IT’S ALL IN THE DETAIL
The Wire is the best TV show you’re not watching. Guy Davis explains why.
T here’s a line in the fourth season of The
Wire that sums up the dark, bruising appeal of this tremendous drama: “ No one wins. One side just loses more slowly.”
That dialogue should provide fair indication that this gritty series isn’t out to provide uplift and optimism.
Indeed, as it prowls the streets of the US city of Baltimore, spending time with cops, crooks, politicians, pushers and everyone caught in the middle, what becomes clear is that corruption and rot have set in to such a
As an unfl inching look at a society where everything is connected,
The Wire is kind of impossible to beat.
degree that any effort to turn the tide has the odds stacked against it from the start.
And all of that sounds like a great way to unwind in front of the box after a hard day, right? It’s true, The Wire isn’t designed to turn your frown upside down. But as an unfl inching look at a society where everything is connected, it’s kind of impossible to beat. It’s truly reality television.
The Nine Network has aired the first four seasons of the show in the graveyard shift, where intrepid viewers generally find programs that are: ( a) a little diffi cult to categorise, ( b) a bit edgy, violent, sexy or morally ambiguous, and ( c) completely bloody terrific.
It’s where the likes of The Sopranos and Six Feet Under have been found in the past, and it’s where the fifth and final season of The Wire can now be seen. ( Meanwhile, ABC2 is currently running the series from the beginning, with the first season about to conclude and the second season starting immediately afterwards.)
The series was created by David Simon, a former journalist with the Baltimore Sun who’s also responsible for another great crime drama, Homicide: Life on the Street.
And just as each season of The Wire has slowly expanded its parameters to take in more and more of Baltimore ( season four explored the city’s school system, for example), this season concentrates on the media, as well as law enforcement, the underworld and City Hall.
Surprise, surprise, the Baltimore Sun is operating about as well as everything else. Cutbacks have made it diffi cult for overstretched reporters to do their jobs, while qualifi ed, experienced journalists are the first to be fired.
But times are tough all over. The city’s police department is underfunded to the point where the cops are forced to take buses to crime scenes and an investigation into a murderous drug dealer is put on hold because there’s not enough money in the budget to pay the offi cers on the case.
Worst of all, the decay would appear to start at the top, with the city’s mayor focusing more on his future run for governor than his current duties.
It sounds a little depressing, I know. But it’s actually kind of bracing and refreshing to have a show – a fictional drama at that – bypassing platitudes and telling it like it is.
We all have flaws and virtues, we all enjoy victories and suffer setbacks. That applies to the mayor running the city, the journalist working their beat, the drug dealer on the corner, the cop trying to bust the dealer. It applies to us all.
The Wire recognises that, and it communicates it brilliantly.
It’s what makes it one of the finest television shows on air, and one of the best ever made.
Opposing sides: Dominic West as Baltimore cop Jimmy McNulty and Michael K. Williams ( inset) as
self-styled thug Omar.