TV Series Review: The Wire

by Steve Lancaster9/18/17
The Wire is a five-season crime drama from HBO. It is available on Amazon Prime. The series is 60 episodes and the first thing I recommend is that you think of each season as an extremely long movie. Each season has a general theme that reappears in the next season most often as a side note to some other investigation. The principal writer is David Simon and is based on his book about the police in Baltimore, Homicide: Life on the Street, which was made into a 7-year TV series in the 90s.

The first season introduces most of the main characters and the harsh reality of, not only the criminals in Baltimore, but also the police that investigate the crimes, from street hustling, prostitution, drug dealing and murder. Dominic West is Det. James McNulty the principal character in the series; an actor with a wealth of television and movie experience. John Doman is William Rawls as a senior police official, and if you are familiar with the mini-series, The Borgias, he is perhaps better known as Pope Alexander Vl, Rodrigo Borgia, father of Lucretia. Lance Riddick is Lt. Cedric Daniels. Lance seems to have become the official policeman of TV movies and serials; his latest role is Chief of Police in the mini-series Bosch. Deirdre Lovejoy is Asst. States Attorney Rhonda Pearlman and Clarke Peters is Det. Lester Freamon. In one way or another many of the series plots revolve around the wire taps Lester is able to work.

The criminals are some of the most interesting characters in the series. Wood Harris is Avon Barksdale the mastermind behind the way illegal drugs are sold on the Baltimore streets, his second in command is Russell “stringer” Bell played by the very talented Idris Elba. Jamie Hector is the kid who is an up and comer in the drug trade and plays an important part as Marlo Stanfield in seasons 4 and 5. There are a number of other characters who move in and out, especially in season 4 and 5.

Season 1 has 13 episodes. The Barksdale crime family is introduced as the main players in the West Baltimore drug business with control of prime locations and the muscle to enforce keep that control. Over the course of the season we learn that Avon Barksdale and his family are well known to the police on the street and detectives who investigate murders, but to the command officers in the BPD they are unknown. That changes when McNulty has a talk with a friendly judge who applies pressure to actually do police work and not just adjust the stats.

The fallout is predictable, as with any bureaucracy, the police don’t like outsiders and rogue insiders pushing for real results. One theme of the entire series, but especially the first season, is the judge and McNulty pushing and the police command resisting, something that is true more often than not in real life. One interesting scene is in episode 4 about, 45 min, of the way through. McNulty and his partner reinvestigate a murder that may be related to the drug case. From the beginning of the scene to the end the only word uttered by either is f**k or a variation used as noun, adverb, and adjective. It is almost a dance and I have no doubt that something similar was told to the writers by real police. The first season ends with arrests and indictments, but with McNulty sent as far away from major crime enforcement as possible. He is not liked by the bosses.

Season two changes to the docks and corruption in the longshore union, however, the ongoing investigation in the drug business interweaves with union corruption. On the streets, not much has changed for the Barksdale gang even with Avon in jail. Stringer Bell is making more money and is in the process of becoming a legitimate businessman.

Season three deals with politics in a major urban city. Don’t think that the problems of Baltimore are separate from the problems of Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Seattle, Dallas, Oakland, Albuquerque, or San Diego. The only constant might be the Democrat control for generations of most of these cities and many others. Season three also attempts to deal with drug legalization. However, drugs are a problem that until we get 20% of the American public to stop smoking, snorting and shooting, is never going away.

Season four explores education and the multitrillion-dollar black hole where money goes to die in cities all over the nation. If waste, fraud, and abuse were the only problem with schools then perhaps we could make some real progress. However, like the police the school bureaucracy is committed to numbers and making the numbers look good even if they do not have applicability in the classroom.

Season five brings the media into the spotlight, especially print media. It also brings an end to the police careers of McNulty and others as they step over the line to take Marlo Stanfield off the street.

The Wire, is reported to be a favorite show of Obama. I don’t know about that but if so. He took the wrong lessons from it. However, the acting is high quality with convincing performances all around. David Simon and the other writers have created insight into the inner workings of big cities and it’s not an attractive picture. The series ended in 2008, and a cynic could say not much has changed in Baltimore in the last ten years. The Freddie Gray riots and the mess Marilyn Mosby made prosecuting police officers is the most obvious point. Although, the first season was fifteen years ago The Wire is just relevant today as it was then. • (347 views)

This entry was posted in TV Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to TV Series Review: The Wire

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I do have Amazon Prime. I may check this out and report back.

    I’m in between series at the moment having watched now the entirety of season three of “Narcos.” There wasn’t a huge drop off, per se, in this post-Escobar season three. But there was more violence and the story was not quite as compelling.

    In season three, much of the action is centered on Jorge Salcedo who eventually becomes chief of security for the Cali cartel. And if you don’t want any spoilers, don’t read on, although it shouldn’t hurt your viewing pleasure much.

    Salcedo has plans to start his own security business and leave the employment of the Rodriquez brothers (two of the four leaders of the cartel). But circumstances require Salcedo to hang around for another six months. The violence gets effusive, Salcedo is sort of already winged-off, so he becomes an informant for the DEA as a means out.

