I know that I’m late on The Wire. I know I only fleetingly recall rave reviews and discussions on the sort of podcasts I like to listen to. And I know that when BBC 2 started showing episodes night-after-night earlier this year, my first thought was ‘I will not have time to keep up with that”.
IMHO The Wire is a m*********ing masterpiece. I’m approaching the end of (the slightly lower-key, more profound) Series 3, and Series 4 starts tomorrow. I can’t wait. Like the red-tops Boadie and the crews hustle, it’s addictive.
OK, not addictive like Heroin, but you get my drift.
The subject material is pretty much unremittingly bleak. Small victories or moments of lightness are chinks in the depths of darkness. Good people do bad things and get away with it. Bureaucracy stops good things from happening. Bad people get away with bad stuff because that’s how the world works. Or doesn’t work. Deal with it. Move on.
Every character is finely drawn, even the incidental bit-parts. Noone seems beyond redemption, and likewise noone (and I mean noone) is a bona fide saint. Even Avon Barksdale has charisma and charm, sometimes even in a good way. Stringer Bell is bringing the world of classroom economic theory to The Game – why didn’t I apply myself better during lectures?! The corner crews each have their own personalities.
But the writers and makers don’t seem to judge their subjects. They portray the most unsympathetic characters openly and sympathetically. Just because Omar seems to be an amoral gangster and thief doesn’t mean he can’t take his grandmother to church, feel pain when a friend is killed, or make jokes we want to laugh at.
A friend advised me when I started watching to keep the subtitles on, to help understand the constant street slang and police jargon. He was right. As well as not pandering to normal TV codes of good-guys and bad-guys, The Wire also makes few, if any, concessions to the audience. We are hurled into the 7th Circle of Hell that is West Baltimore, or the Docks, or City Council hearings, and left to get on with it. This approach forces us to connect and engage with the characters and situations, make our own judgements and opinions. Which makes for a challenging and truly rewarding experience.
There are countless examples of brilliant writing, acting and production in every episode, extreme subtlety and shocking violence. And amidst the darkness, often moments of brilliant humour. One of my favourite scenes is from episode 4 of the first series. At this point we’re still getting to know the characters, in fact we’re still trying to figure out what is going on. When I first saw it my jaw hit the floor – “they can’t do that, not on American TV”. It’s a brilliant, near-silent depiction of two ‘natural po-lice’ doing their job at a crime-scene instinctively, brilliantly.
NB: this clip contains images and language that many people will find offensive.
DEFINITELY not suitable for children.