Thursday 22 January 2009


Having read reviews about The Wire (American Detective T.V. Drama set in Baltimore) and about how it was an enormously popular cult show and how brilliant it was or 'you'll either love it or hate it', I decided to get a copy of the first season from Amazon.

From what I'd already read about it, I knew that it was going to be very different from regular cop shows, but I had no idea just how different.

So, I watched the first three episodes whilst John was abroad on business and took an instant dislike to it.

Firstly, I made the mistake of reading the summary on offer before each episode, losing the element of surprise. But, on the other hand, it did give me a clue as to what was going on because without it, I wouldn't have known what the hell was going on and who was who.

There were mainly five problems for me:-

1. I could hardly understand what people were saying because of the Baltimore slang used or general mumbling of lines.

2. The language I mainly understood was the pretty extreme swearing, which seemed to constitute much of the dialogue, and it seemed far too crude, even for me.

3. There were too many characters introduced very quickly and I got confused as to who was who.

4. This is not a nice world that's being portrayed. Apparently, one of the producers/editors said: "There's no room for hope on my show," and boy do you get that impression almost immediately, even if you don't understand what's being said. You have the Baltimore police, who are often corrupt or incompetent, and the few really efficient, dedicated, honest police, who are often pushed onto the sidelines and have to fight hard to get the resources they need. And then there are the politicians, who appear to be motivated by self-promotion. So what's new there, you might ask. It's just that it reaches right to the top and they don't give a damn about their actual constituents. Okay, so what's new there. And then you have the 'baddies' - the drug dealers - who are ruthless and violent. so, it's hardly a feel good show!!!

5. There are lots of short scenes - up to a hundred or so per episode - so it was difficult for me to follow and keep track. I'd still be wondering what the last scene was about and there would be another scene and then another so what I got was a misty idea of what was going on, unlike say The Bill which is pretty obvious, unless you fall asleep (a cheap crack, I know, because I do enjoy The Bill, but you'll see what I mean if you watch The Wire).

However, it's saving grace for me and what prompted me to give it a second chance was the character D'Angelo, the nephew of one of the drug gangs' bosses, Avon Barksdale, whose amazingly charismatic lieutenant, Stringer Bell, has an incredible presence on screen (appreciated after I realised who he was). But there was something I particularly liked about D'Angelo: a depth of character and a certain dignity of demeanor and vulnerability.

So, when John returned home, we started watching it together only this time, it wasn't new or too difficult for me to understand (John, of course, took to it immediately) and I started to 'get it'. The different characters became clearer to me and I began to see that they, too, had depth, with their own idiosyncrasies and noticeable differences and personalities. And I could also see that seemingly irrelevant scenes actually had a purpose. So I started to appreciate both the characterization and the intricate structure of each episode and also to appreciate what an adventurous series this in many ways: the brutal honesty in showing how life can actually be for both the police and drug dealers and also the way each scene is filmed, so carefully crafted. Apparently each scene is meticulously story-boarded. And I also learnt that I didn't need to understand everything, as long as got the gist. Sometimes, we stop the DVD just to clarify events with each other, but that's getting rarer now that we're into Season 3!

Yes, I got well and truly hooked and I'm so glad that I persevered and it's certainly the characters who make this show. Most, if they're not bumped off, progress into the next series so they become familiar friends - some likable, some not - whether they're police or drug dealers and some things that are left unresolved in the previous season are picked up in the next. It's also fascinating watching police procedures, particularly in setting up and using a 'wire' (phone tap), which is central to each series.

Dominic West is excellent as the maverick, alcoholic cop, central to each story, and I'm particularly fond of Bubbles, the hapless informant, and Omar, who steals drugs and money from drug dealers.

And I was particularly chuffed with Season Two, where the emphasis shifted to the port trade and trade unions, because several of the drug/crime bosses spoke in Greek, particularly when they were swearing and I could actually understand them!

But there doesn't seem so much swearing now or perhaps I'm getting used to it.

You have to really concentrate when watching this show but that's okay. So much television is banal and stupid and so a programme that doesn't treat its audience as complete idiots is most welcome. And I would say that, for me (and Barack Obama), this is the best television that there is. I can't praise it highly enough.

But, I wouldn't like to live in Baltimore!!!

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