The Wire is one of the hardest shows I've ever tried to get other people to watch. It's a brilliant and deep show with such rich character and development that it's a joy to watch. It's the closest thing television drama has ever come to capturing reality.
And about half the time I recommend it to someone they give up watching it after about three episodes.
For a long time I couldn't work out why this was happening, then I remembered my own initial experience with the show. It came recommened by a friend, one who has excellent taste in shows and who's opinion on all things television I trust. (I don't know if you read this or not mate, but I have to thank you again for introducing me to this show.) So I bit the bullet and got the first two seasons without even previewing a single episode.
I remember very well watching the first season, while there were moments in the show that I found amusing and certain characters immediately gripped me - specifically Bunk and McNulty - but on the whole I was struggling with it. Then suddenly, around the 6th or 7th episode I got to grips with it. The characters and plot fell into place and everything started to flow.
Suddenly I went from being, semi-interested and occasionally amused into hooked. I realised that the more I put into the show; the more attention I paid, the more I got out of it. This show was not 'easy watching' but it was for those people who need a little more than passive viewing. It's one of the things I look for in a show, if the show can engage me and then ask very serious, deep questions. Or raise potent issues. Or even make me rethink my world viewpoint. Then it's a show worth standing up and taking note about.
To this date I've only encountered three shows that have really done this. Shows that really challenge me as a viewer. 'The Shield', 'Dexter' and 'The Wire'. I'm sure there are more out there, I'm constantly searching for them. But right now that trio of shows are my 'Big Three'.
So, as you can read. I wasn't immediately hooked by 'The Wire', but as I'd commited money into owning the DVDs I felt compelled to watch them at least once. To justify my investment.
And I'm glad I did. So if you decide to watch 'The Wire' and find yourself not sure, or struggling to get into it. Hang on, don't be one of the ordinaries and give up. Watch till the end of the first season. Then make a judgement.
Now, onto the show itself. 'The Wire' is set (and recorded) in Baltimore and features an ensemble cast of cops and criminals. One of the major features of the show is you do not get just a single side to the story. You get to experience the story from both sides, which is a wonderful method of telling a tale. But it does add to the complexity of the show, both due to an increase in the number of story threads and in the depth of the characters. It can be tough for a viewer to get to grips with a 'villain' who's not just a one dimensional "bad guy". Even 'The Shield' in all it's brilliance keeps most of the villains (outside of The Strike Team ;) ) very one dimensional. But 'The Wire' does not do this. Instead it presents you with young pushers who are doing the job because there's no other way to live in the ghetto areas. It gives you an insight into top level career criminals. It even tells the stories of dock workers, beat cops and politicians.
Instead of a simple show about some detectives who put up a wire and catch some bad guys, you get a rich tapestry where the lines between good and evil don't exist. Where the police struggle against the system to catch people they know are dirty. Where a policeman might just step over the line with both feet in pursuit of a bust. Where a lieutenant could have to make the decision between his career and upholding the law. Where a street level stick-up boy might just turn out to be one of the best characters ever to grace the television.
'The Wire' is not afraid of making it's characters do unlikable things, they're humans. They make mistakes, even the police. The show highlights some subjects that America might like to pretend don't exist. Subjects that include: the loss of the American blue-collar workforce, the crippling bureaucractic system and self serving career-jockeys that get in the way of police work, the plight of the ghetto cities and so much more. If any show could be called gritty and realistic this show would be at the head of the cue.
I've written all of this without even getting into the cast. There are powerhouse performances from so many cast members it's difficult to single out any one given actor. Everyone I know has their own favourite character, the one they identify with the most. Dominic West as Jimmy McNulty is probably the most central character (at least for me), he's the one who initially gets the ball rolling with regards to the detail. He's a tremendous asshole and tends to make more enemies than friends. Spending more time drunk or crashing his car than doing policework. But he still remains an excellent detective at times. But there are so many other characters worth noting too many to talk about. Bunk, Lester, Perez, Marlow, Stringer Bell, Brodie, D'Angelo, Avon, Bunny. Not all of these are police either...
There is one character I want to write about before I hit 'submit'.
Omar is by far and away one of the most entertaining and interesting parts of the show. He's introduced in the first season and essentially is "A gay, African American stick-up man". He's portrayed by Michael K. Williams (he's made an appearance on Boston Legal in either Season 2 or 3) and is essentially a guest star in the first season. But it's clear from his time on screen that he's a character of depth and interest. Along with Brother Mouzone and "The Greek" he's one of my favourite criminals in the show. But it's very hard to look on him as a criminal, he almost exclusively robs other criminals (Modern day Robin Hood! Except he gives to himself and his crew) and he has a very clear code of honour.
Two of my favourite moments are "the f**k scene" (not safe for work), which involves McNulty, Bunk and a crime scene - Where almost the entire dialog is the f-word (demonstrating how flexible that word is - but you can watch it for yourself)
And a scene in the third season where Omar and Brother Mouzone face off in a wonderful homage to the western duel.
The sad thing is, The Wire has massive critical acclaim. People who really know their TV are able to say "Yes, The Wire is one of the best things on TV for years." But it's just not a show that's accessable for the mainstream viewer. Too many people give up on it because it's a hard show, one that requires work and effort to enjoy. But whatever you put in, you get out tenfold.
If you're at all curious, you can read up further in the following links:
(But watch out for potential spoilers if you go reading in detail about the episodes or characters.)
If that's not good enough, the show is rated a 9.7/10 on IMDB
Try it, it's worth the time and effort. Otherwise it will remain, "The best show you've never seen."