Ladies and gentlemen: The Wire. A show about a small team of Baltimore police officers charged with the daunting task of combating gangs and drugs in their city. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Boring, almost? Well let me tell you, bold reader, that this little-known but universally critically acclaimed TV show is arguably the best show to ever grace the small screen. EVAR. I can say, with full confidence in my own opinion (imagine that!) that Season Four of The Wire is the best single season of television ever produced. That season will tear your soul to shreds and leave you gasping for more.
“Those are some mighty bold claims, Paul,” I can almost hear you say. Indeed, my friends, they are – but let me interject here with a bit of evidentiary prose to ease your troubled minds. I have seen all of The Sopranos, Deadwood, Mad Men, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad…Look, I could go on for days with a whole litany of shows that I have had the pleasure and privilege of viewing but let us, for the sake of argument and science, whittle my little list down to the top three of all time and in this order – counting down from three to one: The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and The Wire.
The Sopranos was an amazing show but it is primarily important because it bridges the previous generation of shows with the current renaissance of television. The Sopranos, created by David Chase, both celebrated the phallocentric, male-dominated world of east coast underworld crime and denounced its many limitations by showing us Tony Soprano’s domestic side. However, the show could never escape its own milieu – it often depicted violence in Scorsese-esque operatic ballets with bullets/blunt weapons so that you were never sure if the show was celebrating violence or commenting on it; the narrative was often revenge-driven or about honor, respect, or a myriad of other gangster genre tropes; and it was certainly not socially progressive in any way – like The Wire. It was a great show and it ushered in a new era of important and adult-themed shows yet to come but it doesn’t hold a candle to The Wire.
How about Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan? This one is a little harder to be detached about because it’s most recent in my mindscape. Having said that, I can’t gush enough about this show and its brilliance – both technical and visionary. The most amazing thing about this show is how the writers confess that they would often write themselves into corners and somehow, every season, write themselves out. Sometimes, the best plot-points would not find satisfactory closure until several seasons later. The characters are memorable and real because the overarching motif of the show is that it is a suburban nightmare come true. Your high school chem teacher is a meth-dealing megalomaniac who has corrupted one of your more troubled classmates into being his partner. But, its intriguing motif is also the source of its most ardent criticisms. For one thing, it is all nothing more than White-suburban-privileged wish-fulfillment. The show is ultimately saying that even in the underworld of drugs it takes a pair of White men to revolutionize its production and distribution. Oh! And the only person capable of catching them is – you guessed it – a White male DEA officer.
By contrast, one of The Wire’s main characters, created by David Simon and portrayed by Sonja Sohn, is a person of mixed heritage (Sonja is of Black and Asian descent). Furthermore, the character she portrays, Detective Greggs, is lesbian who struggles to maintain her career with the idea of starting a family with her partner (OMG! Existential crisis from a person of color!). So what? Modern Family is a hit show and it features an openly gay couple. It’s no big deal, right? Consider that The Wire debuted in 2002. Yes, faithful reader, the beginning of the Bush era (read=Modern Dark Ages). The timing of its debut also contributed greatly to the show’s short life because it came right on the heels of the 9/11 attacks.
Despite all this, David Simon was able to leverage his many years reporting for The Baltimore Sun into a taught, well-written, fully realized drama about the broken bureaucracy of the criminal justice system, the worker’s unions, and the school system (Season 4) in his beloved city. The show was ahead of its time and still deserves to be recognized as, arguably, the greatest television drama ever produced.
Post by Paul Yim