The Wire

The Wire

Howdy, people! Today, let’s talk about one of my favorite live action shows, The Wire! Because guess what, it’s really, really great!

The city of Baltimore has seen better days: Drug-related crime is as high as ever despite all efforts against it out there. And where there is crime, police is not far away. Soon, a special task force is assembled: The low dregs of the police force and some competent ones here and there are out to fight. Our main character, Jimmy McNulty, disillusioned with the reality of his job and some grand ideas of his own on how to do better, is among them. Some of these officers will grow throughout the journey, others will not. And as it turns out, there are no clear definitions of black and white in the war on drugs and as the superiors want numbers that yield pretty politics for show, drug crime is fought but not eradicated, symptoms are temporarily halted but the cause remains ignored. Long story short, there is not much budget to be had and there isn’t much good police either. Which makes one beg the question: What even is good police and how can we change Baltimore for the better? Our protagonist McNulty wants to find out.

First of all, let me state that this is essentially a repost from my old blog, edited to some degrees. Entire text passages have been added, others slightly modified, some were left untouched. I have never really cared for my old blog enough to warrant doing this but I also figured I would not let people sleep on The Wire. Because there is no way I would.

Anyway, as you should have noticed by now, this is not a normal cop show and once episode 01 draws its curtains, that much is clear. And by the end of the show, it won’t take you by surprise it was taught in crime psychology courses at university and that ex-President Obama had an interview with main writer David Simon because The Wire just so happens to be his favorite TV show. And it also happens to be mine!

There are many reasons as to why the writing in The Wire is utterly superb. The characters would be iconic if The Wire was any more popular and the character development is stellar. You have characters who are in the police for their own motives, some of them unfit to do their job yet there are those among them that grow, not only as police men but also human beings. Because for good police, the job doesn’t end as soon as the shift does.

And the villain gallery, if we can call them that, is just as good of a line-up. You have Avon Barksdale, the rising drug lord of Baltimore. You have D’Angelo, Avon’s nephew, starting to doubt and resent the life he has grown up and been partaking in, finding himself at a crossroad. You have Stringer Bell, Avon’s right hand man, set on making something out of himself, intending to revolutionize the drug trade in the city of Baltimore by seeing it as a business man would rather than a small-scale criminal. Drugs are opportunities, man. If all success in life is bent on strategically screwing over the weak, why shouldn’t he be strategic about it? Oh, and of course, there is Omar, the gangster who rubs drug dealers specifically. After all, it’s all in the game as he likes to say.

What’s also in the game are the various people of Baltimore, whether they want to or not. And there are parallels to be drawn between the workers at the docks, the drug-infested streets, the teachers and journalists of Baltimore as well as its politicians and police force and how they all come to interact with each other in a rigged system. The Wire makes a very real point in saying that even if the faces change, the game remains the same. After all. life’s zero sum games are caused by none other than people themselves. Systematic failure is the fault of the ones protecting and upholding the system. And The Wire goes kneedeep into analyzing the system and where its troubles stem from all while never losing its humanity in cynicism.

It’s a show so great when it comes to disillusioning you and showing you how institutional failure works, it affects others and where those reasons for failure come from. The Wire, in all its multi-faceted glory, gives you an in-depth look at how the gears of Baltimore operate and why they creak so much.

The Wire takes a good look at the state of the sreets and doesn’t just end at the crime scene itself. Where does drug culture stem from and how, for instance, does it affect the life of school children? When you’re raised by drug dealers and get told to live as one, how do you deal with the parallel society that is school and what do you end up becoming?

The Wire is a crime show all about the war on drugs and how neither side could possibly win – it’s a war only fueling itself. Or, to quote a character from the show: “You can’t call that a war. Wars end.”

What makes The Wire outstanding is first and foremost how the tale is told from several perspectives as not only do we get a good look at the police’s side of things but also at the drug dealing business, its people and what it does to them.

This matters because The Wire is firmly set in reality. Not any reality but the reality of Baltimore. It tells a fictional story about things that are very real. To begin with, that is what The Wire – originally overlooked, now a cult classic of sorts – is mostly hailed for as it is deemed as incredibly realistic and authentic, even from people within their specific fields and for good reason. This comes across as little of a surprise however as none of the main writers are the usual breed of tried and tested scriptwriters but wrote based on their own experiences, having gone through former working conditions and circumstances that they kept portraying in their show. The holistic picture painted of Baltimore is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

A crime reporter writing a show about crime in a city he has extensively covered gets you just that. And an ex-teacher writing about the educational failures gets you even more of that. Conclusively, The Wire doesn’t just feel real – it simply is real.

