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The Wire: The Complete Series
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In the projects. On the docks. In City Hall. In the schools. In the media. The places and faces have changed, but the game remains the same.
The Wire: The Complete First Season
After one episode of The Wire you'll be hooked. After three, you'll be astonished by the precision of its storytelling. After viewing all 13 episodes of the HBO series' remarkable first season, you'll be cheering a bona-fide American masterpiece. Series creator David Simon was a veteran crime reporter from The Baltimore Sun who cowrote the book that inspired TV's Homicide, and cowriter Ed Burns was a Baltimore cop, lending impeccable street-cred to an inner-city Baltimore saga (and companion piece to The Corner) that Simon aptly describes as "a visual novel" and "a treatise on institutions and individuals" as opposed to a conventional good-vs.-evil police procedural. Owing a creative debt to the novels of Richard Price (especially Clockers), the series opens as maverick Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West, in a star-making role) is tapping into a vast network of drugs and death around southwest Baltimore's deteriorating housing projects. With a mandate to get results ASAP, a haphazard team is assembled to join McNulty's increasingly complex investigation, built upon countless hours of electronic surveillance.
The show's split-perspective plotting is so richly layered, so breathtakingly authentic and based on finely drawn characters brought to life by a perfect ensemble cast, that it defies concise description. Simon, Burns, and their cowriters control every intricate aspect of the unfolding epic; directors are top-drawer (including Clark Johnson, helmer of The Shield's finest episodes), but they are servants to the story, resulting in a TV series like no other: unpredictable, complicated, and demanding the viewer's rapt attention, The Wire is "an angry show" (in Simon's words) that refuses to comfort with easy answers to deep-rooted societal problems. Moral gray zones proliferate in a universe where ruthless killers have a logical code, and where the cops are just as ambiguous as their targets. That ambiguity extends to the ending as well; season 1 leaves several issues unresolved, leaving you begging for the even more impressive developments that await in season 2. --Jeff Shannon
The Wire: The Complete Second Season
It hardly seems possible, but The Wire's second season is even better than the first. The "visual novel" concept of this masterful HBO series is taken even further in a rich, labyrinthine plot revolving around the longshoremen of Baltimore's struggling cargo docks, where corruption, smuggling, and murder draw the attention of detective McNulty (Dominic West). What follows is a series of events which at first seem unrelated (including 13 bodies found in a cargo container), and then the ongoing effort to topple the drug empire of "Stringer" Bell (Idris Elba) and the imprisoned Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris), whose business is suffering from short supply, high demand, and disruption of distribution. The dutiful diligence of a Marine Police Patrol Officer and the moral outrage of the longshoremen's union leader are also factored into the suspicious goings-on at the loading docks, and what unfolds in these 12 episodes is an American crime epic easily on par with the Godfather saga. Yes, it's that good.
Detailed synopsis is pointless; The Wire must be seen, heard, and absorbed to fully appreciate the way in which over 40 characters are flawlessly incorporated into a sprawling but tightly disciplined plot that deals, in the larger sense, with the deindustrialization of America and the struggle of longshoremen in a changing economical climate. Offering a privileged and occasionally frightening glimpse of the inner workings of shipping ports and cargo transports, The Wire is also a detailed exposé of organized crime and blue-collar corruption, and an authentic, well-informed study of political maneuvering among police and city officials. There's not a single false note to be found in the cast, direction, or writing of this phenomenal series, hailed by many critics as "the best show on television." With all due respect to HBO's other excellent series, The Wire tops them all. --Jeff Shannon
The Wire: The Complete Third Season
With volatile issues of Baltimore city political reform as its narrative focus, the third season of The Wire superbly maintains the series' astonishingly consistent status as the greatest "novel for television" ever created. While the Baltimore police department's wire-tapping investigations continue to monitor the intricate and now legitimately fronted drug ring of Russell "Stringer" Bell (Idris Elba, smooth as ever), detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) continues his loutish ways, navigating through a series of shallow sexual conquests while doing some of the best cop-work of his career. Stringer's ex-convict partner Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) is back in the picture and bent on eliminating a drug-dealing competitor named Marlo (Jamie Hector), and Baltimore P.D. Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin (Robert Wisdom) tries his own defiantly independent brand of street justice by essentially legalizing drugs in "Hamsterdam," where isolated sections of the city are established as open drug-dealing zones, utterly without the knowledge or approval of Colvin's superiors. As city councilman Tommy Carcetti (Aiden Gillen) plots his own ruthlessly ambitious strategy for the mayor's seat, Baltimore officials, McNulty's wire unit, and the entire Baltimore P.D. stand poised for the inevitable fallout from street-level and executive-level manipulations of power.
