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The Wire: Season 1
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407 of 435 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2006
Format: DVD
Over the last two decades I've watched a great deal of television, maybe even more than the average for my generation, and out of all of it The Wire is doubtless the most challenging and important show I've ever seen, leaving even other classics like The Shield and The Sopranos in its dust, and this first season remains its defining document. All thirteen of these episdoes are filled with amazingly detailed and complex storytelling, sharp characterization, and endless insights into the nature of modern crime and punishment--and they're mighty exciting to watch, to boot. The whole season covers the participants in a single case, as an impromptu squad of cops is assembled to bring down the housing-project drug empire of Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell, but the implications of the investigation, and the show's ambitions, stretch far beyond one tiny front in the interminable drug war. We watch the case, built almost entirely on electronic surveillance (hence the title) come together piece by piece from the ground up, with the emotional stakes and social relevance being ratcheted up consistently along the way, right up until a harrowing conclusion that takes up the last two episodes. Watching the Wire, one thing is certain: Law and Order this ain't; you'll be thinking about it a lot longer afterward.

Even if nothing else, season one of The Wire would be notable for its narrative structure, which represents a new twist of the serialized TV format-the visual novel, with everything connected, so an event that happens in one episode can be referenced seven or eight episodes later and the viewer had better know what's going on. The season is deliberately structured in a novelistic format, with individual episodes making up the chapters, so watching, say, the ninth episdoe of this season will get you nowhere except a state of abject confusion. Thanks to its narrative flow, the Wire is easily the most naturalistic show I've ever watched, as the progression of events from the season's beginning to its end never feels forced or contrived. This format demands a lot of the viewer, as it practically requires you to watch nonstop without blinking or looking away from the screen, but it proves so rewarding you'll probably want to anyway.

That having been said, I can actually understand why this show's viewership is so limited (and it is REALLY limited; check the numbers). For many, The Wire will probably be so lifelike and believable that it doesn't even function as entertainment. In that sense, the show's greatest strength is also its (only) weakness, as there's nothing remotely sensationalistic or cliched about it, no reliance on overdirected action scenes, contrived cliffhanger endings, or improbable plot twists, which right away separates it from pretty much everything on network TV. For all involved, the season is filled with setbacks, frustrations, and long periods of waiting for something to happen, just like real life. The action quotient is also a lot lower than you'll find on a show like The Shield, and what violence there is is frequently disturbing, but it's always employed with a purpose, rather than just for the sake of mindless entertainment (make no mistake, I'm not opposed to a little mindless violence from time to time, but The Wire makes far more effective use of it). The world is made to look as and feel as real as possible, as though you're actually there-no dream sequences, no haunting visions, only one extremely brief flashback-an emphasis on realism that extends to the most seemingly insignificant bits of setting and dialogue. It all adds up to a show that's unfailingly convincing and authentic, but definitely not for those looking for an escape.

Hmmm, how else can I count the ways in which The Wire wipes the floor with its competition? Well, for another thing, the scope is just so much wider than any other crime show's, going far beyond even The Shield (a great show, but still an also-ran in comparison to The Wire) in capturing the workings of an American city in the early 21st century. David Simon himself has said the show's principal focus is on how institutions affect (and are affected by) individuals, and The Wire casts a decidely unflinching light on the functions and dysfunctions of the groups it examines. Anyone who's part of an institution-in this case a police force, a court system or a large-scale drug organization-has to compromise his individuality to a certain extent, and the show perfectly captures the conflicts that come with the tough decisions the real world requires of its characters. The only truly independent character on the show is Omar Little, the freelance street operator who makes his living robbing drug dealers, and he has to make the tradeoff of constant threats on his life. The world of The Wire is a difficult and unforgiving one, where having a conscience can get you killed while someone infinitely more vicious walks, and where conscientious cops can lose out to those who know how to play the game.

