Hanging on The Wire

I came to The Wire a little late - the 5 series of this show had long finished by the time I found it but this kind of works for me anyway as it makes it available to pick up a season and plough through it in big slabs, without having to wait for the next episode. (This has its own excitement - the current season of Battlestar Galactica for instance, but waiting is so 20th century)

Last night I finished watching season 3 and while I've been hugely impressed with the show since the start (seriously from the first episode), I hit a new point last night where I thought to myself, this is actually better than Goodfellas.

TV has the advantage of being able to take its time in developing stories and characters, dropping tiny details here and there that form a full, rich viewing experience. The Wire brings this like virtually no programme I have seen before (and you'd better believe I've watched my share of good tv).

The show itself is a gritty cop show set in Baltimore. This description alone was enough to provoke a big Meh in me the first few times I heard/read people raving about it but the chorus of raves grew louder and louder (particularly from British TV critic Charlie Brooker) and eventually I grabbed a copy and checked it out.

From the first episode I knew that this show was something special. It drops you right into the middle of the police department (and the corresponding ghetto drug trade), they're all doing their thing and speaking their fairly distinctive jargon heavy language and you are expected to keep up. The writing is sharp and intelligent and most importantly, it's real.

The characters are the real core of the show - there isn't anyone who gets more than half a dozen lines that you don't feel some measure of sympathy towards and interest in and they all behave like real people.

Rather than focus on crime of the week, The Wire tells a story (or rather several stories) across the span on a whole series. You get the perspective of the crims, the cops and some of the people living on the periphery of these worlds. From Bubs, the hapless but likable junky informant to Omar, the ultra-cool robber of dealers, from McNulty, the talented and slightly self-destructive detective to Stringer Bell, the sharp, business studying head of the dealing operation - everyone has a life and a soul.

There's a lot of twisting and turning in the story so I'm not going to dig into that but each season is underpinned by a theme/location - the housing projects in the first, the docks and the wharf unions in the second and city hall/politics in the third. (This is nicely reflected in tweaks to the opening titles each season) This included a serious examination of the drug war as a whole, including a possibly quasi-legalisation scenario that played out over most of the series.

It also maintains its own universe - there was a nice moment in the last episode last night where a guy (nearly said who but avoiding spoilers) threw some guns off the pier and a faded election poster for one of the main union characters from season 2 flapped sadly on a pole - just for a second but long enough.

As I mentioned at the start, I'm no huge fan of cop shows but The Wire is so much more than that - it truly does deserve the critical acclaim.

(And oh yeah, it's an HBO series as well, so you know it brings the awesome)

Here are a couple of clips, including a funny one where Bunk and McNulty examine a crime scene using only swear words.