1,957 of 2,009 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2008
On the basis of previous reviews, you'd never know that this series was on the verge of being canceled at least twice, that it never made satisfactory numbers for HBO, or that it was almost universally ignored by award committees despite its fervid following.
There's a number of things for the faint-hearted or first time viewers to know about The Wire before you jump in:
1. There is no denouement, no simple, clear resolution at the end of every episode ala CSI, NCIS, or any other typical police drama. On the contrary, The Wire is the epitome of the "slow build", it takes episodes to get started, much less finished. As in life, there are rarely any easy, clear resolutions at the end. Unlike the black and white worlds of network tv, The Wire is all gray.
2. There is not a simple, single story line. Rather The Wire is characterized by complex, multiple story arcs that can extend over more than one season. It demands (and rewards) concentration, rather than escape. Redemption and revenge are possible, but not in one episode or one season. The Wire requires patience.
3. There are no clear cut heroes and villains (this is the anti-"Heroes" tv show.) There are only human beings, all flawed. McNulty, a hero, is an alcoholic who cheats on his wife. Even Marlowe, the apparently soulless villain, grapples with very human issues of loyalty and pride.
4. Though there are great, fully realized characters (almost too many for escapist viewers to follow), and though to some degree Baltimore, the city, is a central character, the abiding presences in The Wire are Baltimore's institutions and organizations: courts, city government, educational system, labor unions, police, newspapers. Even gangs are seen as just another organization. Unlike any other show I've ever seen, The Wire demonstrates how institutions are built from a complex web of relationships and motivations and seem to have an existence independent of those who participate in them. And it does so in such a subtle way that it's not automatically obvious. It doesn't appear to be about institutions, but it is. That's subtlety.
That's only a start. There's more that makes The Wire a challenge for viewers: it's non-linearity (it's more like a spiral), it's bleak view of cities and urban institutions; the seeming randomness of so many events that impact lives, etc., etc., etc.
All that said, The Wire, for those willing to make the investment of time and attention, is a transcendent, moving experience. However downbeat it's subject matter, it is, in the end, a true work of art, a masterwork, and as such ultimately enobling and uplifting. And just a thrill to watch.
437 of 450 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2008
A tortured, alcoholic detective (Det. McNulty/Dominic West) who care more about putting criminals away than he does about departmental rules or, even himself. A homosexual modern day-Wild West gunslinger (Omar/Michael K. Williams) who robs and kills drug dealers and lives by a strict moral code of his own. A drug dealer (Stringer/Idris Elba) trying to become legitimate, taking economics classes while starting up his own company. A middle school boy (Michael/Tristan Wild), struggling to take care of his little brother and his addict of a mother, all while trying to resist the allure of the game and the corner.
These are a few examples of the incredibly diverse cast of characters and actors that make up The Wire. Just like the real world each of these characters (as opposed to caricatures) show signs of both virtue and vice, redemption and damnation. This realism is incredibly important and effective in conveying the reality of the post-industrial city and its devasting effects on people and institutions. Each season of The Wire focuses on different aspects of the city, following a different theme each season.
Season 1 effectively examines the danger of being an individual in an organization, using Detective McNulty and a drug dealer (D. Barksdale/Larry Gilliard Jr.) who both struggle against the reins of their respective employers. This issue develops against the thrilling backdrop of the drug war and an investigation into druglord Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris).
Season 2 shows the death of work in the post-industrial world, particularly the loss of blue collar jobs. This is shown through the port of Baltimore and its workers who start illegally importing items and dealing drugs to keep afloat.
Season 3 artfully reveals why reforming these institutions never works. Again this issue is examined through both a cop (Major Colvin/Robert Wisdom) and the drug dealer Stringer. Specifically, Colvin makes his district a drug-free zone to combat other crime, while Stringer tries to go legitimate in addition to trying to eliminate violence from drug-fueled gang wars.
