The Wire – Legendary Television


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The Wire, an HBO Drama Television Series from 2002-2008, is my favorite piece of work that I have ever seen on a television or movie screen.  I know, bold.  And while I will not try to give you a summary of the 60 episodes of 60 full minutes that have come and gone, I will tell you that the show is worth your time.

Set in the backdrop of the mean streets of Baltimore, David Simon (show-runner, head writer, creator) gives us the most realistic and raw piece of television in history.  Each season is set in a different context.  Season 1 takes us behind the work of a police detail (group of narcotics, detectives, and homocide police officers) pulled together to take down one gang led by Avon Barksdale and crew (played by Wood Harris, the star of arguably the greatest sports movie ever made).  Season 2 changes wholeheartedly to take us to the docks of Maryland, where corruption in the way of prostitution, heroine, and cocaine imports paces the struggle between the BPD, the dockers union and the Russian mob.

Season 3 takes us into politics and shows us that the ethical do not always come out on top, as a white head city council member quietly makes his move towards running for mayor of a majority African-American city.  It shows us the inner workings of the battle between the governor in Annapolis and the mayor in Baltimore and the struggle of upper level police officers to “cook the books” (arresting more people, drug busts, often not the most effective police work) and the give the mayor the results he wants.  Season 4 is my favorite season and should also be a prerequisite for any and all of you thinking of working for Teach for America.  This season takes us to the schools of Baltimore, where let’s just say that most of these kids are not thinking about college in the 5th grade.  They are thinking about skipping school so that they can be the lookouts or runners for illegal drug gangs.  The school season is centered around Mr. Pryzbylewski (fired cop from Season 1 and 2) as a middle school math teacher struggling to get the kids to buy in to what he is selling.  Instead of forcing multiplication tables or textbooks down these kids throats, he instead chooses to teach math through their world (start at 4:00).

Season 5 takes us to the Baltimore newspaper industry, a great backdrop for the changing times of our technological world.  It is amazing how much less people read newspapers now a days as many across the country have either gone bankrupt or downsized.  The attention to detail in this season is incredible and it shows how much goes into being a professional journalist.  It also goes into how much opportunity there is to plagiarize, to exaggerate, and to use “anonymous sources” who may or may not exist to make your story better.

The Wire touches on so many different issues that it is hard to address them all in this setting.  I welcome any and all comments and questions from those who have or have not seen the show.  From dirty cops, to dirty lawyers, to dirty politicians to all of those respective archetypes fighting ethical versions of themselves (yes, gangsters do have “a code”), this show hits home on every level.  There is a reason why it is President Obama’s favorite show too.

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4 thoughts on “The Wire – Legendary Television

  1. I have to say, while I have never had the time to start watching The Wire, I have heard from many people that it is worth my time. Like you said, I think HBO provides arguably some of the best entertainment available. I wrote my blog post about The Sopranos, another HBO show about a lifestyle not known to many Americans in incredibly entertaining fashion. While I’ve never seen The Wire, I would assume that like The Sopranos it is very thought provoking and has many underlying ethical themes.

  2. I agree with Roger that HBO has recently been at the forefront of television and on demand entertainment. I think this has a lot to do with the extra leeway directors have in terms of restrictions on profanity, violence, nudity, etc. That being said, Alex Benoit and I have made a commitment to start watching this show and I am interested to see what it has to offer. You hear about police corruption and drug trafficking in the news, but never really see it first hand (or at least I haven’t). I’m excited to get an entertaining and in-depth look at what life in Baltimore is like for these people.

  3. The Wire is so good, I used it in a class three year ago to talk about the problems of innovation. In season 3, Avon, the CEO of the drug gang, comes out of prison to find his COO and #2, Stringer Bell, has been innovating by, among other things, negotiating a cartel with other drug gangs and laundering money into construction. Of course, this leads to Stringer complaining about the unfairness of crooked politicians who he has to bribe.

    Anyway, Avon sees their business model as radically different and it is even tied into his sense of being manly and successful. Since it is drama, the innovation or not conflict explodes.

    I am not alone, by the way in using The Wire in a classroom.

    THat is how you embed it directly, Michael.

  4. Jordi, you are talking about the lead up to arguably the best few scenes of the show. When Stringer tells Slim Charles to kill Senator Davis, Avon says no (“That’s some assisination shit”) and an argument ensures. Avon says that he “is just a gangster, I suppose”. And he is not a “suit wearing business man” like Stringer. The other amazing scene is when they are overlooking their old haunts of Baltimore from Avon’s new post-prison bachelor pad. These guys have been best friends since they were kids and now they are at odds at the head of a criminal drug organization. Avon ends up turning on Stringer, and vice versa, and it only shows how much power can corrupt the mind regarding friendships, societal values, and what is really important.

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