In yet another break with convention, there's no Tony Soprano/Vic Mackey/Greg House-style main character here around whom everything is required to revolve, at least to some extent-The Wire is about the story, and while the characters are hardly interchangeable or inconsequential, the emphasis is on fitting them all into the whole universe the show inhabits. That said, everyone depicted in this season, from the junkies and street dealers to high-ranking cops and politicians inhabiting halls of power, is played brilliantly. Although there isn't really a main character per se, Dominic West is sort of a first among equals as Jimmy McNulty, the self-righteous, insubordinate, irresponsible detective who turns the case into a personal crusade to prove his superior intelligence and frequently succeeds. For all his flaws, Jimmy's a man's man, the kind of guy you can't help but like, especially since he really is smarter than pretty much everyone else around him. After West, the biggest impression among the wire team is probably made by Lance Reddick as Cedric Daniels, the almost impossibly intense, glaring leader whose initially suspect dedication steadily grows over the course of the season. Backing them is a whole crew of memorable characters, from the odd-couple pairing of loutish white detective Herc (Domenick Lombardozzi) and his smooth black partner Carver (Seth Gilliam); to Jimmy's trash-talking, cigar-chomping partner Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce); to paternal, wisdom-dispensing ex-homicide detective Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters); and of course abrasive, venal Major Bill Rawls (John Doman), who manages to save his best vitriol for Jimmy.

Unlike the typical crime drama, though, The Wire's focus doesn't stop with the cops, providing a ground-up view of the inner workings of the Bell-Barksdale drug operation, from the lowest street dealers to the two leaders. The wire team's targets aren't just plot devices, nor are they slobbering, inhuman evildoers; rather; the Barksdale-Bell Crew are just as sharply drawn and fleshed out as anyone else, with an operation whose corporate structure and intricate business practices are just as pure a distillation of American capitalism as any legitimate company's. The incredible Idris Elba, especially, leaves an impression as Stringer, the smooth, highly intelligent, and icily calculating lieutenant who oversees Avon's operations, but he's hardly alone. Wood Harris is all intensity all the time as Avon, while Larry Gilliard Jr. as Avon's conscience-stricken nephew D'Angelo captures all of his character's emotional conflicts without any undue melodrama. As a whole, the experiences of the Bell-Barksdale crew provide a sad commentary on the lives of unwanted blacks in housing projects nationwide-many of them have the intelligence and motivation to be doing other things, but isolated from the mainstream of society there's nothing else for them to do. The game is all they have, whether they want to be involved or not.

So, yeah, that's pretty much it. The emergence of TV as a respectable medium (especially in comparison to the movies) over the past decade or so has been well documented, and The Wire is definitely one of the shows leading the charge. The show's subsequent seasons, while indisputably brilliant and still better than pretty much anything else out there, have watered down the show's formula just a little bit as they branch out in all sorts of directions, but no matter. This season stands alone as one of the decade's crowning visual achievements. Easily worth the time and money you'll invest in it, especially for how much time you'll spend thinking about it afterwards.
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276 of 306 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2004
Format: DVD
You are willing to invest 13 hours in a richly-textured, beautifully-cast and acted drama. Do not mistake this for a typical crime show. You can't just pop in the disc and expect entertainment without investing your full attention. This has the depth and detail of a well-written novel and I find myself watching each episode multiple times to absorb the nuance of the storytelling. I cannot praise this show enough. David Simon has amde a commitment to not dumbing-down his content, but it's a two-way street and you can't expect to catch little snippets of the show and understand what's going on. However, some of those little snippets are worth the price of admission themselves. Also fun to watch considering that two of the leads, Dominic West and Idris Elba are Brits, but they speak Bawlmer-style without a hitch. I have loved the Sopranos from the very first episode, but "The Wire" may well be the best television ever.
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133 of 154 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2004
Format: DVD
The Wire is HBO again hitting it straight out of the ball park. Just like Oz and the Corner (two of HBO's other critically acclaimed but under-appreciated dramas) the Wire makes your heart bleed for the "bad" guys, makes them and the people that chase them seem, at the end of the day, human-- flawed, fragile, evil, in need of redemption, and in some cases, better off with a bullet in the brain. This first season was great, and the second season managed to be even better.

