Last night's episode of The Wire has convinced me that this series is—warning: superficially excessive superlative just ahead—the best drama in the history of American TV. Until now, I thought the best drama in the history of American TV was Oz, which only just went off the air. Comedy has been doing well lately too, between The Daily Show, The Simpsons, and the various animated efforts that have followed in The Simpsons' wake, not to mention the one-two punch of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Screw nostalgia: This is the golden age of television.
But I'm getting sidetracked. I'm mentioning The Wire (again) not to praise TV, but because Salon just published a couple of good articles about it: a general appreciation by Heather Havrilesky, and an interview with staff writer George Pelecanos, who's also a widely respected novelist.
In addition to its artistic merits, The Wire is the one TV drama that's been relentlessly critical of the drug war. More broadly, it's deeply skeptical about all large, hierarchical institutions. It seems to move effortlessly from closely observed human stories to big-picture portraits of how politics and commerce both licit and not are tightly interlaced, not just with each other but with those aforementioned individual human lives. Both the writing and the acting are superb, and the only reason I'm not urging every non-fan to start watching it right now is because it's the sort of sustained narrative that you have to experience from the beginning. Sooner or later, someone's going to put out a DVD of the first two seasons. Buy them or rent them, and proceed at your own pace.