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In Appreciation of 'The Wire'

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What made The Wire so compelling?

Aside from the obvious – incredible writing, brilliant acting, and intriguing storylines – I believe the one thing that set The Wire apart was its moral complexity.

In an age of dumbed down, formulaic television, nothing about The Wire was black and white. It lived, as we all do, in a world of gray.

Complex Characters

When The Wire debuted on HBO in 2002, for the first time in memory, (well, at least in my 33-year-old memory), we had a TV show in which viewers could relate to, and even root for the “bad guys,” while plenty of “good guys” (policemen, lawyers, judges, politicians, those in the societal establishment) were anything but altruistic.

One of the show’s most endearing characters, Omar, wielded a shotgun and made his living by robbing people–albeit drug dealers. Plenty of people cringed every time Police Commissioner Burrell made yet another decision about Baltimore’s doomed War on Drugs with his own political future, and not that of the citizens he was supposed to protect, in mind. For as charming and dedicated as McNulty could be, he was a drunk, and even the Bunk, my personal favorite, didn’t always deal with suspects by consulting the letter of the law.

The Wire didn’t talk down to its audience, but it did demand that they approach the show with an understanding of the world’s complexity.

Made For DVD

For those of you who haven’t seen it (and for those who have), I highly recommend (re)watching the entire series on DVD. It’s available on Amazon.com starting at $114.97 (new). DVD is the perfect medium for this show, which is written like a novel. Unlike when it was originally broadcast on Sunday nights, the ability to watch every episode one after another eliminates annoying “wait, who is that guy again?” moments and creates a seamless flow for the plot, which is intricate and detailed.

Wire Fans: Music to Your Ears

Another item for Wire fans to consider while over there on Amazon is the show’s soundtrack (starting at $14.99 new). It not only features memorable songs from the series, like The Pogues’ “Body of An American,” but also has all renditions of the opener, “Way Down in the Hole.” It’s sprinkled with audio clips from the series, including one no fan will ever forget, the classic “Omar Comin’!”

While The Wire never attracted a huge audience, critics fell all over themselves to praise it. I particularly like the way Jacob Weisberg, writing for Slate.com, described it prior to its fourth, and in my opinion, greatest season.

The Wire, which has just begun its fourth season on HBO, is surely the best TV show ever broadcast in America. This claim isn't based on my having seen all the possible rivals for the title, but on the premise that no other program has ever done anything remotely like what this one does, namely to portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature.”

Sounds a bit better than the new Knight Rider, doesn’t it?

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