Season 4 illuminates how kids fall through the cracks in schools, largely as a result of their hostile environment. The tagline, beautiful in its simplicity, for this season points to the political nature this story by sarcastically claiming that this country pursues a policy where "No corner [is] left behind".
Bringing this whole story full circle, Season 5 ties all of these problems together and argues that the media skews our perspective away from these important mattters to sensationalistic stories. This storyline revolves around a perceptive, noble editor (Gus/Clark Johnson)
and one of his deceitful writers (Templeton/Thomas McCarthy) who is more concerned about Pullitzers than real news. This season ends by showing how these issues create a circle of explotation and victimhood, a point made by showing how these drug dealers, cops, addicts, and even modern day gunslingers get killed, retired, and reform only to have their places taken by the next victim and predator.
Throughout the entire series The Wire pursues and achieves a level of quality, insight, and empathy never before reached in any television series or episode. It truly is the equivalent of a televised novel. It is the first Great American TV Show.
The acting is suberb across the board, from bit players to protagonists and antagonists (although these very terms are called into question throughtout the series). Particualarly engrossing to observe are the can't watch, can't look away descent of Dominic West as Det. McNulty in addition to the admiration and disappointment of Michael K. Williams as he mesmerizingly displays Omar's singular moral code and actions. Even the child actors that play the middle schoolers in Season 4 manage to deliver performances finer than most adult actors.
As already seen, the story achieves both high entertainment and high art. Although each season starts off slowly in terms of pacing, even the slowest episode has several major events that affect the entire season and series. Sometimes these events don't seem important when they happen but, just as in every great novel, these events eventually are revealed as the earthquke they originally were with aftershocks that cannot be ignored.
As if incredible character development, acting, and plotting were not enough, The Wire also excells in terms of production. Similar to any HBO show, the series receives a budget clsoer to a movie than a network TV show. This is reflected in the superb direction, fanciful cinematography and essential soundtrack.
The series is even bookended by director Clark Johnson (Gus from Season 5), a symmetry that can be seen in the parallel shots seen in the first and last episodes. An example of this is the simple use of an elevator camera in both episodes to highlight the theme of constant surveillance pursued throughout the series. These shots also show the incredible and varied cinematography at work throughout the entire series.
Finally, the soundtrack to The Wire creates the perfect atmosphere by highlighting these themes with a cross section of genres, subjects, and musical tastes. Most of the time throughout the series there is no score other than the many different sounds and songs of the real world, heard only when you would really hear it, such as a song playing for the brief moment a car passes by with its radio blaring. At the end of evey season, however, a song plays that captures the tone of the season, its rare appearance making the song and moment more emotionally effective and intellectually insightful. Even the theme song perfectly complements and adds to the series. Each season has a different band cover the theme song "Down in a Hole" in a different style that reflects the seaoson and it's thematic concerns. Although it's not the best version, the 4th season features a song by a trio of adolescents, a choice that aligns perfectly with the No Corner Left Behind theme.
Quite simply, The Wire is an entertaining, thought provoking, artfully acted, perfectly produced show that rewards (some might say even requires) multiple viewings. It's a shame that this show did not receive the praise or attention that The Sopranos, for instance, enjoyed. Of course, this is only fitting since the show is so far ahead of its time and its cable competitors.
674 of 703 people found the following review helpful
Imagine a show that every critic on the planet loves. Imagine a show so deeply layered that it makes every other drama seem simple. Imagine a show where each character is equally important. Imagine a show that reinvented itself every season, yet still felt like it was part of the world it created from the outset. Imagine a show so complex that you will always discover something new the next time around.
Doesn't this sound like perfection to you? Trust me, it is, in more ways than you can fathom.
THE WIRE is a show so meticulously crafted and executed that it would take me a dozen reviews to scratch the surface of what makes it great. After catching the very first episode on HBO, I immediately bought the 1st season. The rest, as they say, is history.