    There is plenty of story in season three. Don’t get me wrong. And I kinda-sort like the Salcedo character. But he is a very dull character. I don’t know if Matias Varela was playing him true to life (the real Salcedo — somehow from his witness protection program — is technical advisor on the series) or if he has no more range than just looking stressed out with a blank face, I don’t know.

    But my advise is, by all means, watch the first two seasons and then just end it.

    Using Steve’s post here as a catch all for what-I’m-viewing, last night I watched “The Hippopotamus.” Basically call this a one-off movie that is entertaining if only because it is a little different.

    By the way, “The Crown” (on Netflix) won some Emmys last night. Not that I or anyone else watched that libtardfest. But I do recommend that series. Mr. Kung might not be happy with John Lithgow as Churchill, but he’s okay once you just suspend a bit of disbelief.

    In “The Hippopotamus,” Roger Allam plays the drunken ex-poet, Ted Wallace, who is the embodiment of what can be called today’s British humor, which does not exceed the limits of a 13-year-old giggle. This is what you can expect from adult-children such as Stephen Fry, the primary writer.

    Ted Wallace is a good match for Christopher Hitchens or just about any drunken, crusty atheist you can name whose highest pleasure is debunking myths. His stepdaughter, suddenly cured from leukemia, pays him 25,000 pounds to investigate a case of miracle working at her uncle’s estate.

    Wallace used to be married to the sister of the master of the house (Michael Logan, played by Matthew Modine). The breakup was a bad one and Wallace has to use the excuse of visiting his godson, David Logan, in order to wheedle an invitation to the house.

    That done, Wallace hears stories of miracles here and there, all somehow caused by his godson, David Logan.

    Allam’s performance as Ted Wallace is perfunctory, at best. Much of the slapstick humor and scatalogical language will have you rolling your eyes as you understand that for a segment of “refined” society this is all very funny. (As Theodore Dalrymple has reported, the middle and upper classes have found it to be the height of refinement and coolness to ape the attitudes and manners of the lowest classes, at least superficially.)

    The story does move on at a good pace and from the mouth of Ted Wallace there does fall plenty of interesting wisdom. If we can have “Touched by an Angel” we can have movies such as this. But in the end, it cheats on itself a little. It doesn’t quite end with atheism bravely facing the pointlessness of existence as a badge of honor. To give away this sort of non-ending (spoiler alert), the experience at the estate has unlocked Wallace’s writer’s block and he begins churning out poems again. A miracle, of sorts.

    There is a core of a good story here. In the hands of adults, this could have been much better. As it is, it was fun to watch. And the theme of yutes needing to be “special” is probably the first time I’ve seen this handled prominently in any movie. There are gems here. But also scattered about is unrefined high school humor. Still, I recommend this for the cinematically adventurous.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      I have a serious problem with drug dealers, wether they be illegal like Escobar or legal like the US government. The take a pill and chill generation is much more disreputable than others. I suppose its a moral judgement, which Libertarians are supposed to avoid, but IMHO drug dealers are only worthy of a quick execution and like China I would charge the family for the cost of a bullet.

      However, in the fictional world. I tried three episodes of Narcos, found I did not to care for it much and dropped it. I will give The Hippopotamus a try. G-d knows there is nothing at the theater worth the dime.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I believe I saw a headline on one of the news blogs which mentioned an employee of the “Narcos” series was murdered in Mexico/Columbia(?) while scouting sites for future episodes.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    This sounds like Baltimore is a den of corruption. Of course, Maryland has long has a reputation for dirty politics, and over 50 years of one-party domination make that inevitable for Baltimore. The danger comes when the police see themselves as a separate entity from the people they’re supposed to protect. This leads to tribal ethics, such as closing ranks around anyone accused of brutality regardless of the facts.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      Baltimore has been corrupt for a least the last 75 years, probably longer. The closeness to DC may have something to do with it, although, perhaps it is the other way around. It might be that DC was corrupted by Baltimore. Maryland was staunch Catholic colony, in the same way that Massachusetts was equally Congregationalist. Its amazing how far from those roots they have come.

      The Wire is set in Baltimore, but it is really an allegory for almost every large city. I don’t have any illusions about clean government. I do not believe it is possible in any bureaucratic organization. The best we can hope for is an occasional house cleaning and the occasional perp walk. Where laws are constantly ignored and the guilty constantly walk free to commit other crimes (Hillary & Bill) then corruption spreads like oil on water.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    as with any bureaucracy, the police don’t like outsiders and rogue insiders pushing for real results.

    This reminds me of one of “Kung Fu Zu’s Eternal Truths.”

    One should not expect moral behavior from bureaucratic organizations, be they governmental or private.

    Rule no. 1 for such organizations is “Protect and expand the organization.”

    Rule no. 2 is “Read and implement rule no. 1.”

    The unwritten organizational principle is “Red tape is your friend.”

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This is like the first rule of politics, in Fletcher Knebel’s Vanished: A politician will do anything to get elected. (The second rule is that nothing is allowed to get in the way of the first rule.)

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Call me a racist, but I can’t watch ghetto-gutter culture as a form of entertainment. I tried to watch the first episode while eating lunch. I couldn’t make it through 5 minutes.

    The Columbian drug lords and their hangers-on were Rhodes Scholars compared to hip-hop black culture. It holds zero interest for me. I can’t bare to sit through a series where English is murdered even faster than the homies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *