I know I’m pretty late to this party. It’s only thanks to the advent of Amazon Instant Video and my Prime membership that I’m finally getting around to watching HBO’s inner city crime drama The Wire. But I still want to talk about it. Maybe ‘talk’ is too gentle a word; I want to sing its praises.
Crime dramas and television are one of those chocolate/peanut butter combinations. It’s popular because the aspects of one compliment the other. In most instances, you have case-of-the-week shows like Law & Order or CSI, giving fans their weekly infusion of familiar characters in the pursuit of justice. Some episodes are stronger than others, but the show’s popularity is maintained because we are creatures of habit, and television shows can be habit-forming, even if they’re subscribing to a formula.
The Wire‘s formula is a completely different animal. It’s a wolf, prowling and watching, while other television crime dramas play like puppies. Not to say there’s anything wrong with the aforementioned shows; I’ve done my share of indulging in a good Special Victims Unit binge. But The Wire is simply a breed apart. And it exists that way for a few very interesting and powerful reasons.
Instead of relying on a ‘ripped from the headlines’ rotation of cases, The Wire tackles one case a season. Just one. We see how the case begins, who is involved, what drove them to that point, so on and so forth. In some cases, it can take a few episodes for the investigation to truly begin. These are true procedurals: we see the process in all of its grueling details, the camera an unblinking, non-judgmental lens giving us all of the facts. There are times when The Wire almost feels like a documentary in its presentation, which brings me to the authenticity of the characters.
It is not forgotten, not for a moment, that each and every character in The Wire is a person. Even minor characters feel like they have dimension and agency. We won’t always like the decisions characters make, but we can understand why they’re made. I’m a season and a half into the show, and I have yet to see a character do something that makes no sense from their perspective. Sure, a character or two has done something that to me seems obviously bone-headed, but the show is written in such a way that I can get into the character’s shows and see things through their eyes, even if the vision isn’t all that clear.
The biggest thing about The Wire that keeps me coming back, though, is the conversations. The dialogue in this show is some of the best I’ve ever heard. It feels authentic and natural. Even the legalese spoken by lawyers and judges feels like its born out of years of experience, not words on a script. There’s also the fact that it’s being spoken by some extremely talented actors. There’s just as much expression in the looks and body language of these people than there is in the words. You can feel discomfort, anger, satisfaction, and scheming, all taking place just under the surface. Text and subtext blend together into storytelling that is truly gripping and absolutely brilliant.
If you have access to it, via Amazon or some other means, I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out The Wire. I can’t call this a full review since, as I’ve said, I’m only a season and a half in as of this writing, but you can bet I’m in it for the long haul, now. It’s simply one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.