A great fellow movie blogger recently posted a great essay on whether a war film can make for great entertainment. It hit me that we can ask that about a lot of the best shows on TV too. "The Wire", which aired on HBO and ran its final season over a year ago, is easily among the best shows ever shown on television. However, a summary of the series includes drugs, murder, corruption, conspiracy and overwhelming violence at times. How does this combination make for great TV, you might ask. And I did - I even had to rewatch the first 5 episodes in an effort to get hooked. Well, 55 episodes later, I watched the entire series and have become one of the proud to recommend it. The description of the series is much less than the sum of its parts, but I will try anyway. Overall, the series is about crime and law enforcement in Baltimore. Each season examines a central group of police officers and drug dealers through a greater lens within Baltimore. The first season sets up the characters and taking down drug kingpins through fastidious and careful law enforcement - specifically a wire tap. However, as in any animal kingdom, once one party finds an advantage, the other finds a way to counter that advantage. The second season examines the corruption and deterioration of Baltimore waterfront and the shipping industry. It does feel a bit like a whole different show for a little while, but eventually you begin to understand what the series is trying to do, and you can accept the second season as it is. It was my least favorite season, and in some ways the most violent and nail-biting and so does stand alone well. The third season brings us back to the streets of an unruly set of drug dealers who seem to be missing their leader. An "out of the box" thinking cop who has had enough of the crime associated with drug dealing on the corners of his district tries out a new paradigm of law enforcement: if you can get them into a single location away from local people - both dealers and fiends - then you'll have peace. Essentially he legalizes the drug trade. However, at the same time, the political machine is starting to get going and lasts through the end of the series. The fourth season, my favorite, examines how crime and the schools interact with each other. One of the cops from the first season has left policing and become a teacher, so we meet his students who all are at the point of making choices about being drug dealers, muscle for drug dealers, snitches, hookers, etc. The political side of law enforcement increases with the mayoral race in Baltimore. Favors are traded on the back of crime statistics and you see both police and politicians trying to make things appear however will best help them. The final season looks at the media's role in crime and solving crimes, specifically at the Baltimore Sun. Funding for the police force has been cut to help out the ailing school system, and our troubled, but heartfelt police set up a fictional serial killer, which they know will increase funding, aided by the stories written by the press bringing attention to the issue.
Throughout each season there are the changing leaders of the drug trade, and because all of our police are at some point part of the homicide division, we can keep in touch with the murders from the drug trade while still looking at another side of Baltimore. You must believe me that the experience far outweighs reading this summary. I highly recommend the entire series, particularly season 4. However, given that the dialogue is seemingly faithful to the culture of each group of people - the police jargon, the drug talk, etc. I recommend watching it with subtitles until you get used to the language, which I promise you do after a little while. Also, there is an incredible amount of violence throughout. They do a good job of making the viewers as inured to the violence as the dealers and cops already are, but yet they're still able to shock you with violence, and knowing that no one is ever safe pervades both the living and the watching this series. There is a lot of terrific acting throughout, and none really stand out above, but my favorite character adds a bit to nearly every season he's in. Andre Royo plays a dope addict named "Bubbles" who alternately snitches for the cops and lives on the street. He has a good heart, but can't seem to escape his addiction. His story line is carefully told over the entire series, rather than a single season, and he'll break your heart and show you redemption, all without being cliched or boring. He's a great actor and a wonderful character. While the show was only nominated twice for writing, the entirety of the show is what draws you in and moves you to appreciate how exceptional its quality really is, and thus what the average TV show is missing. Also, for a show with an enormous cast, they did a terrific job of including story lines with every character, but not ultimately revealing much about each individual character, but rather how it relates to the whole.
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