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The Wire

DVDs of Season Three of The Wire will be shipping tomorrow and Season Four should premiere on September 10. If you haven't seen the show, you should. And I would seriously suggest that you start at the beginning and watch Season One on DVD rather than just trying to plunge in, though personally I started by watching Season Three on air and then backtracked. It is, simply put, the best show in the history of television.

The baffling ad campaign they're running in the DC Metro manages to leave this completely unclear, but at its core the show is about police and drug dealers battling for control over the streets of Baltimore, though it also expands to cover elements of the local political scene, union corruption, the FBI's shifting post-9/11 priorities, and a variety of other things. It's an extremely demanding show offering no flashbacks and very little exposition despite a sprawling cast of characters and very complicated, years-long plot arcs but the rewards to people who watch closely and pay attention are incredibly large. I don't know anybody who's sat down to watch it and not been incredibly impressed.

August 7, 2006 | Permalink


After hearing a lot of talk about it over the last week -- including on this blog -- I rented the first two discs (5 episodes) of season 1 last night. Tonight I'll be exchanging them for the next two discs.

The show is absolutely amazing.

Posted by: iank | Aug 7, 2006 12:00:44 PM

I wasn't incredibly impressed by Season Two, but agreed, Seasons One and Three were possibly the best thing I've ever seen done with television. I'm really happy they're finally bringing it back, though I will miss a couple of the characters who won't be back with it.

Posted by: Antid Oto | Aug 7, 2006 12:00:47 PM

So I'm well into watching Season 3 and I don't know what happened. It's just not the same as the first two and seems to lack the same depth. I hope Season 4 gets the edge back.

Posted by: Erik K | Aug 7, 2006 12:09:51 PM

"The best show in the history of television."

Yes. Woefully, woefully underrated and underwatched as well.

Posted by: Realish | Aug 7, 2006 12:20:46 PM

The best show in the history of television.

I don't know if I'd go that far. The Wire is basically Homicide on steroids. As Homicide was one of the best shows ever, that puts The Wire immediately in the running for the ultimate title. But there have been more great shows than people are remembering. And I like the music better in Homicide.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Aug 7, 2006 1:00:21 PM

ok, after I finish Veronica Mars... (since that instance of taking your advice on entertainment issues seemed to pay off)

although I'm not sure The Wire meets my light, fluffy, escapist criteria. In fact, I'm quite sure it doesn't....

Posted by: flippantangel | Aug 7, 2006 1:15:06 PM

Homicide is better... you can't beat the original. Its much "slower" than The Wire but has superior acting (Braugher, Belzer, Kotta), character development, plots, and cinematography. The show's creative team included David Simon (The Wire, The Corner), Tom Fontana (Oz, St Elsewhere) and Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Diner). The Wire is quality, but the title of "the best damn show on television" has already been taken.

Posted by: anon | Aug 7, 2006 1:29:45 PM

I just finished seasons 1 and 2 of Homicide. I was underwhelmed. It was better than most shoes on tv, but I liked The Wire better. HBO on demand is doing a Wire re-up right now in many areas. Seasons 1 & 2.

What show is the best damn show on television? Homicide isn't on anymore.

Posted by: crack | Aug 7, 2006 1:51:21 PM

I'm with crack. I went to Homicide after watching and loving The Wire. Homicide doesn't cut it -- it's too stagey, and its episodic nature (I know there are multi-show arcs, but there's much more of a formal, episodic structure) turned me off. I don't really like police procedurals. The Wire is much, much more than that.

Posted by: big mokeski | Aug 7, 2006 1:58:57 PM

I wrote better that 'It was than most shoes on tv'. Which it is. Why they're sitting on the tv I don't know. It's also better than most shows on tv.

Posted by: crack | Aug 7, 2006 3:18:07 PM

once i get a dvd player... and a teevee... i will check this show out. though I have a LOW tolerance for crappy crime dramas, the level of toutation on this muhfuhr is intriguing.

Posted by: Greg | Aug 7, 2006 5:46:19 PM

Mokeski nails it. Homicide is the ultimate in police procedurals. Not only the best one that was ever made, but the best one that ever will be made or could be made. And in a fundamental way, obviously, it laid the groundwork for The Wire.

