If you were to ask me what my favourite television show of all time was about four years ago, I would have told you that it was ‘Breaking Bad’. Around that time I heard about ‘The Wire’, a show that is considered the greatest television show of all time. When I first started to watch it I was slightly disappointed. I didn’t expect it to be a slow-paced drama with around twenty main characters and even more side characters so you could say I wasn’t ready for it. It was in 2016 when I finally gave it another chance and I slapped myself for realising what I was missing out on. I was hooked and it has set the bar so high now that when I watch not just another cop show but any television show, I can’t help but think about how much better ‘The Wire’ is.
Starring Dominic West, Clarke Peters, Michael K. Williams, Wendell Pierce, Sonja Sohn, Wood Harris, Andre Royo, Jamie Hector, Domenick Lombardozzi, Lance Reddick, John Doman, Deirdre Lovejoy, Seth Gilliam and Idris Elba (just to name a few), ‘The Wire’ is a television show created by former police reporter David Simon and it aired on HBO from 2002 to 2008.
Set in Baltimore, Maryland, ‘The Wire’ looks into the infamous Baltimore drug scene through the eyes of the law enforcement as well as the drug dealers and users. Each season focuses on a different aspect of the city and its relationship with drugs and law enforcement. The five subjects are the illegal drug trade, the seaport system, the city government and bureaucracy, education and schools, and the news media.
This review may be quite different to my other reviews as I’m reviewing an entire series. There won’t be any spoilers for those who haven’t watched this incredible series yet as I know there are quite a lot of you out there. So sit down, relax and enjoy what may be a lengthy review.
First of all, I have to talk about the writing which is brilliant. This is easily some of the smartest and most realistic writing I’ve ever seen! ‘The Wire’ is unlike any other show because of many different factors but the writing is one of the main reasons. At first, you are dumbstruck by this realistic dialogue and how real the characters are because you never really see it in any other television show. The way that Baltimore is portrayed in ‘The Wire’ is exactly like it is in real life (I’m not kidding, watch a couple of mini-documentaries about Baltimore or ‘The Wire’ and you’ll see how excellent the portrayal is) and this results in a dark and sometimes depressing look into what it’s like to live in this city. I should also mention that the cops only fire their guns twice during the entire series and both times are by accident.
With this realistic writing, some of the greatest television characters of all time were created. The characters in ‘The Wire’ are the most flawed and humane characters ever written. When a show centres around twenty main characters and even more side characters, you would at least expect them to be interesting. Well, you don’t have to be worried about that as the characters and their season/series arcs are phenomenal. I could talk all day about every character, but I’ll only talk about a few when I talk about the actors/actresses later on.
But one of the best characters in ‘The Wire’ is definitely the city of Baltimore. By the end of the series, you’ll know the ins and outs of this infamous city even if you don’t live there (heck, I live in Australia and I feel like I am living in Baltimore every time I watch this show). It makes the city interesting and you’ll definitely know a lot about Baltimore by the end.
Since I’ve been talking about the realism of ‘The Wire’ and how the city of Baltimore is made even more interesting by the incredible writing, I’ve got to talk about the mind behind this show, David Simon. If it weren’t for David Simon, we would never have witnessed this epic televised novel. Using his prior knowledge as a police reporter for the Baltimore Sun, he created the definitive cop show. You don’t really understand the full scope of ‘The Wire’ until the end of season one or even season three (season two is very different at first but it connects to everything perfectly later on). This does result in a television show that you have to pay attention to (just like a novel) and the way that David Simon connects the threads of each storyline is unlike anything I’ve seen.
I also have to mention how David Simon uses the game ‘Chess’ and bases the show around it. It’s hard to explain without going into spoiler territory but all I can say is that how certain characters represent certain pieces on a chess board will blow you away. Seriously, David Simon is a genius.