The best thing about this show is that it turns every part of your brain ON. You can't watch it after you had a couple beers and are ready to doze off in front of the TV. You need to be awake, alert to follow the twists and all subtle character stuff. In a word: bliss. Thank you, thank you David Simon and crew!
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83 of 97 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2004
Format: DVD
How can I title this review such? The writing is the first reason. You could have the same cast and general storyline with terrible or sub-par writing and have an instantly forgettable show. With the writing of the first season of The Wire, not to mention the second or third seasons, we are practically giddy as we experience these characters uttering these masterful words and performing their acts. We do not instantly forget but are left with impressions that will probably never leave us. Who will ever forget D'angelo's lecture to the young dealers about the man who came up with the chicken mcnugget? The second reason would have to be the realism. We get the feeling that while we know that this is fiction it COULD be real. The mean streets of Baltimore as interpreted by David Simon, et al. What differentiates this from other shows of its kind? A drug dealer is a person. A real person with problems, heart, and at times extreme intelligence. Take Stringer Bell, a drug kingpin who takes college economics classes to better his drug business. Also take D'angelo Barksdale , a man who doesn't like his underlings to treat the junkie customer with disrespect, as a dog.

In an article I read not too long ago about the third season of The Wire the show was described as a novel (each season) cut up into chapters (each episode). Don't think that you can start in the middle of the season; you might as well start in the middle of a novel. This series is a show for the thinking person. You must be willing to invest your time and mind. Don't expect it to be simple; do expect to enjoy the mental ride.

How can I truly put into words how great this series is? After you watch the first episode you will be hooked. If you are not hooked by the end of the first episode when D'angelo Barksdale is walking away from the murder scene of a man intimately related to him and you see the look on his face then this show isn't for you. If it is then keep watching and enjoy the unfolding of the story of the Barksdale crew and the special police detail trying to bring them down.
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107 of 127 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
The Wire is a five-star show; it's absorbing and precise in the way that only the greatest stories are. But many other people here have said that.

What they may NOT have said is that this DVD set contains terrible, unwelcome spoilers. To view an episode, one must click on an episode, then click "watch episode" AGAIN on a screen where a plot synopsis is splashed across the screen. I had to train myself to close my eyes each time that I wanted to watch the show. My wife had one of the major surprises of season one blown for her because she accidentally selected one episode in the future and read the first sentence of the plot description.

The set's clearly fine for those who are seeing the show the second time around, but those seeing it the first time should be warned. I'd be much happier if the DVD menu designer had shown a bit of consideration for the many people who are watching this the first time around.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2004
Format: DVD
[The Wire] is one of the best shows currently on TV; it is at least as good, if not better, than HBO's other two lauded dramas, [Six Feet Under] and [The Sopranos]. I usually don't like cop dramas, and I've never watched [NYPD Blue] or [Homicide: Life on the Street] (the latter of which was based on a book written by [Wire] creator David Simon). But from the first episode of [The Wire], I was hooked. It features such an amazing group of interesting, well-drawn-out characters, it's virtually impossible not to care about them. And it does well to present the main issue--the drug culture in Baltimore--from the point of view of both the investigating cops and the drug dealers (and in season two drug traffickers were added). [The Wire] has great acting and is extraordinarily well written. Just try watching one episode, and not be dying to know what happens next!

Now granted, this is not a show that is easily accessible to the casual viewer. There are so many characters and storylines that you basically need to watch every episode to keep up. So what better medium to watch the show than DVD!! It's about time HBO is releasing season one, and I very much look forward to season three later this year.