I'm so afraid to ruin anything that I don't even want to give away characters' names. To even let you go in expecting certain traits from a character would spoil the fun. So instead, I'm deliberately being vague about what occurs. If you've never heard about this series, you deserve go in cold.
But I'll give you a few details, starting with the very first scene. THE WIRE begins when a detective is questioning a young hoodlum who witnessed a murder. The detective asks why the guy and his friends allowed the victim to continue rolling dice, after he'd been known to snatch the money & run. The scene closes when the kid says, "Got to, man. This America."
Then the show begins its title sequence, in which The Blind Boys of Alabama's cover of "Way Down In The Hole" plays over a montage of seemingly random clips of police activity & urban life. But as you'll learn the more you see this title sequence (and song), this montage is actually filled with clues, both literal and metaphorical. The greatest crime dramas throw clues in your face without telling you how important they are. Believe me, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, one of the greatest films of all time with its labyrinthine plot, has nothing on THE WIRE. And we're only just getting started.
What you'll also notice from the opening scene is the dialogue. It actually took me two viewings to find out what the detective and the dice-roller were saying. As if that wasn't enough, I eventually had to turn on the English subtitles just to find out what each character was saying. The dialogue flows so naturally that THE WIRE never feels like a TV drama. There are no scenes where the characters recap what happened in the previous episode, unless the characters would actually take a moment to remind each other. This sounds like a challenge, and indeed it is. THE WIRE requires (and deserves) your undivided attention. Pause if you have to. Rewind if you have to. Use the subtitles if you have to. Many have called THE WIRE "a visual novel", and they couldn't be more right. You see how much attention I've given to just the first few minutes? Guess what, the entire series clocks in at 63 hours.
So, what's the premise of the series? The first season's main story begins when a team of Baltimore police is assembled to take down one of the city's high-profile drug dealers. The investigators and surveillance teams endure what real cops would endure: long hours, cold trails, bad weather, tedious paperwork, crummy offices, and worse...smart criminals. THE WIRE gives the justice officers an equal amount of screen time as the targets they pursue. The dealers aren't delightfully vicious or glamorous in the least. Sort of like the Corleone Family or the protagonists in GOODFELLAS, THE WIRE portrays its criminals as guys who either can't do anything else for a living, or refuse to do anything else for a living. The series goes even deeper, as we're engaged in the lives of judges & lawyers, homicide detectives & their office-dwelling superiors, drug kingpins & their corner workers, and even the homeless. Calling this "epic" is an understatement. If you're as interested in the urban drama as you are in the police procedural, then you're on the right track. Don't worry, you will get to see the cops bust a few doors and arrest a few thugs, but just be aware each event it treated as ordinarily and naturally as anything else in THE WIRE. To the characters, these events are just another day.
Now bear in mind, I've only given a little info on the first season! I won't give away any details, but Season Two continues in the exact opposite way you'd expect a sequel to. The cops and criminals shared equal halves of TV time on Season One, but for the seasons that follow, they share equal parts with a completely new side of Baltimore. Just wait until THE WIRE continues through its next few seasons, it gets even more deliciously complex. If you think Season One sounds like a beastly Rubik's Cube, wait until you get a load of Season Two, not to mention the seasons afterwards. After all, you can't predict how a single story is going to proceed if you're too blindsided by how it begins. One of the most interesting aspects is that slowly over time, THE WIRE becomes more than a crime drama --- the series evolves into a multi-layered epic, where crime is only part of the picture. Each of the five seasons feels like its own individual story, but naturally connects with the season that comes before and after it.
I don't want you to be discouraged by this onslaught of convoluted storytelling. There is a method to the madness. Audiences (including me) are too used to knowing where we are at every given point of the story. THE WIRE purposefully refrains from the kind of clarity we're used to. This challenge that will stimulate your mind in ways that no other TV show has. In so many ways, it's the kind of entertainment we've always wanted: Surprising yet Natural --- isn't that always the goal?
