Boredom is a terrible feeling to experience. The seconds become hours, the minutes, millennia. It almost feels like there’s no escape from these doldrums. Fortunately, We Make Movies on Weekends has come up with a way to banish those blues before they can take root in your psyche. Prepare yourself for your latest… Weekend Binge!
There are many shows out there that are currently vying to be the “Greatest Series of all Time” (Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones spring to mind) but there is still one show that stands head and shoulders above the rest. I am, of course, talking about The Wire.
I’m sure that you will have heard at least one person in your life extol the virtues of this wonderful masterpiece, and you’ve more than likely shaken your head at them and gone about your day. If anything, you would probably think that your friend is a little bit disturbed or needs to get some sleep (possibly because they’ve been watching The Wire.) But if you go so far as to actually watch the show, things will start to make sense, because you will have been inducted into the secret club of those who have watched Baltimore’s finest attempt to clean up the drug riddled streets using naught but their sense of justice, a few underhanded tactics, and the titular wire-tap.
The Wire is set in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, and focuses predominantly on the setting up and eventual disbanding of the Major Crimes Unit as they attempt to crack down on the drugs trade in their city. Whilst the main story often followed the police, several plot lines also followed the numerous groups of drug dealers and discussed gang politics and territorial disputes.
The show also focused on a number of characters from wildly varying backgrounds, from Jimmy McNulty (played by Dominic West), an alcoholic police officer working in homicide, to Omar Little (Michael Kenneth Williams), a stick-up man with an immutable code of ethics. The list of characters the show focuses on is incredibly long, so much so, that to list them all would take up about half of this article. Suffice to say, everyone who appears on the show, be they a main character or an extra, has a reason to be there, with plenty of small parts growing mightily as the show continued over its five seasons.
The incredibly diverse casting made for one of the best aspects of the show. Baltimore’s largely black population allowed for plenty of key roles played by minority characters, and within that was a melting pot of different sexualities and class standings. This, combined with the equal screen time shared by both sides of the law, allowed for a much more nuanced story.
Quite possibly, the most important feature of the show that set it apart from others of its ilk was its attention to minor details and a refusal to hold your hand whilst explaining every minuscule detail that might seem out of place, allowing you to draw your own conclusions to the narrative, making you feel smart when you worked out how a piece of evidence related to the case, or watching the officers interrogate a suspect.
However, on the other side of the coin, it was the lack of exposition that really irked many viewers, citing the constant need to pay such close attention to the show as the main reason for not sticking with it. This was an excuse used by HBO to keep the show’s renewal continually in flux, making The Wire’s ability to attain five whole seasons nothing short of a miracle.
Another curious factor in the production of the show is its lack of classic and conventional storytelling methods. With the exception of one flashback in the entire series, (which was begrudgingly added by the producers after test audiences complained,) the plot remains completely linear, jumping between different characters’ stories at the drop of a hat. The writers also used the characters and mise-en-scene to help describe what was going on when the camera wasn’t rolling. This approach to narrative structure meant that you would be scratching your head and wondering what a scene (or even an episode sometimes) was used for when there was very little context for its appearance, only to watch two or three episodes on to discover that it was all a set-up for something further on.
The other fascinating aspect of the show is the lack of any non-diegetic music except for the final episode of each season, where relevant song was played over a montage of clips giving a conclusion to the story arcs that had been focussed on, as well as setting up subtle hints at what might be seen come the next season.
Despite the fact that (in my opinion, at least) The Wire is the pinnacle of televisual excellence, there are many who would argue that Breaking Bad manages to pip it to the post, citing season three as the turning point that accelerates the latter from good to great, whilst claiming The Wire’s second season is something of a slog to get through. Although there is a grain of truth in that statement, to me The Wire has a fantastic first season and only gets better from there. The second season may have a little problem with pacing and juggling the characters, but it’s still an improvement on the first. In fact, each season grows and expands both its scope of storytelling and time spent with the actors, all the way up to its final season, which went down a route of slightly darker humour and added in a smattering of the police relationship with the press.
The Wire is utterly amazing, and should be at the very top of everyone’s “Must Watch” list, if you don’t believe me, check out what is ostensibly called “The Fuck Scene” and let us know what you think!
Is The Wire going to be your latest Weekend Binge?