November 27th, 2007

Yellow head

The Wire

What would it be like, I wonder, to have the omniscient ability to observe the inner workings of a modern American city? To see every level of a decaying, crime-ridden, urban metropolis in exact detail, from the streets, right up through every social level to the mayor's office itself. Wonder no longer, because HBO's TV series, The Wire delivers this ability.

Through four series, The Wire, has placed a microscope on crime, education, poverty, greed, and the political system, while simultaneously showing us exactly how these disparate pieces fit into the larger widescreen picture. Starting small, The Wire has expanded outwards with each series, until it has presented us with an epic, multilayered narrative, interweaving a teeming cast of street people, police, drug dealers, children, teachers and politicians. The thriving drug trade, the dying dockside industries, the collapsing education system, policing, and politics, have all come under the show's scrutiny.

The first series cleverly paralleled the structure and bureaucracy of the drug trade with the police force investigating it. Unlike any other crime show I can think of, The Wire shows us, time and time again, how investigations are stalled, even shut down for short-term political gain. Many of the police characters appear to have no interest in solving crimes. Crime detection is secondary to career advancement, and The Wire shows us exactly how this situation has come about.

The Wire is particularly good at showing just how interconnected people's lives are. Nothing happens in isolation. Small events in a character's life can ripple out to cause major changes across the social boundaries. The show's great strength lies in its ability to balance the small details of each character's story, against the huge unfolding narrative that contains it, without ever losing its place.

All reviews of The Wire come filled with superlatives, and the show is often lazily compared with the novels of Balzac, whose stories are similarly socially realistic and expansive. The reason critics have to reach so far into the past and into another medium for comparisons, is that there has never been anything on television quite as ambitious and brilliantly realised as The Wire. That being the case, it's shameful that the show is so little seen. Contrary to what you might think, The Wire is not difficult to watch, it bursts with tragedy, sorrow and the darkest humour. The Wire is an all too very human story, universal to us all. Catch The Wire.