I've spoken before about HBO's seminal police procedural show The Wire a couple of times, once in a "Why you should watch" feature and once during the Top 50 Shows, where it took my personal number two slot. Losing out to The Shield only because The Wire isn't as accessible at first.
But it's not over, I'm going to extend my love affair with this show as much as possible by occasionally reviewing the DVD releases of each season. I'll start - logically enough - with the first season of the show.
"Day at a time I suppose?" - Omar Little
The first season of The Wire is the largest hurdle for any new viewer as the show has a different style to it when compared to most shows. The usual "Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action & Resolution" story telling format is not present in each episode, instead it's located across the season as a whole. This means two things, first of all you cannot realistically judge the show until you've watched the entire first season and secondly it means that first half of the season is all exposition. This is why the show can be so difficult to get into, people aren't used to the 'One case per season' format as it's not a common form of televisual storytelling. These days the viewer wants everything to happen within the space of an hour so waiting 13 hours for the story to pan out is a little too much.
But, for those viewers who are willing to get through the first 6 or so episodes there is a wonderful moment of realisation and clarity awaiting them. I know I didn't click with the show until the third episode and real enjoyment didn't come until the second season. Others have expressed a similar experience, but we do all agree that the show is spectacular and wonderful once you're in sync with it.
As for the season itself, it is set in Baltimore, Maryland (much like Homicide: Life on the Street) and tells the stories of not just the police involved in breaking open a drug dealing ring but also the street dealers and kingpins themselves. This is another departure from the norm, providing both sides of the story at the same time allows the viewer to (eventually) understand all issues involved. The scenes with the street pushers in particular can be hard to get through, but this is because they use authentic Baltimore street lingo. They sound that way because they really should sound that way.
The show tracks a special detail which is initiated by an insubordinate cop called Jimmy McNulty who goes behind his department's back to set this up with a judge. (Jimmy's lack of respect for authority is a continued problem in his career development.) The detail is headed up by one Cedric Daniels and includes a collection of misfits and troublemakers that the department is just looking to offload and use to make the detail fail. This bureaucratic infighting, paralysis and politicing is one of the major issues that The Wire looks at in most of it's seasons.
The detail is charged with bringing down one Avon Barksdale and his number two 'Stringer' Bell and it's not until episode six where the titular wire/wiretap is actually used. This is where the season picks up and gets legs.
In short, this first season can be tough to get through but it's completely worth the effort as this show is the single greatest piece of storytelling in modern television.
"For you I would suggest some pantsuits, perhaps muted in color, something to offset Detective Moreland's pinstripe lawyerly affectations and the brash tweedy impertinence of Detective Freamon. Rawls is watching on this one, let's at least pretend like we got a fucking clue." - Sgt. Jay Landsman
"Tweedy impertinence? I like that." - Det. Lester Freamon
As can be seen from the picture the box art is a stylised semi noir affair. It comes inside the old carboard dust jacket and has a booklet which lists each episode's writing and directing credits. Now I have the older version, which had the DVDs placed within one of the plastic paged book cases. But the newer versions now have the slimline double DVD holding cases, which means that the newer version takes up half the space the old one did. This of course frustrates me because I now want to repurchase the first three seasons in order to get the slimer versions.
The packaging is attractive, striking and tells you everthing you need to know and the new version takes up very little space on the shelf. But it is worth noting that Clark Johnson's name is mispelt on the back of the box.
The first season of The Wire is very thin on extras, there is audio commentaries on three episodes. "The Target" (David Simon), "The Detail" (Clark Johnson - who has a wonderful voice) and "Cleaning up" (David Simon & George P. Pelecanos). These commentaries are pretty good, but I've often found that commentaries from a single person feel very dry and inorganic. This does bleed across a little here and I feel that the commentaries could have been improved with the addition of one or two more people, writers, directors, producers and/or actors.
The normal price on the internet is pretty much universal for this show. £18. Don't pay a penny more if you've never seen the show before because it is possible you may not have the patience and strength to get far enough into the show. You might give up before experiencing the epithany where you suddenly come into sync with the show.
£18 gives you 775 mins of A grade entertainment. Which is 2.3p per minute. All things considered that's one of the top deals in the world of DVDs.
Final Score: 75%
The overall score has been let down by the poor amount of extras, but don't let that turn you off because The Wire is amazing.