The Wire

The Wire

Last year I watched all five series of Baltimore-set US police drama The Wire when they were screened on BBC Two.

It made for such a dizzying sprint through the five series but one I had to keep up with, such was the draw of the show. The dvd boxset approach of broadcasting a series at double or triple time may well have been the way to approach The Wire, despite its late-night scheduling, allowing as it did for episodes to be gulped down.

Many’s the time, having just finished one episode I had to watch the next one’s introduction segment, even if there wasn’t time to see the episode all the way through – though frequently I found the time to watch the rest too.But it’s just a police drama right? Wrong! It’s so much more, it commentary on society, it’s multi-faceted plots, it’s programme makers that make you think, it’s the widest array of characters I’ve ever tried to keep up with.

It shocks often, whether through violence, the use of drugs, the casual way key characters die, but it has warmth, humour and humanity too.

I particuarly love its restraint with music. It primarily uses diegetic music; that is, music that emanates from a source within the scene (according to Wikipedia).

Not for this show the lazy emotional shorthand of a song heavy-handedly scoring every scene or even every ending montage. Instead the programme-maker’s trick is given greater impact by being saved for the end of the final episode of each series.

Written by David Simon (interviews here and here) it uses a number of other book writers, like Richard Price and George Pelencanos, I’d only heard of Price before but now want to read both.

More recently I read The Wire Re-up (or, “The Guardian Guide to the Greatest TV Show Ever Made”) over Christmas.

The central premise of The Guardian’s book on The Wire is two-fold.

One, that it’s such a great television show that to call it a ‘mere’ TV show shortchanges its multi-layers plots, complex character portrayals and intellectual charge. Two, no-one you know watches it – or if they do they’re not at the same point at you and therefore any conversational possibility is cut short by a very real fear of spoilers.

So last year it topped Paste magazine’s top ten cop shows of the last decade list, which was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to praise – or hype – for the show. The hype was something I enthusiastically bought into, assiduously setting the HD recorder last year.

But, not untypically as I would later find out reading The Wire Re-Up, I still don’t know anyone who’s seen it.

Finally to Charlie Brooker, who says it better than I can, on why The Wire is so good.

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