But the latter is a much more ambitious, much more sophisticated show and, I think, the best program that's been done yet. But ambitious, HBO-style television is a new medium and probably The Wire will be outdone someday, perhaps someday soon. Homicide, by contrast, was a show that reached the limits of what was possible in the old style.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Aug 7, 2006 6:10:23 PM

They are rerunning the whole thing on HBO on Demand. I've been recording it on my DVD recorde. No extras, but the price is right.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Aug 7, 2006 8:28:55 PM

MY, that's a great point re: ambitious HBO style television. There's been a lot of speculation recently as to why most "big" movies suck these days, and a major reason is that the writing is better on these shows because the medium allows much more freedom.

Posted by: Pooh | Aug 8, 2006 2:51:51 AM

Yeah, an extended HBO style drama allows much more scope for character development than a movie. So all the characters and character-driven narratives seem to have migrated to HBO.

I thought the first season of the Wire lived up to Matt's claims for it, the second season was not as good (the saintly displaced blue-collar white guy is too much of a cliche). Haven't seen the third, but looking forward to renting the DVD.

I sat at the table next to Richard Belzer in a small restaurant once. He has a pouty, bitchy, tall, beautiful, young blonde wife. He didn't come off too well either.

Posted by: MQ | Aug 8, 2006 4:14:03 AM

of course, not one character in the Wire, white or black, even approaches "saintly." Frank Sobatka is a tragic hero in many ways, but I couldn't call him "saintly."

I've seen Season 1 about 3 or 4 times, season 2 i've seen 2 or 3 times, and I think season 2 is better. but really, all that matters is the Wire is the only show with cameos by both Steve Earle and Clarence Clemons, which, just by virtue of that, makes it the coolest. show. ever.

Posted by: Goldberg | Aug 8, 2006 3:00:02 PM

The Wire is to television as Citizen Kane (or possibly even The Birth of a Nation) was to film. Artistically speaking, it's a reinvention of the medium, a light out of the darkness, if you will. And hoo-boy, does it inspire hyperbole!

Posted by: BanjoSteve | Aug 8, 2006 7:30:23 PM

. He has a pouty, bitchy, tall, beautiful, young blonde wife. He didn't come off too well either.

She's Harlee McBride, famous for the Young Lady Chatterly films.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Aug 8, 2006 8:27:13 PM

I agree with the bold declaration of The Wire being the best show in the history of television, making it all the more obscenely ridiculous that David Simon had to campaign so hard just to get HBO to renew The Wire for a fourth season and that the prospects look so poor for an already sketched out fifth season! I apologize if I come off as irate, I guess I'm still getting over the loss of Arrested Development.

Posted by: Albert Markofsky | Aug 8, 2006 9:17:53 PM

One advantage The Wire has on Homicide is that it will end without ever jumping the shark.

An interesting comparison I've heard is that Battlestar Galactica is to Deep Space Nine as The Wire is to Homicide. Make of that what you will.

Posted by: BanjoSteve | Aug 8, 2006 10:30:13 PM

Matt makes the same mistake so many people do when they recommend "The Wire". He says it is "demanding." I put off watching it for years because of descriptions like that: "it requires work", "you must pay careful attention." Well, I call bullshit. The Wire is first and foremost entertainment, and great entertainment. Maybe it requires a greater attention span than "Cops" or "Reno 911" but it is hardly like sitting through an Antonioni film. Especially if you watch on DVD you will not have a very difficult time figuring out what is going on, it all falls into place.

Posted by: Vanya | Aug 9, 2006 9:56:35 AM

Vanya, the point is not that you get nothing out of casually viewership, but that there are increasing returns to effort.

Posted by: Pooh | Aug 9, 2006 5:27:27 PM

I thought our host was on record as believing that Deadwood Season 1 was the best thing ever done on television.

Posted by: theCoach | Aug 9, 2006 10:10:24 PM

I just got the season three DVDs and I can report, that unlike season two, which came with no extras at all, there's audio commentary on five episodes, and even video from a public Q&A session with some of the writers/producers/cast. Apparently, the ladies dig Idris Elba. And David Simon said something interesting in the Q&A about getting the show renewed: apparently, HBO wasn't worried about viewership, but wanted Simon to show that the story, being finished with the Barksdale crew, still had somewhere to go. At the time of the Q&A (right after season three had aired, I think), Simon was putting together his response.

Posted by: ogged | Aug 10, 2006 12:56:55 AM


Sadly, for most people, just the word "effort" will scare them away from a TV show, and I think that's what happened to the Wire. The critics have convinced people that it's spinach and they should eat it, not a great way to sell a show.

Posted by: Vanya | Aug 10, 2006 3:48:45 PM

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