After 5 successful seasons I am definitely late to the dance on this one but a recent romp with HBO Go introduced me to this gritty drama. The Wire actively attempts to showcase the less glamorous (and thus less interesting) parts of being a cop or criminal. You see the tireless and sometimes futile work the cops put in and watch them wasting the hours drinking alone in a dive bar, and you see the drug dealers just sitting around and not doing a whole lot that looks fun – they definitely don’t ball out. This realism is at the heart of the series – it is its appeal. But by design it is also what keeps The Wire from sinking its hooks into an audience immediately. It is certainly more entertaining than, say, the Sopranos because that show is just like watching a dysfunctional family have the same argument over and over again. I get it, the mom’s a bitch. To me, that’s not fun- I don’t want to worry about fictional family problems. Instead The Wire exposes viewers to the harsh grind of crime. But it admittedly drudges along at times.
It took a while to get into the show because of this. Contrary to the American tradition of melodramatic action and mythic characters, not much happens. When it does, however, the excitement feels like it might in real life and is easy to identify with. This isn’t a show about the bad guys getting what’s coming to them or watching happy endings, it is about getting deeper into the lives of the players on both sides of the law and seeing how they operate. When it comes down to it, The Wire is about the characters. None of them are so evil to not be likable, so good to be admired, or so bad ass to be in awe of. They are all just people doing their thing and it is this breadth of detail that rubs off on you. It’s hard to explain, but once I got that sense of what The Wire was about, it became almost addicting. This may explain why it was a critical hit because of its unconventional screenwriting but never attracted an overly impressive audience, but also why the series is suited to (and selling well on) dvd. To be honest, it might be maddening trying to watch the series once a week, but armed with HBO Go and watching it on demand is not a bad way to spend an afternoon.