TV | Crime and Punishment

The Wire, HBO’s compulsively watchable reinvention of the cop show, is so much more than the best TV show you have never seen, writes Nicholas Broadstock.Using the façade of an investigation into drug dealers in the American city of Baltimore, over five seasons, The Wire creates a living city of disparate yet intricately linked, developed characters. Each season analyses a different institution within modern day Baltimore as the supremely detailed police investigation into the drug industry crisscrosses the different sectors of society.Taking in the police, the port workers, the local politicians, the school system, the newspapers as well as the drug dealers, The Wire shows how they are affected by modern policies and attitudes. The show illustrates the similarities between these institutions which would normally be deemed largely independent of each other.Focusing on at least thirty characters during each season should cripple the show’s ability to develop vivid characters and complex storylines, yet due to outstanding writing by novelists and former journalists, the opposite is the case. From the rebel cop, McNulty, to a gang of impoverished inner-city teenagers, The Wire offers fascinating insights into their lives and attitudes, whilst also maintaining a tone of underlying dark humour.The rise and fall of characters is handled with deliberate grace with every detail being poured over, allowing viewers unprecedented access to the lives of characters more commonly considered purely as statistics by the media.So much intriguing detail is encompassed within The Wire’s storylines that other TV shows or films will appear shallow or unrealistic by comparison.Creator, David Simon envisioned subverting the genre of the American cop show through the simple ploy of not solving the case within an hour. Using this idea, he slows the dynamics of police dramas affording the characters and the world a realism which is not available to more conventional shows such as CSI.The equal focus on those on the right and wrong side of the law gives the show a greater moral compass which soon sees the black and white attitude associated with police dramas blurred to almost insignificance.
Creator, David Simon envisioned subverting the genre of the American cop show through the simple ploy of not solving the case within an hour’
The Wire has been hailed by many critics as the greatest TV show ever made. While this claim has become devalued by its use only a few months ago to describe another drama about organised crime, The Sopranos, the necessity to repeat it lies in the fact that The Wire remains unwatched by all but the most obsessive TV viewers.It can be said that The Wire is a work of art comparable to any film or TV series of recent times.The Wire Seasons 1-5 are now available on DVD and the series is repeated on Thursdays at 9.25pm on Channel 6.