Tuesday, August 26, 2008

TV series review: The Wire

As the credits rolled on the series finale of season 5 of HBO's "The Wire" (just released on DVD this month) I felt as if a family member or two had just died. There was a definite disturbance in the force -- the "quality television" force that is.

Okay, I know I'm being melodramatic, but I haven't felt this maudlin since the M*A*S*H series finale almost 25 years ago. If ever I didn't want a series to end, this was the one.

Written and directed like a television novel, "The Wire" introduced audiences to a cavalcade of characters: from cops, crooks, judges, lawyers, and politicians to schoolchildren and newspaper writers. Each one was multidimensional, real, and endearing in their own way to fans of the critically acclaimed program. Not one of them was without flaws, and each were presented, warts and all, to the viewing public.

I have to admit that while the series was in its first run I never watched the show and was a little suspicious of the hype. I have to be when the phrase "best show ever on television" is bandied about so readily. But I eventually found myself with some free time and a few bucks to spend on Amazon, so I bought season one. Then in rapid succession I gobbled up season two, three, four, and finally season five; each time barely able to contain myself as I waited for the UPS truck to arrive.

For those who aren't familiar, the show explored the lives of several characters, but the most important one was Baltimore. Like the river in "Huck Finn," the city of Baltimore stood as the real main character of the show, with the myriad assortment of other flavorful players all orbiting around this colorful town and the themes of corruption, bureacracy run wild, urban blight, crime, an educational system in crisis, the abondonment of the working class, and the scourge of drugs in the inner city -- to name but a few.

Each season highlighted a set of these topics while still pulling along all of our favorite characters -- those who were still living that is -- and gave us multiple viewpoints which made good storytelling rise to the level of greatness. Created and penned by a former Baltimore City "Police" and inner city teacher, along with a former Baltimore Sun reporter, viewers were instantly aware that this was a no-holds barred, zero B.S. representation of the real goings on of a major metropolitan city with major problems -- the same problems shared by all large cities across the U.S.

Film, communications, and journalism students will be dissecting and writing about this show for decades to come, and discussions of "The Wire" will show up on college curriculums as an example of what quality telvision should aspire to. TV critics, similarly, will hold this as an example of writing at it's best and characterizations that haven't ever been seen on this scale in the television medium.

You might think that this praise for "The Wire" is far too high -- as I once did -- but I ask you to set aside your skepticism and run to the local rental store to obtain a copy of season one to see for yourself. It's obvious immediately that this is something different and special.

"The Wire" was a true treat every step of the way from start to finish, one which I will sorely miss. I can only hope that this amalgamation of writing, acting, and storytelling will once again come together in some future program.

Odds are that it won't, though.

I give the entire series of "The Wire" six wire-taps out of five, my highest rating ever. And deservedly so.

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