Search for near perfect TV show goes to The Wire

I don’t watch much TV so have been quietly evangelical about American crime drama, The Wire, since I discovered it a few months ago.

I’d love to say I was among those who was in on the secret of tis show as far back as 2002. I’d love to say I’ve slavishy followed it ever since; aching for the start of each new series; obsessing over internet hints; worrying over the fate of characters. But I haven’t.

Rather, I’ve blasted through the first two series on DVD in a matter of weeks and will be ripping through the next two in equally quick time – which is never going to endear me to the purists. That, however, matters not a jot. The fact is I’m totally smitten. No other TV series has ever gripped me as completely as this one.

I don’t pretend to be a TV critic. I’m no expert in encapsulating the plot and characterisation nuances in clever little review bites. But the people who are good at that (including the TV critics on virtually every newspaper) are united – The Wire is brilliant.

Yet the baffling “art” of TV scheduling has seen this gem consigned to the late night backwaters of cable TV-land. The result is that none of my pals watch this, few have even heard of it and I was starting to feel like Norman No Mates.

So I was relieved to read Craig McGill’s blog today and, at last, find someone I know who watches this series. I suspect Craig’s been in on this for a long time – which tells me he’s a guy with impeccable taste. After reading his blog, I did quick Google search for The Wire – and near the top came this entry from Time magazine, which listed it in its 100 best TV shows – of all time.

As you might expect, an organ of Time’s repute, gravitas and wordsmithery(?) can do this show far more credit than I ever could:

Through a sprawling, Balzac-ian network of cops, their targets, and the politicians and bureaucrats around them, The Wire tells the story of a declining industrial city—Baltimore, but it could be many others—and the people struggling amid, or profiting off of, its downfall. In The Wire’s view, the world is not divided cop-vs.-robber or black-vs.-white so much as machine-vs.-individual; officer, teacher, drug soldier or pol, people are screwed by institutions that discard them when they’re used up and reward inertia over innovation. (The best chance, The Wire suggests, is for free agents like its unlikely hero, the street bandit Omar, who robs drug dealers and answers to no one.) Yet the series—which, by the way, is also a fantastically realistic cop show—is also funny and the opposite of nihilist, giving everyone from detectives to junkies dignity. Occasionally, it even offers a glimpse of something like hope, which is all the sweeter for being harder earned.

Just to make the whole thing even more enjoyable, the show is packed to the rafters with talented British actors in key roles – not least Dominic West as the main cop focus Jimmy McNulty, and Idris Elba as drugs Mr Big Stringer Bell.

These aren’t some set of overhyped Britpackers. These guys are the real deal. You won’t have seen them in any dodgy UK soap roles, TV commercials or straight-to-TV movies. But you almost certainly will see them appearing in plum future roles. They are pure acting talent – and you won’t EVER hear them fall through their seamless Baltimore accents.

So if you don’t believe me, listen to Craig McGill. If you’re still unconvinced, then take another read at what Time magazine have got to say. If it takes more than that to part you from your hard-earned shekels, then check out the various other reviews, from the The Telegraph and the Guardian for instance.

However, do yourself a favour and treat yourself to this show soon. It’ll remind you what your DVD player is really capable of.


2 thoughts on “Search for near perfect TV show goes to The Wire

  1. Scott, there’s a decent book about the first two seasons of The Wire out there and it has a fantastic anecdote that I feel compelled to share:

    Dominic West’s Audition Tape

    The casting surpassed all expectations. Only the role of McNulty gave us fits, until a bizarre videotape landed in Baltimore, shipped from a London address. On it, an actor was tearing through the orange-sofa scene in which Bunk and McNulty jack up a reluctant D’Angelo, search him, find his pager, then walk him away in handcuffs.

    Unlike every other casting tape ever made, however, this one seemed to be the merest suggestion of a scene. The actor, a squarejawed, Jack-the-Lad sort named West, was reading the McNulty lines, then pausing in silence, reacting to emptiness where the responding lines should have been.

    With several weeks of fruitless searching for a lead actor weighing on our souls, the tape caught us off guard. Bob and I watched this weird half-scene for a long moment, then fell out of our chairs, laughing uncontrollably. Hearing us, Clark Johnson, the Homicide veteran who was directing the pilot, entered the room, watched a few moments of tape, then joined us on the floor.

    “What the hell is this goofy motherfucker doing?”

    The audition tape may have been comic, but the performance itself — when we gathered our wits and began to concentrate on what the actor had going — was impressive. A week later in New York, Dominic West explained that he couldn’t get anyone in London to read the scene with him, and he didn’t have access to a casting office to put himself on tape. His girlfriend had tried to help, but her full English accent kept making him laugh, throwing off the scene. Best she could do was keep quiet and hold the video camera steady.

    Oh and Season 5 is bloody fantastic, so catch up soon. Season 4 on the other hand is heartbreaking. And as I said over at my place, The Corner is also well worth a look, if for nothing else than this happy little tale:

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