THE WIRE is so great that everyone is going to take something different from it. This show can be interpreted in a million ways. Nobody is right, and nobody is wrong. How can that be? Well, creator David Simon is to be credited for this neutrality. Simon is as hands-on as any other TV series producer, writer, or creator. Every single aspect of the show is exactly what he wanted it to be. THE WIRE was never the victim of a writer's strike, or cancelled seasons, or poor broadcasting schedules, or any other excuse. If there is a character or story arc you don't care for, it isn't Simon's fault; your personal taste just doesn't mesh with it. Sure, I have one or two nitpicks about what THE WIRE should've been in my eyes, but not once did I believe it was for a lack of focus. For example, one particular season takes a more didactic approach to the series. We witness moral dilemmas with an ambitious mayor, unethical cops, and newspaper staff --- all tackle the immortal question, "Do the ends justify the means?" This more black-and-white angle is exactly what David Simon wanted to use. I preferred a more gray-shaded tale, but Simon decided that this tale needed a more direct statement. Now, even though this isn't my preference, I overlooked my own criticisms because this season was built this way. There are a couple of other little things that might not sit well with some viewers, notably how the "star" of the show's cast disappears for most of one season (don't worry, you'll know it's coming before it happens). The point is that THE WIRE never once strayed from its intended path.
I think that's what I'm going to take away most from this show: It tells every story it wants to tell. It answers every question it poses, unless we're meant to ponder. It forces us to sympathize with those we'd normally condemn, and to relate to those we'd usually ignore. This television drama is a masterful work of art, from the page to the screen.
I'm going to close with this:
Despite my review title, spending a large amount of money on a complete TV series without seeing a few clips is clearly irresponsible. I didn't type this review expecting you to drop a couple hundred by my words alone. So, let's be sensible about this product. If you can, rent the first few episodes from a videostore, or try to find the show in a library, or maybe even go on YouTube to find a few Season One scenes.
There is so much more I want to share with you, but it's time to use a lesson David Simon taught me:
I will say only enough, and make it your responsibility to discover the rest. Enjoy!
83 of 88 people found the following review helpful
...unless you are prepared to put your life entirely on hold for several days while you watch each episode back to back from sun up until sun down, pausing only to use the bathroom and to feed yourself. Seriously, you will not be able to get ANYTHING done so only buy this if you are retired, laid-off, currently in prison, in the hospital, or otherwise without employment and responsibilities. It's just impossible not to start the next episode after finishing the previous one. One of the best TV shows in history, and probably the best original series in cable history.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2008
Simply put, the best television I have ever seen. Embarrassingly overlooked by the Emmys and Golden Globes, The Wire flew under the radar almost its entire run. Worth its weight in gold and definitely that of its $160 price tag on Amazon. A small price to pay for a stunning HBO masterpiece. Watch the whole thing from start to finish, the show is brilliantly written, acted and directed. You will never look at television the same way again.
132 of 153 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2010
The series itself is excellent but it doesn't matter how good it is if you can't play it. As many many others have found out the packaging and production of this set by HBO is horrible! Fully a third of dvd's have problems, skipping, freezing or not playing episodes at all. Had I the chance to do it over again I would definitely get the individual seasons and not the box set, at least from what I've heard those don't have any playback issues. FYI I have played the bad dvd's on two different players makes no difference. The only way I can get some of the worst ones to play is to play via my pc, as said buyer beware.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2011
'The Wire' has been off-air for nearly three years now, and many late-bloomer viewers (like myself) are discovering how deep this show is on an intellectual, social, and entertainment scale. Not only is this show a trophy piece for HBO, it is probably the best television series ever created.
If you are unfamiliar with the city of Baltimore, you definitely won't be after viewing this series. It tackles the hard, key points of urban society and its unfortunate decay -- from all areas in the city. The drama flows from the police departments to the streets, and from the schools to the print media. Every aspect of life is depicted on this show, which only lasted for five seasons (which, by the way, were five GREAT seasons!). The acting, writing and directing on this show is superb. There is no margin of error on this series, whatsoever.
