I just finished the final episode of HBO’s The Wire last week. I’ve been waiting to review this series until I’d seen the whole thing, mainly because it’s so (relatively) old at this point–it didn’t feel current enough to warrant season by season reactions, even. (Plus, a big group of my readers will probably never watch the show–see my previous rant on HBO and Netflix and the pornification of good television.) But this was a series that Entertainment Weekly voted “Best TV Show of All Time.” I had to see what the fuss was about.
And I’m really glad I did.
Taken as a whole, I would have to agree with EW’s assessment. The Wire is certainly the best television show *I’ve* ever seen. Not that it was the show I loved watching the most, if that makes sense. I mean, I love Battlestar Galactica, Buffy, Lost, Doctor Who–but there are pieces of all of them that really don’t work all that well. They were a blast to watch, but you don’t want to start thinking too hard about some of them, or they suffer from weak beginnings or spotty episodes. Other shows like Downton dip too much into soap opera.
The Wire stands out from all of them because of a few key elements:
- Character–Great acting performances across the board. These are characters that we get to know really well over the course of 5 seasons, and yet they can continue to surprise us time after time. Just like with real people. You might think you have someone pigeonholed, and then they go and do something you never would have expected. At the same time, they also just keep being who they are. I loved the character of McNulty, because he’s so self-destructive. He’s got a long stretch where you think he’s finally redeemed himself . . . and then he can’t help but continue shooting holes in his life boat. And the sheer range of characters–so many great stories. So many great performances. I loved how characters who usually didn’t interact would suddenly come across each other in a storyline, and I loved seeing how they responded to meeting each other. So well done.
- The story–5 seasons of really well done storytelling. After the first season, you think you have the show down: it’s a cop/drug dealer drama. And then suddenly in season two, it’s about dock workers? And then it’s about politics, school districts, newspapers, social workers, legal systems–it just keeps going in new directions, while somehow feeling the same throughout it all. Very impressive. At the same time, all characters were fair game. People could die or have life changing experiences at any time, and it didn’t have to be in a way you’d expect it to go in a story. Someone might live through an experience that should have killed them, only to be gunned down in a random act a few episodes later. In some shows, that might be really frustrating. In this one? It just made it feel more true to life.
- The end–I don’t remember a show that worked so well with its ending as The Wire did. It essentially brings the whole series full circle, ending where it began in a way that felt true to life. All those problems and conflicts we’d seen over the past five years? They haven’t gone anywhere. The beginning of the show was just the ending of a different show, and the ending of this one is the beginning of another. A great package deal.
There are definitely elements of the show I could have done without. The nonstop swearing and the early season insistence on random sex scenes, for example. McNulty’s serial killer in season five is an element I’m still up in the air about. It gets really close to soap opera territory, but at the same time, it’s McNulty, and it’s just the sort of stunt I could see him trying to pull.
In any case, I really enjoyed the show, and it earned every point of my 10/10 rating. Say what you want about HBO, but they put out some very fine TV series, from an acting/writing/directing/producing standpoint.
I know I’m late to the party, but I’d love to hear from other people who watched the show. What was it like seeing it as it came out week to week? What did you love? Anything you hated? Do share. (And if you’re local and don’t have HBO, know that I just purchased the entire show on DVD for the library. How’s that for service?)