Criminal Negligence for “The Wire”

The WireOn the advice of readers a few months ago, I decided to sample HBO’s urban crime procedural series, “The Wire,” reaching back in time to 2002 to start with the first season on DVD, courtesy of Netflix. Almost immediately, I understood what everyone was raving about. My reaction: “Oh, so this is what the best episodic television ever written looks like.”

“The Wire” is an embarrassment of riches. It’s full of pitch-perfect storytelling, methodically and confidently strewn across long, ambitious story arcs and populated with vivid, complex characters. Its attention to detail, and its inconspicuously accurate and unflinching realism are everything I’d ever hoped for in a dramatic series. The erratic and usually rare appearance of those virtuous traits in supposedly superior shows has frustrated me so much after years of TV viewing that it’s simply astonishing that this show has been able to sustain them so uniformly and effortlessly. The series also happens to be the best acted show I’ve ever seen — if there’s a more scarily commanding performer on television than Idris Elba as Stringer Bell, then I haven’t seen him. That guy should be a superstar by now.

Recent Crimes

Don’t spoil anything for me by talking about recent episodes though; I’m still working my way through season three. But, if the fourth and latest season is anywhere near as good as the first three, it seems off-puttingly surprising that the show received not one Emmy nomination this year.

I’m not alone here in my amazement at this oversight, apparently. Over at The Chicago Tribune, television critic Maureen Ryan said:

“‘The Wire’ is not just considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time. It’s simply a classic work of art, by any standard in any creative field. The HBO drama getting only one nomination in its four-season history is like ‘The Godfather’ getting one measly Oscar nomination. It’s not just wrong, it shows an institutional inability (or even unwillingness) to recognize true greatness.”

(That lone nomination came in 2005, when the episode “Middle Ground” received a nod for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series.)

Ryan’s right, but I prefer to look at it another way: the fact that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has gone so seemingly far out of its way not to honor “The Wire” is a kind of validation. I can only guess that there’s something so visceral, immediate and challenging about the show that it just plain frightens them. If it weren’t so uniquely great, if it didn’t set the bar so unattainably high for other series, and if it were instead merely a good show, they would have damned it with the faint praises of a handful of Emmy awards here and there, much as they have with many far, far inferior series.” When I think about it that way, I hope “The Wire” never gets a nomination.

  1. Unfortunately I don’t think this show is broadcast on any reliable schedule in Australia. The few episodes I have seen – which have been shown sporadically on different channels – were fantastic.

    After such a glowing review from you, I think I’ll hunt around for the DVDs.

  2. I agree. I’ve been watching The Wire since the beginning and it is a well written, riveting show. True to life, characters you love die and good people, including kids, wind up on the wrong side of fortune. Good guys are often flawed, while the bad guys can be disarmingly charming. If you’re hooked on the first season, you’re going to loooove this past season’s episodes that focus on the relationships among Baltimore public school children; authorities such as school teachers,cops, city hall and social workers; all placed in the gritty backdrop of the inner city. You’ll see how the Stringer Bells of this world are made.

  3. I wanted to rewatch the fourth season almost immediately after I first screened it this last year, but I couldn’t and can’t. The whole experience was just too damn painful. TV so potent, so good, it seems a shame it falls into the same iTunes category as Two and a Half Men.

    Good analysis on the Emmy snub. It’s more fun to feel self-righteous than dejected, anyway. When you get to season four, make sure you follow along with Alan Sepinwall who has the best Wire coverage around.

  4. Agreed. The Wire is almost reason enough to pay for cable every month — thank goodness for DVDs and Netflix which save me a bit of money.

    Do you know when season 4 is being released on DVD? I checked on Netflix, and there’s no release date… Hmmm…


  5. Khoi, you’re definitely in for some solid storytelling, bruh. You have some favorite characters and storylines yet? Hurry up and catch up, bruh, so we can all get down with geekin’ on it!

  6. Khoi — thank you for highlighting what is almost certainly the best TV show I have ever watched. Season 4 is a triumph, season 5 simply can’t arrive soon enough.

  7. Khoi~ I won’t spoil season 4 for you but suffice it to say it’s the best season yet of this brilliant series. Can’t wait for season 5 to begin this fall. The only sad part about this show about my hometown is that it portrays, in all likelihood, the reality of Baltimore’s urban blight.