Of course, this is just the tip of a very large iceberg, as The Wire continues its labyrinthine yet tightly controlled chronicle of over 50 characters, major and minor, who are all flawlessly woven into the fabric of these 12 remarkable episodes. For season 3, series creator David Simon continued to recruit a top-drawer lineup of reputable writers (including novelists Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, and George Pelecanos) and directors (including Ernest Dickerson, Tim Van Patten, and Agnieszka Holland), and by the time a major character is killed in the season's penultimate episode (arguably the series' finest yet), it's clear that The Wire has earned its crown as the most ambitious and intelligent crime drama in the history of American television. DVD extras are excellent, as usual, including five illuminating episode commentaries (an absolute must for devoted fans of the series), a Q&A session with cast & crew moderated by renowned TV critic and author Ken Tucker, and a classroom conversation with Simon that delves deeper into the creative process of the series. Having deservedly earned its renewal for a fourth season (out of a projected five, according to Simon), The Wire delivers surprises aplenty (keep a close watch for startling revelations) while proving, yet again, that cable-TV is the place to be for anyone seeking respite from the relative mediocrity of mainstream network programming. --Jeff Shannon
The Wire: The Complete Fourth Season
Even if you missed the first three seasons (the character guides and thorough episode recaps on HBO's website are recommended), and with only one season left, it's not too late to get in under The Wire. In fact, season 4 is an accessible introduction for those who know The Wire only by its street cred as arguably the very best show on television. For them especially, this season will be, as befitting its theme, a real education. Without resorting to melodramatics that other ratings-challenged series employ to gain that frustratingly elusive audience, The Wire shakes things up this season in a way that is true to the series and its characters. A major character, Dominic West's McNulty, plays a minor role as a contented street cop and family man, while a former supporting player, Jim True-Frost's Roland Pryzbylewski, goes to the head of the class as a new eighth grade teacher at beleaguered Edward Tilghman Middle School. It may take a couple of episodes to orient yourself to the Baltimore backrooms, squad rooms, classrooms, and street corners where The Wire's intense dramas play out, and new viewers may miss something in character nuance, but they will easily grasp the big picture. A politically motivated shake-up sends Major Crimes detectives Freamon (Clarke Peters) and Greggs (Sonja Sohn) to Homicide. The gloves come off in the mayoral race between black incumbent Clarence Royce (Glynn Turman) and idealistic white challenger Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen). Gang leader Marlo (Jamie Hector) quietly and deliberately becomes the city's new drug kingpin, managing to subvert all surveillance efforts. Meanwhile, while "Prez" tries to reach his students, four highly at-risk kids will be drawn into the drug trade.
Mere synopsis does not do The Wire justice. The series deftly juggles its myriad storylines and characters, all of whom make an impression, from Marlo's cold-blooded enforcers, Snoop (Felicia Pearson) and Chris (Gbenga Akinnagbe), to boxing instructor "Cutty" (Chad L. Coleman), determined to keep his young charges off the corners. There is not a false note in the performances or the writing. Richard Price (Clockers) and Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) again contributed episodes. That this series has only been nominated for only one Emmy (for writing) is a travesty. As engrossing as the finest novels and in a class by itself, this isn't television; it's The Wire. --Donald Liebenson
The Wire: The Complete Fifth Season
A barroom toast to Det. Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), a one-man good cop/bad cop, offered in The Wire's final episode could very well serve as this series' epitaph: "When you were good, you were the best we had." Season five bears witness to this. The 10 riveting, wrenching episodes focus on yet another beleaguered Baltimore institution, The Baltimore Sun daily newspaper, whose staff, much like the police, is forced to do more with less. One editor (Clark Johnson) struggles to maintain the paper's journalistic standards in the face of declining ad revenues, employee buyouts and bureau closures. An ambitious reporter (Tom McCarthy) undermines him by taking a page out of the Stephen Glass/Jayson Blair playbook, manufacturing sensational quotes, and eventually, whole stories, while bean-counter management encourages its rising star and keeps its eye on the (Pulitzer) prize. Meanwhile, on the streets, the year-long investigation of rising drug lord Marlo Sansfield (Jamie Hector) and the 22 bodies found in "the vacants" has been discontinued and police morale is at an all-time low (the money promised to the department has been diverted to the schools). McNulty manufactures a serial killer case that will have far-reaching repercussions in the mayor's office, where Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) is mounting a run for governor a mere two years into his term. "I wonder what it would be like to work at a real police station," McNulty rages at one point. The Wire, as ever, is all about real. It's a gritty and unflinching look at life in one of roughest districts of a "broke-ass city." There is street justice for some characters, and street injustice for others. Some meet sad, sudden, or shocking ends that defy TV convention. Referring to Marlo, McNulty declares early on, "He does not get to win; we get to win." The hard-earned victories are mostly small, or come with a price. Not that The Wire does not offer glimmers of hope. Bubbles (Andre Royo) struggles to maintain his sobriety (Steve Earle portrays the leader of his 12-step program and also does the theme song honors this season), and the final episode features a cameo by Jim True-Frost as the once overwhelmed teacher, "Prez," who now seems to have the hang of the job. The ratings-strapped and criminally Emmy-snubbed The Wire has always been a critic's darling with a passionate fan base. To the show's credit, it did not make itself more accessible in its final season (consequently, its send-off did not receive near the fanfare of The Sopranos or Sex and the City). That should not dissuade newcomers to the show. It is heavy lifting, and if you're just joining The Wire, a visit to the show's official website for orientation is recommended. But buy it, watch it, and be patient. It's so worth it. From the masterful storytelling to the peerless ensemble, it just doesn't get any better than The Wire. But that's not exactly news. --Donald Liebenson
Bonus features from all five seasons, including audio commentaries by cast and crew
Three prequels explore life before The Wire
Never-before-seen gag reel
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Top Customer Reviews
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!