Monday, 30 March 2009

The Wire has arrived!


The critically acclaimed US drama The Wire finally makes its UK terrestrial debut tonight airing on BBC 2. The channel is showing all 5 series running on consecutive weekday nights over the spring. Having recently discovered the series I can hardly wait.


I remember last summer I was out with some former work colleagues, and some people were talking about this US drama The Wire and really raving about it.

At first, after feeling slightly excluded from the conversation, I started to think to myself ‘how come I’ve never heard of this programme’, particularly if it’s so good. My one friend went on to tell me it’s as good as The Sopranos, if not better!

Now as I consider The Sopranos to be one of the greatest TV dramas I’ve ever seen, this opinion made me sit up and take note, here was a programme I needed to find out more about.

Over the next few months, I kept hearing a little bit more about the show; it was on the HBO subscription channel just like The Sopranos, another plus point. I constantly came across comments like, ‘critically acclaimed’ ‘ground breaking’

After 4 or 5 months of this I couldn’t take anymore, so I took the plunge and bought Series 3 DVD box set, purely based on word of mouth, something I’ve never done before. Since then I’ve felt like a member of some secret underground society, and become a huge fan, and slightly obsessive about the whole thing.

For those of you not privileged to have discovered this amazing series, it chronicles the police force of Baltimore and their ongoing war against the local drug trade.

On the surface it appears to be another cop drama, but after a few episodes you soon begin to realise that it’s so much more than that and focuses on the workings of an entire city, paying particular attention over 5 series to the city’s police department, the docks, the mayor and local government. Then moving onto the city’s education system and finally its local newspaper;

I think it has to be one of the most ambitious television dramas that I’ve ever come across. At times the series paints a pretty bleak and pessimistic picture of urban decay in a modern post industrial city, but what I’ve loved about the show is that it’s not just great drama and entertainment, but it’s made me think about how modern cities function, what type of policing we want, how we tackle drug crime, how we’re governed by our locally elected politicians, the role of our education system.

The creator of the show David Simon sees the show as providing the opportunity of reporting and revealing what ‘s really going on in America. In an interview with the Guardian newspaper he claimed:

"It's fiction, I'm clear about that. But at its heart it's journalistic."

From this quote you perhaps get the impression that the show is taking on a role that many sections of the US press and media have failed to do, a point emphasised even further in Series 5 which has the sub-plot of looking at the city’s newspaper ‘The Baltimore Sun’ and the challenges facing the print media with the decline in readership, advertising revenue, and resources, and the subsequent problems this creates in terms of journalism’s ability to accurately report what’s going on in our societies.

The show doesn’t really come up with answers or solutions to any of the social problems raised, but seeing as what goes on in America seems to eventually translate to what goes on in the UK, you can’t help but think about how we deal with things in this country.

Although you can focus on the problems facing modern cities that the show raises, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the show has great characters, and great stories to tell about these characters. They are never portrayed as stereotypes, there are no real good or bad guys, characters are often morally ambiguous but you still feel incredibly passionate about them all.

There’s so much more I could say about this programme, and I’m sure I’ll come back to talk about it in more detail another time, but for now I’ll leave you to watch the show which I’m sure you’ll love.

*Click on the title heading to read a full interview with the show’s creator David Simon conducted with the Guardian.

2 comments:

  1. At first I thought it was a great move by the BBC to finally bring this series to terrestrial tv, but it's really disappointing that it's not available on iplayer. Scheduling it to run every week day night at 11:20 isn't in iteself a bad idea - having watched seasons 1 and 2 i know it's not the kind of show where you can patiently wait a week for the next episode. But it's so complex and multi-layered that you can't really afford to miss any of it. Admittedly, many episodes might leave you asking 'did anything much happen in that one?', but once you start to reflect back on it, those little subtleties of plotting and narrative and character slowly begin to take on significance. It's often not until a few episodes later that what first appeared to be no more than throwaway remarks or shots, turn out to be vital clues in piecing the whole thing together (that's not to say it does all fit neatly together - anything but).

    So purely in terms of the scheduling, I think the BBC have got it wrong by not allowing viewers to catch up on episodes they miss. Because of that, anyone watching it for the first time, but unable to watch it every night, will inevitably be short changed. I haven't seen series 3 to 5 yet, but I'll still be buying or borrowing them on DVD rather than watching on TV. Sure, I might watch any episodes I've already seen on the BBC, but I don't think the BBC will be introducing many new viewers to it, which is a real shame.

    As to the show itself, you're bang on, Rodney. By portraying the symptoms of a failing city, and injecting real life into the characters who carry the burden of these symptoms with them every day, in all their mundane detail, it's a damning indictment of the corruption and self interest which causes them in the first place.

    Nice blog, by the way.

    Tim C

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