[The Wire] is not the most uplifting show you'll see this year, but it will likely be the best.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2004
Format: DVD
This is the best show I have ever watched, I thought Sopranos was the best until I saw this. It has brilliant acting, heart wrenching and shocking stories and finally it feels real. I just brought the DVD set yesterday and have watched it nonstop until today. Believe all of the 5 star reviews you see here.

I am anxiously awaiting Jan 25th
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Probably the best written TV series ever created, with a great cast. Gritty, bleak story about drug trade in Baltimore, depicts the inability of law enforcement and government to stop crime because the egos, power plays, and selfish ambitions of bureaucrats directly hinder the work they are supposed to be doing. Shows crime as a systemic problem where the supposed solution just makes it worse. Interesting, believable dialogue and characters.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2006
Format: DVD
I'm another one who loves this series. It's as intelligent and credible and complex as everyone says. I love that the filmmakers respect us as the audience, respects the skills of the actors and the work of the writers and even respects the criminals that are so much a part of the story. If you like your crime dramas one-dimensional this is not going to sit well with you. There are times when you really quite like some of the bad guys and when you despise some of the "good" guys. For this viewer, at least, that feels like real life.

Watch this if you like dramas like Homicide: Life of the Streets, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos. I know those are all quite different, but they're at the same high level. Actually, I think The Wire is better than any of them. Ever watch The Sopranos thinking that this is pretty good stuff but that you're kinda getting tired of seeing these creeps commit random acts of violence? I felt that way through the four seasons of the series that I watched. But The Wire never feels gratuitous. It's never violent or sexy just to titillate the viewers.

This is the best real life cop drama out there, in a whole different league than the glossy CSI stuff. Highly recommended. And if you do start it stick with it. The series builds slowly, picking up steam as we come to know the characters over time and as the plot becomes ever more complex.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2006
Format: DVD
The Wire reaffirmed my faith in television as a legitimate artistic medium.

The Wire is not only socially-relevant and important, but also brilliantly acted and written. The complexity of each character makes it difficult to make easy distinctions between "good" and "bad," which is a remarkable feat in any medium (be it tv, film or literature), and even more remarkable given the polarized times that we live in, and network television's tendency to "dumb-down" shows with overt-dialog, flashy editing and melodramatic background music. The Wire's enormously-detailed story fills in the nitty-gritty aspects of criminal justice and doesn't overlook the tedium, uncertainty and difficulty of actually bringing someone to court AND pinning charges on them---this is crucial, given the one-dimensional, fits-in-a-perfect-box, glossed-over, formulaic nature of most network cop and court shows.

One stand-out character is Omar (Michael K. Williams), the Robin Hood-esque vigilante who robs drug dealers. Omar's understated, sophisticated dialogs and clear-eyed morality (despite his chosen "profession") make him a classic character, in addition to a complex one. One can't call him a "good" guy as he operates outside the law and has no loyalties. His character is representative of the complexity and brilliance to which The Wire aspires---other shows would forgo such a character, in favor of simpler dichotomies between good and bad, cop and druglord. Omar represents a bizarre middle-ground, and one that no doubt actually DOES exist in the real world of the urban drug trade.

D'Angelo (Larry Gillard Jr.), a "lieutenant"-grade drug dealer, also shines as a portrait of a conflicted, tortured individual. He recognizes the violence and immorality of his job, and questions it continually; he makes mistakes, but accepts his punishments as a form of penance, which is in-line with his sense of right and wrong. He is a drug dealer, but one who abhors violence and has a melancholic, near-nihilistic philosophy about his own life, even while he encourages other youths around him to shun the drug trade.

Season One of The Wire is a masterpiece. It frustrates the viewer without providing easy answers; at the same time, it is realistic and honest because of its attention to the harsh truths of the world. In real life, not everything works out perfectly. The Wire recognizes this grim fact and turns it into a riveting, artistic, heartbreaking examination of urban poverty, criminal justice, politics, drugs and race.

The Wire is simply unprecedented and stunning.
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