I began watching 'The Wire' exactly one year ago, and purchased the Complete Series boxed set (2008 version) from a third-party seller. Unfortunately, it was a knock-off which featured the menus and discs as though they were the authentic set. The boxed set was a brick-style case. When removing the side shield, it featured a red/black interior, and five season booklets tucked inside. Each disc contained a plastic sleeve, which was also tucked in a slit inside the season booklet. This packaging was horrible!
A 2010 edition of the boxed set was released, which I recently purchased, and they changed it up a little bit. The box no longer features a light-grey complexion; it is now a dark-grey without a side shield. It also has a paper slip that covers the front, back, and sides of the set. To identify whether or not you have the new edition, which you should have, here are the things that are included in the authentic set:
1. Paper slip featuring the series' information on the back, the title card on the front, and the sides which cover the season booklets.
2. A dark-grey complexion instead of a light one.
3. No plastic sleeves on the discs!
4. Copyright 2010 on the back of the boxed set and on each season booklet.
If you have none of these, you have been either swindled or sold the wrong set. Make sure you finish the series before your 30-day return limit in case you find damages that require either a replacement or refund.
Enjoy the series!
61 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2011
Wish I'd read these reviews prior to purchase. Love the Wire and thought having the entire series in one box would be a great thing. The packaging seems to have damaged more than half the disks. The little plastic sleeves shoved willy nilly into the cardboard slots are the apparent culprit. We have found several disks with long plastic threads, much like hot glue gun threads, on several disks. Others look pristine but won't play without skipping or stopping altogether. Very disappointing. We have put the offending disks into two different DVD players, three different computers, hopping around like rabbits til we find which piece of hardware might actually play the thing. One disk we had to totally give up on.
We even purchased a new player thinking it was our player that was at fault. Nope. It's the disks. I see HBO reissued it in 2010. Would actually consider re-purchasing the box set if the packaging was different. Since it isn't, I'll be buying it season by season instead.
Shame on HBO for this. If it was one disk out of all of them that was defective, that would be one thing, but to have angst over every disk that we play, only to find that three out of five are damaged, badly manufactured, compromised by the packaging, or WHATEVER the dang problem is, is too much. And at the price, a very bad value.
122 of 145 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2009
Let me be clear: my 1-star review is based solely on the packaging and the physical presentation, not the show itself. This is, in my opinion, one of the best TV series ever produced. Other people have written much more detailed reviews of the show, so I'll let those speak for themselves.
That said, this is hands-down the worst box set design I have ever seen. It's practically impossible to get at one disc without others falling out, there's nothing to indicate which disc is which on the packaging itself so you need to fish out the individual discs to check, the discs are in a strange order thanks to the weird multi-fold design, and it's difficult to get the discs out of their pockets without scuffing or scratching them. HBO designers, take note: if your packaging design requires the discs to be in little plastic bags to keep them from getting scratched up when people take them out of the case, you need to re-think your design.
The individual season folders inside the case also have prominent season summaries, and the disc menus display episode summaries by default while selecting an episode - if you haven't already seen the show, expect to get a few inadvertent spoilers in the course of fetching discs and selecting episodes.
For such an amazing show and such an expensive box set, I'm actually considering buying a set of plain jewel cases and throwing out everything but the DVDs themselves. I expected more from HBO, and I expected more from The Wire.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2012
I returned the original 2008 release because the packaging is awful, so consider this 1 star for that product. The 2011 release is great. They are plastic standard dvd cases for each season, rather than the awkward paper envelope style from 2008. Amazon combines the reviews for all The Wire boxsets, this review is for THIS product: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005NFJAWG/ref=oh_o00_s00_i00_details.
The negative reviews you see for this regarding packaging apply only to the 2008 release, not this one. Also, this show is twice as good as anything that has ever been on tv.
I will upload a picture to show the new packaging.