  8. Aside from the artistic merits of The Wire David Simon, the shows creator, raises some really important points about how various urban institutions (city hall, police, schools) conspire to fail the populations of America’s cities.

    Heres hoping this remarkable show gets people thinking.

  9. everybody raves about this show and i have yet to crack it. but i definitely don’t hold the emmys to any standard nowadays. they’ve never blessed battlestar galactica with a nomination and that’s just criminal in my mind 🙂

  10. This is quite simply the best thing I have seen on TV. Well written, great casting / acting and some of the most powerful TV I have had the pleasure to witness. The Wire is sheer genius and each season stands on its own feet.

  11. I’ve read a lot of interviews with David Simon, and I think he attributes its lack of Emmy nods to the show featuring a predominantly black cast from the city of Baltimore, Maryland, and not New York or L.A..

    There’s a Q&A with David on the third season DVD where he kind of goes off on New York. It’s priceless.

    Can’t wait to hear your reactions to the third and fourth season.

  12. The fourth season is the best of the spectacular series so far – but be prepared to be shattered – it’s a gut wrencher.

  13. I heard David Simon on the radio in Baltimore. He mentioned that The Wire has more speaking roles for black actors than every other show on network television combined. Great, great show.

  14. David Simon writes it? No wonder it’s good. He wrote the *other* best TV show of all time, Homicide.

    I’m gonna have to check this out. And if you haven’t yet, watch Homicide: Life On The Street.

  15. I’m glad to see that you are now on board. I remember back when I saw the first season I knew that this was something really special. The thing is, I didn’t know if I was just being a homer having it filmed in my back yard (Baltimore). I recently had the privilege of walking into a filming of the upcoming final season.

    There is no release date (as of yet) for the season 4 DVD. I know season 3 was released last august but you would think the word would be out if it was coming out soon.

    Only one more season left, I hate to see it go but I would much rather it burn out than fade away.

  16. My Dad’s been raving about the show for years. I haven’t heard someone talk negatively of it. Ever. I’ll have to check it out. Too many reliable sources jumping on t he wagon.

  17. I’ve just finished watching series 4 and it is outstanding. Very glad to hear there is a series 5 on the way.

    We don’t hear much about HBO shows down here in Australia and if they do come to be shown they’re generally at obscure and inconsistent showtimes.

  18. Yea, its about time you joined the club. I find it personally amazing that HBO has managed to air 3 of what I consider the top 5 series ever created (The Wire, Deadwood, The Sopranos) and probably a couple more in the top 10 with Six Feet Under.
    Also you can go back and catch Tim Goodman’s Wire deconstructions for past seasons, he has been one of the louder media voices decrying the way the Wire has been overlooked for years.

    Happy Viewing
    – Kevin J

  19. That was supposed to read:
    … couple more in the top 10 with Six Feet Under and Carnivale.

    As an aside, i’m glad that some of the other networks are finally trying to meet that standard. Weeds and Dexter are rightfully getting their due, and I think when Brotherhood airs again (and more than 5 people see it) it will really get some legs, its probably the best non-HBO series i’ve seen, amazing acting by the whole cast and very dynamically written. Put it on your list to check out if you haven’t.

  20. it’s a blessing and a curse for baltimore.
    i love the show, but it makes my city look so bad.

    ..thinking that it wasn’t going to show me much new or interesting about west baltimore, i didn’t start watching until earlier last month, when i just went and bought season 1.
    it was so good i watched it in a weekend and had to run out and buy season 2.
    i am tryin to hold off a little on 3, but i bet i end up buying it today!

  21. For all of you wondering when season 4 comes out on DVD… HBO generally releases DVD sets prior to the start of the next season. From what I have heard, Season 5 will begin early 2008 so expect Season 4 to come out around that time. The theme for season five will be about the media and consumers of media. The theme will be about “what stories get told and what don’t and why it is that things stay the same.” Sounds like another Emmy-snub caliber season to me.

  22. wow, so i rented these based on reading this blog, and i’m hooked. i have to thank you so much for pointing it out, else it would have slipped through my discerning fingers. this is definitely what (good) television should be striving to deliver. thanks.

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