" and realistic TV dramatization. One of the first, and one of the best, was HBO's: The Wire.
The History of the Wire: Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (Novel) and Homicide: Life on the Streets (TV Series)
The driving force behind the HBO series, The Wire was writer/director/producer David Simon. Simon had been a newspaper crime and politics reporter for the Baltimore Sun Times. When I was in high school I remember reading a book he had written, Homicide: a year on the killing streets. Even back then I thought the comedy, drama and reporting he displayed in this true report of his year with the police was remarkable.
: This book is not the "basis" for the wire, but many of the amusing anecdotes, and many of the characters in the story are loosely drawn from the research Simon did for this book. For an entire year, Simon took a leave of absence from his reporting for the Sun Times and followed the cases, and worked with Baltimore homicide. This gave this writer a rare glance at the way a homicide unit really works. Homicide: The Book
Maybe, you remember the early 1990's TV series. It ran for a few years and had a fairly loyal fan base. It was a lot more realistic and gritty than the other cop show that started at the same time, "Law and Order". Homicide: Life on the Street:
The first season of this show specifically, could almost be seen as an early trial run of The Wire, with intricate plotting, flawed heroes and numerous well defined characters. As the series progressed, though, there was an attempt to make it fit the "normal" TV show structure and some of the plotting suffered.
The Wire: Season One:
The first season of The Wire proved that it was a lot more than your run-of-the-mill cop drama. It followed a sometimes flawed group of ultra dedicated police detective who battle both the bureaucracy of the police department as well as a group of drug runners from the worst part of the mean streets of Baltimore.
In addition to the police, a lot of time is also spent on the criminals themselves. Unlike many shows, that show the good guys as all good, and the bad guys as all bad, this gives a complicated view of all the characters. You see the good side of the bad guys as well, and come to like them in a way, even while you loathe their actions.
The first season of The Wire was some great TV. But it would get better yet!
The Wire: Season Two:
The second season of the wire is one of the best in the annals of TV history, although I must say it was the worst season of the 5 seasons of the wire. I hope you get my point; it was great TV still, but for the Wire, it was a bit weak.
The plot basically follows the drugs away from the "corner's" and into the shipping and transportation of drugs into Baltimore. In this chase many of the stories of the older characters are deepened, and we are introduced to some new ones. Most notably the unions, and the beginnings of the political scene in Baltimore.
The Wire: Season Three:
This is my favorite. Likely my favorite season of TV from ANY show EVER. In many ways, while making this show, Simon wasn't sure if he could complete his "vision". It seemed whole making this season, it might be his last. So he pulled out all the stops.
The characters he follows explodes. He digs deep into the politics AND higher level trafficking. Quite a few of the character reach the end of their stories (and their lives). He even has a rogue police commander create an idea (Hampsterdam) that is so crazy and audacious, that it could actually work.
Game of Thrones fans: this is the season where you get to see the guy who plays Littlefinger really begin his career as an idealistic, yet extremely flawed politician.
The Wire: Season Four:
While season three of the wire was my personal favorite; season four may be the most brilliant season of TV ever. Season 1&2 focused on crime. Season 3 added in a lot of politics. Season 4 added in the school system. The politics and crime stories continue, but many major characters are reduced to relatively minor roles as Simon turns his focus to 4 young kids, at a point where they are still filled with hope and promise, but are about to be corrupted by the world around them.
I do not know many series that could take their major, "star" and sideline them to a minor role simply because the story moved away from them. Most series would find a way to work them into the main plotline. But Simon didn't and deserves a lot of credit.
He had a story to tell, and he told it in the best and most honest method possible. The fourth season of the Wire is simply great TV.
The Wire 5th (and final) season:
I hated to see this series end. Simon wraps the series up nicely, where you get to see that though the players change positions, some bad guys are taken down and some move "up" in the world, nothing really changes, only the players who play the parts.
The "added" storyline this season was how the press enters the mix of police, criminals, politics and schools that make up the socioeconomic fabric of a city on the margins. Many of these interesting threads are taken from Simon's own time as a Baltimore reporter.
But that story is a minor addition to the narrative, while Simon brings up a satisfying "end" to many of loose threads he has weaved over 5 seasons.
The only thing I did not like about this season, that keeps it from being the "best" season of the wire is that he takes the main flawed "hero" of the season, detective McNulty down a bit of a darker path than I liked. While this character was always willing to color outside the lines, Simon has him coloring so far out of the lines that I just did not believe his character would go that far from what we have seen of him over the seasons. A small complaint, in an otherwise stellar season of TV
The Corner is another show by David Simon. It follows a "corner" in Baltimore drug trade and focuses on the low level drug trade, featuring both the low level pushers and addicts.
It is a bleak story, but a realistic and good one. Many of the themes and ideas Simon explored here, he would soon expand in the Wire.
If you love the WIRE, you will enjoy this other series too!
Complete series overview of the Wire.