I had no plans to re-watch The Wire any time soon, but then my cousin from Baltimore came to visit and after a bunch of talk about the show I decided to casually put on the pilot episode as background noise while I was doing some stuff in the kitchen. About two weeks and 60 episodes later I completed my third complete watch through of The Wire in three years1. I did an extensive write-up last fall when I watched it a second time, and not much has changed. The second watch through allowed me to have a better understanding of things going on because I knew what to look for early on that would be important later. A third watch allowed me to really soak in how wonderful this show is.
This show doesn’t just show how perfectly bureaucracy supersedes common sense, but also how much inequality there are between the rich and poor. Unlike many crime shows of the decade, this is not a “case of the week” style story. In fact, the story’s overall arc never really ends. It goes from the start of the series to the end, which different characters involved, but the same flowing story throughout. Each of the seasons has a lens through which the drug dealing and crime are viewed through. Season 2 uses the ports and organized crime, season 3 politics, season 4 the school system and season 5 the newspaper industry.
This show is almost perfectly constructed, and although it is hard to follow on the first time through, it doesn’t take away from the awesomeness of this show. Sure at times it seems like the police might be a little too smart at figuring things out, but this is hardly the first TV/movie to do something like that.
Meanwhile season 4 is always heralded as one of the greatest seasons in TV history, while season 2 gets shortchanged. What I wrote about the second season last fall still sums it up:
Season 2 was never well received because it deters from what appears to be the main storyline, but ever [sic] future season is the same. There is a new set of characters front and center, still with ties to the established gang of drug dealers. Even in season 4 (largely considered to be the best) the drug story is told greatly through the lens of the school system. In retrospect season 2 gets a raw deal because even though it’s a weak link in the first four seasons of the show1, it’s not like it’s season 2 of Friday Night Lights, an absolute mess that should be left out upon future viewings. It’s like the 5th Chicago Bulls championship. It wasn’t the 72-win season, it wasn’t Jordan’s final year with the game winner, it was a season that most people kind of forget about in Jordan lore. But the team won 69 games and an NBA championship, so when held up against 99% of individual team’s NBA seasons in history, it’s still historically great. Season 2 of The Wire is on a similar plane. It’s compared to the rest of the seasons of the show, but the reality is that season 2 of The Wire is still better than almost every show’s current season.
The second season includes some great evolution of the characters involved, and while season 4 is great because it’s so eye opening, and includes great performances from younger actors, the gap between it and the rest of the seasons is probably over exaggerated a bit. In fact I would like to share the controversial opinion that season 1 slightly edges season 4 for me as being the best. I would put season 3 and 2 a bit further behind but close together, and it’s really season 5 that is the dog here. Outside of some nice closure for a bunch of the stories it’s pretty bad. There is a bright spot though, the finale of this show is probably underrated. For those who like the montages that nicely wrap things up this might be one of the most rewarding I have seen.
As great as Jimmy McNulty is, upon a third watch it’s Ellis Carver who ends up being my favorite police character (c’mon could anyone but Omar be everyone’s favorite character in general?). He’s funny, he shows so much growth throughout and he seems to be one of the few guys always looking to do the right thing. Him playing straight man to Herc’s fool in the early seasons is just great TV.
If you somehow haven’t seen this show yet and you have access to HBO On Demand/Go/Now, shame on you. This might have risen to the top of my favorite TV shows of all-time. If not, it’s second to Breaking Bad by a nose.
- Yes I am sure I could find better uses of my time [↩]