Moving on onto one of the major positives of ‘The Wire’, the performances. Oh boy, the performances are simply incredible. I”m going to start with some of the law enforcement people, or as they would be in any other cop show, the “good guys”. First of all, you have Dominic West as Jimmy McNulty, who is pretty much the main character of the show. He is amazing as an alcoholic detective who is also amazing at his job. He has a really good character arc and I can easily imagine that some of the stuff that he does in season five has already happened in real life (if you’ve seen season five then you know what I’m talking about). Wendell Pierce is also brilliant as Bunk, Jimmy’s work partner for some of the series. He does a great job with the character and he is also one of the funnier characters.
Since I’m talking about detectives, I have to talk about one of my favourite characters from the show, Clarke Peters as Lester. Clarke Peters does an amazing job playing the almost Sherlock Holmes figure of the show. Lester is a detective who does things mostly by the book and knows when to call bulls##t on someone/something. He also had one of my favourite quotes of the series, which is just hilarious (if you want to see what I’m on about, watch the third episode of season two or go on YouTube and watch him and Bunk interrogating a crew, it’s hilarious). Lester also leads me to Prez who arguably has the best character arc of the entire series. Jim True-Frost is incredible as a flawed man who is a terrible cop, but a great detective. His character goes through a lot during the series and you’ll love him by the end, even if like me you hated him in the first few episodes.
I should also mention Sonja Sohn as Greggs, Seth Gilliam as Carver, Domenick Lombardozzi as Herc, Lance Reddick as Daniels, Delaney Williams as Landsman, Aidan Gillen as Tommy Carcetti, Deirdre Lovejoy as Pearlman and John Doman as Rawls, who are all brilliant in their roles.
Now, on the other side of Baltimore, where you have some even greater characters and just as good if not better actors/actresses. First of all, you have Idris Elba as wannabe businessman/almost gangster Stringer Bell. He is basically the counterpart of McNulty in the series and Idris Elba does a fantastic job with him. Every time he is on-screen you can feel his menacing presence and even when he’s off-screen you can still feel him lurking in the shadows. He is a great villain and one of the more memorable characters of the show.
Speaking of memorable characters, I can’t talk about ‘The Wire’ without talking about one of the greatest television characters of all time, Omar Little. There are so many reasons why Omar is everyone’s favourite character on this show. First of all, he is the main anti-hero of ‘The Wire’ and robs drug dealers. He’s basically the Robin Hood of Baltimore and he’s as awesome as you’d expect. He doesn’t care if the person he steals from is a drug kingpin, but when someone close to him is killed by that kingpin, he becomes an unstoppable beast. It even gets to the point where Omar is walking down the street and all you can hear is “Omar comin’!” As this is said everyone is running away like rats and it’s amazing. That is how great Omar is.
Then you have Felicia Pearson as Snoop who is easily the most terrifying person on television. If you were walking down a street and you saw her standing in front of you, you’re pretty much dead. Michael B. Jordan was also on ‘The Wire’ as one of the best cautionary tales ever conceived. He was only a young teenager when he was on ‘The Wire’ but he was incredible. Also, Andre Royo as Bubbles was another great part of the show. He is one of the more loveable characters on the show and you can see a part of yourself in him.
I could go on forever talking about everyone but I’ll just mention a few others. Wood Harris as Avon Barksdale was incredible as was Lawrence Gilliard Jr. as D’Angelo Barksdale, J. D. Williams as Bodie, Chad Coleman as Cutty, Gbenga Akinnagbe as Partlow, Robert F. Chew as Proposition Joe and Jamie Hector as the chilling Marlo Stanfield.
I also love the main theme song of ‘The Wire’. It’s the same song and lyrics but each season it is played and sang differently and it always suits the tone and theme of that season. It’s unique and really cool.
When thinking about ‘The Wire’ overall, I have no negatives with it. I may have had minor negatives early on in the show but once you watch more, those little problems turn into positives as everything starts to connect.
Overall, ‘The Wire’ is the greatest television show of all time. Its raw and realistic portrayal of the drug scene in Baltimore makes for one of the most unique experiences of your life. Filled to the brim with phenomenal performances, amazing characters and some of the best writing you’ll ever see, ‘The Wire’ does live up to the incredibly high standards that it has set and will remain as the best crime show of all time. If I haven’t already convinced you to watch it, maybe the fact that Barack Obama calls it the greatest television show of all time will.