I know there are few things more insufferable than hearing about a person's favourite television show, but you really, really, really need to watch The Wire

Since Christmas last year, I have devoted approximate 80 hours of my life to watching (and partially rewatching) all five series of The Wire on DVD. I can think of few better uses I could have made of that time. And I say that as the father of a nine-month old child, who enjoys playing the game of "now-you-see-me/now-you-don't" above virtually all else.

This week, it all came to an end. I have just watched the final show of series five (and hence the last episode ever made). So at the risk of joining the ranks of gibbering fans who cannot help but discourse upon this show's greatness, allow me to proclaim it as one of the two best things I've seen on TV. The only real competition for me is the 1979 adaptation of Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, along with its companion 1982 adaptation of Smiley's People. I'd also give an honourable mention to The Sopranos, although I think ultimately this suffered by being a bit too self-consciously artistic (I'm thinking Tony's repeated hallucinations of talking fish/voluptuous neighbours/etc) and failing to fully develop its story lines (i.e. whatever happened to the expected blow-back from the Russian-in-the-Pine-Barrens episode? Or the stand-off between Massive G and Hesh?).

I'm sharing my thoughts on The Wire for a couple of reasons. One is that, if I may risk praising the current audience, as you obviously are smart enough to enjoy reading Pundit, you will love the way this show is constructed. Its co-creator David Simon pulled no punches when explaining to the BBC his basic philosophy: "Fuck the average viewer."

So if you haven't seen The Wire, don't be put off by appearances, or even by the first episode. This is not (just) an American cop show. It rather is the equivalent of a great nineteenth-century novel, updated in its subject matter, relocated to contemporary Baltimore, and placed on the screen instead of the page. Yes, it has cops and crime. But it has so much more than this. You will love it.

As an aside, I'm not surprised nor particularly upset by TVNZ's decision to bury this show at 12:20 am on a Tuesday. Frankly, I don't think it works as a weekly experience – trying to watch The Wire in the same way as you view Top Chef or House would be like trying to read War and Peace at a one-chapter-a-week pace. It's a made-for-DVD experience, allowing you to immerse yourself fully in the characters and their world for two or three hours at a time.

My second reason for writing on The Wire is that it provides a fantastic antidote to any claim that New Zealand society has gone to hell in a hand-basket. You think violent crime is out of control here? Witness Chris and Snoop putting over 20 bodies in vacant buildings – and the Baltimore police then not having the resources to investigate the deaths. You think our politics is seamy, and MMP encourages distasteful deal making? Just consider Mayor Carcetti's scheming to win the gubernatorial election, or State Senator Clay Davis' shaking down of every person who passes through his doors. You think our schools are failing our children? Look at an educational system where kids are only taught rote responses to standardised tests, so that the schools do not lose any funding for the next year. After seeing how bad things can be, you'll love living here again.

In fact, if there is a danger in The Wire, it is that it paints such a depressing picture of its milieu that it may lull its audience into a sense of comparative complacancy. As the Guardian has noted,

"One irony of The Wire's global success is that there are now, presumably, plenty of middle-class Britons more familiar with the drugs economy, failing schools and corrupt politicians of Baltimore than they are with any part of inner-city Britain."

The same no doubt holds true for Aotearoa-New Zealand. But still, even the worst pockets of depravation and gang-based violence in this country are as nothing compared to what we see of contemporary Baltimore.

So do yourself a favour. Track down the DVD of The Wire. Watch it. You will love it. You really will.

Comments (9)

by Graeme Edgeler on April 27, 2009
Graeme Edgeler

It rather is the equivalent of a great nineteenth-century novel ... placed on the screen instead of the page. ... trying to watch The Wire in the same way as you view Top Chef or House would be like trying to read War and Peace at a one-chapter-a-week pace.

Weren't a great many 19th century novels (e.g. Dickens, Verne) originally serialized? I think War and Peace too (though perhaps that one wasn't a chapter a week...

by Conor Roberts on April 27, 2009
Conor Roberts

Andrew, I'm only up to series three but I absolutely agree with you.

I'm told upcoming series get into the machinations of local body Balti politics. Perhaps one could also point to that as a prelude of things to come here...

by Andrew Geddis on April 27, 2009
Andrew Geddis

Graeme,

Quite right. But I wonder whether reading them chapter-by-chapter over months was a better or worse experience than sitting down with the complete novel? 

Conor,

Don't want to include spoilers, but yes ... local politics features large in series four and five. And not in a good way ...!

by Tim Watkin on April 27, 2009
Tim Watkin

I watched a single episode from the series that focused on the local newspaper and bailed after that. I realised I'd need to watch it from the beginning to make sense of it all. So I must get round to it. Friends keep comparing it to Bridesehead Revisited and Faulty Towers as some of the best TV ever made...

One friends of ours who lives in Baltimore wrote this (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jan/17/bulletmoremurderland) for the Guardian about The Wire and the city... Sorry to say Andrew that you've not the first to see it as "Dickensian".

The deadliest city in the US these days, however, is Detroit.

 

by Andrew Geddis on April 28, 2009
Andrew Geddis

Tim,

"Sorry to say Andrew that you've not the first to see it as "Dickensian"."

Actually, I think it's more in the line of Balzac or Zola than Dickens ... there ain't a lot of sentimentality or happy endings in the Wire! And ironically, the series writers' use the descriptor "Dickensian" in the 5th series (the one about the newspapers) as shorthand for lazy, superficial coverage of social issues.

by Toby Manhire on April 28, 2009
Toby Manhire

you're absolutely right, The Wire is exceptional, But all the same this http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/03/09/85-the-wire/ is pretty funny

by Alan Doak on April 30, 2009
Alan Doak

Andrew, where did you det a DVD of Series 5? I hope you didn't download it. I can't find a copy anywhere. For everyone else the CD Store have Series 1-4 for around $34.99 a series. Great value. And I agree - it's the best thing on TV ever - or as Stringer Bell would say - "mos def".

by Andrew Geddis on April 30, 2009
Andrew Geddis

Alan,

I was in London earlier this year, at a conference, and purchased it at Heathrow airport (so the creators got my full dollar (pounds) for their efforts!). Fortunately, it played on my DVD player on my return ... a free sample DVD of other HBO shows that came with it didn't.

by Graeme Edgeler on May 01, 2009
Graeme Edgeler

Andrew, where did you det a DVD of Series 5?

Season 5 will be released is scheduled in "mid 2009" according to Warner Bros. NZ. And Generation Kill is apparently due "mid-late 2009". I understand The Corner was released in region 2 very recently, so I imagine that it will be headed to region 4 late this year, or early next.

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