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.

NEXT: Partly Free Speech

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  1. thank you from the writer of episode No. 207

  2. I have caught a few episodes and I must say I’d have to agree it is some of the best TV in a very long time.

    It should be required viewing for all Americans who think we are “winning,” the War on Drugs (a.k.a. minority/inner city youth).


  3. I loved Homicide: Life on the Streets and I loved The Corner, so I’d be the ideal target viewer for The Wire.

    So far I’ve watched two or three episodes and although the acting and direction are terrific, it’s very difficult to care about the characters or get into the story. If you haven’t watched this from the beginning it seems hopeless to try to figure out what’s going on and to care about any of it.

    It’s worse than Murder One, in which one case was followed from beginning to end. In The Wire it seems like there are many backstories that I’m never going to catch up with.

    Maybe they should put out some kind of summary or episode guide so that newcomers to this series can figure out what the heck is going on.

    By the way the f-bomb content of this show is off the scale. The typical script is like, ‘f*** f*** f*** f*** f*** you you mother f*** c*** sucker mother f********.” This is writing?

  4. Your wish is my command, Fishfry. Here’s the official episode guide.

  5. I’ve never had any trouble following the plot. I had trouble with Bubble’s last speech on the boat – I understood one out of every 12 words, perhaps. But it was still funny.

    A friend of mine who watches every TV show ever made (he’s a TV critic for a paper) insists that it’s also the best cast show he’d ever seen, and I think he’s right. It’s as if everyone played the role for five years before day one of filming.

  6. There are a lot of f-bombs when compared to the rest of cable television, but I find it to be an accurate portrayal of real life.

  7. “This is the golden age…”

    Yeah, and Seinfeld was funny, too.

  8. “Queer As Folk” is the best show on TV these days; followed closely by “Angel.”

  9. when i used to get HBO i always watched “sex and the city” not because i liked it, but beause i think sarah jessica parker is really sexy.

    but seriosuly anyone who digs qualtiy TV needs to watch HBO.

  10. I completely agree with your judgement. I love this show, and I think its the best drama ever on American TV, at least that I’ve ever heard of. Mr. Lileks is dead-on as ever about the casting. I can’t even imagine the actors not still being their characters when they leave the set. Another thing that’s great about the casting is how many unusual looking, not pretty/handsome people are in the cast. You see faces that you’d never see anywhere else on TV. I don’t know much about how the show is made but some of the people just have to be non-professional actors that they found on the streets of Baltimore. If not, then they’re even bigger geniuses than I initially thought. I didn’t like the recent casting of Method Man in a bit part though, because it detracted from the hyper-naturalism that I love about the show.

    I don’t know about the assertion that its a “libertarian” or explicity anti drug-war show. I’m sure you can read it this way but the writing is so complex and nuaced that it would support a lot of other readings as well. It tackles the drug war from every conceivable angle, which makes it far superior to say Traffic. That was also a good piece of work, but the American version especially sometimes seemed to descend into libertarian/anti drug-war agitprop.

    The show is a continuous narrative like a great novel. I have such respect for it that I would caution against people trying to pick it up now, without knowing the back-story.

    And how cool is it that the theme song is Tom Waits?

    Thanks for bringing more attention to this show.

  11. I didn’t mean to suggest that the show is libertarian, Eric — just that it has themes that should resonate with libertarians. From what I know of him, David Simon is a left-leaning populist with a healthy skepticism toward authority, including those forms of authority that left-leaning populists usually revere.

    He’s definitely opposed to the drug war, though: he’s said so in many interviews, as have other people involved in the program. The fact that you can support other readings just goes to show how complex — and intellectually honest — the series is.

    I have to disagree with you on one point: Speaking as someone who lives in Baltimore, the one thing that’s very unrealistic about the series is how many good-looking people are on it. That said, it’s still truer to life in this regard than most TV and movies. (The guy who plays Bubbles is actually rather handsome offscreen, for example, but was made up to look like an emaciated junkie.)

  12. Homicide: Life on the Street is finally out on DVD, The Wire can’t be far behind.

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