And it’s this degree of authenticity that is taken to ridiculous lengths: Several times even, they hired ex-criminals they were acquainted with from back in the days. Meanwhile, the show is so authentic with its Baltimore dialect and keen on refusing to dumb it down that most native speakers struggle with accustically comprehending what’s being said. One actor even explicitly stated in an interview that it was his first time to work with a script that included a glossary. That just goes to show why this is a series that went under the radar for the longest time. There are no compromises made for the lowest common denominator. And that is all the more reason for me to write about it.

With all that said, what you’re getting is the real deal. And it’s excellently written. And as The Wire progresses from season to season, it also becomes very obvious that the show clearly isn’t lacking in terms of variety. The original team disperses, reassembles in parts, characters go their own ways, different subplots ensue, we move on from Baltimore’s projects to the docks only to to return, there’s a brief glimpse at the business world in season 3, elections become a major focus, season 4 drastically shifts towards Baltimore’s school system and education becomes a matter whereas large parts of season 5 focus on journalism, its ethics & obligations and how print media is dealing with declining sales while abandoning itself in the process. The Wire realizes that in order to fully comprehend how a city and its politics work, there is a lot to talk about. Good news here, the time is allocated wisely throughout its five seasons long run.

And never is the execution of its lofty ambitions ham-handed, nor is it preachy (the generally lacking season 5 aside), as The Wire is television that goes into politics but not only does it portray corruption but also that, you know, some people can’t act because their hands are tied. A mayor can’t fix a problem without causing at least another one. And either way, someone at another end of the food chain lacks the understanding as to why things can’t get better and blames the people in charge. Oftentimes, there’s no sign pointing towards anyone, telling you who’s right and who’s not – which doesn’t mean that there aren’t good or bad people but the point is, there’s no good-good or bad-bad, no black and white. Conclusively, in The Wire, no one is left out and it speaks loudest for those voices that are often not heard. It’s what makes it such a complex story.

It also most certainly demonstrates that the game doesn’t change and neither do the rules, it’s just the faces that are replaced as things keep running and the world keeps turning. And as a result, there are no superhumans, there are just people who know the rules better than others. And for some people, the road is carved – and The Wire goes through great lengths to show exactly how and why.

Essentially, it’s one of the most meaningful forms of entertainment yet still remains exactly that – entertaining. It does not once prioritize messages over the story rather than executing those through it. It’s relatively hard to follow compared to other series as it very much refrains from uses of hand-holding but provided you are paying attention, there’s little required from you. There’s no entry bar or anything of the sorts. It’s easily enjoyable and accessible. You can, if you want to, analyze how a certain chess segment symbolizes quintessential things of the show and a short breath thereafter get into a heated discussion on who’s the coolest motherfucker in the show. There’s plenty to choose from, trust me.

It’s a series where brilliant dialogue ranges from “It takes a whore to catch a whore.” to “You come at the king, you better not miss.”. There’s plenty of low-bro humor with underlying intelligence as well, so no need to expect anything stuck-up. And some parts also manages to massively go under your skin. Such as the entirety of season 4. Which dedicates itself to education and coming of age as a main theme while the entire police angle is largely put on the sidelines yet turns into one of the most depressing performances in entertainment I’ve ever witnessed.

All while The Wire goes into the specifics with its social commentary rather than remaining abstract. It goes all the way to show you exactly how things aren’t working and why. It’s one of the most gripping tales out there as it’s real and it also matters and that turns it into quite the unique experience to say the least. You get sucked in for the entertainment and end up with something much larger in your hands. The Wire is nothing short of a work by visionares. One could even argue that the city of Baltimore itself is the real protagonist of the show.

So really, all I can say is that if you ever intend to watch one American TV show, make it this one. It’s just amazingly good and hits all the right notes. Hey, at the end of the day, I’m just a 26 years old German brat with a bunch of first world problems. And yet, within 50 minutes of an episode, The Wire managed to get Baltimore’s streets and struggles closer to me than something that’s just contained to the flatscreen of an HDTV. You can’t just quite put The Wire aside and follow your daily buisness as usual. And that’s quite a feat and no doubt a rich experience.

This is what fiction can achieve as it breaks the boundaries that others set. So enjoy your stay in Baltimore. I’m sure it won’t let you go anytime soon.

Final Verdict: Must-Watch.

3 thoughts on “The Wire

  1. Pingback: Entertainment Media, Social Media And The Virtue Signaling That Follows | Beyond The Mountain Lies A World Of Frills

  2. Pingback: Writers Should Write About Whatever They Want Without Having To Fear “Appropriation” | Beyond The Mountain Lies A World Of Frills

  3. Pingback: Your Excuses For Avoiding Subtitles Are Stupid And So Are You | Beyond The Mountain Lies A World Of Frills

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