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355 of 366 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not TV, it's not even HBO, it's better, 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.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 22, 2008 9:49:40 PM PDT
Great Review!

I had such a hard time typing my review for this show, because I didn't want to give anything away. But you somehow managed to give plenty of details without spoiling anything for newcomers. Not that it's a competition, but I think your review does a much better job of summarizing this series than mine does.

You got my "Helpful Vote".
I hope you post more reviews.

P.S. - I love the review title, too.

Posted on Dec 6, 2008 6:17:03 PM PST
A. K. Moore says:
Wow - your review is to most reviews as The Wire is to most television shows. Thank you.

Posted on May 19, 2012 2:28:11 PM PDT
Fantastic write-up, I loved the show and thought your review did a great job of letting people know what they are in for.
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