The Wire: Season One

The Wire: Season One

****

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

British television fans fall into three groups; 1) Those who watch The Wire and love it, 2) those that have heard about it's reputation as "the best thing you've never watched on TV" but not yet seen it and 3) those that have no idea what it is. While the first group should be applauded as the televisual visionaries they undoubtedly are, the second must ask themselves what they're waiting for (what are you waiting for?) and the third should prepare themselves for a treat.

After Baltimore detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) complains nobody is doing anything about Avon Barksdale's (Wood Harris) rising drug empire, his friend, Judge Phelan (Peter Gerety) makes sure his senoir officers listen. However, though McNulty is given an investigation team under the command of hard-but-fair Lieutenant Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick), it quickly becomes clear that those in charge just want a quick fix. Thankfully, the team begin building a long-term case and set their sights on Barksdale, his nephew D'Angelo (Larry Gilliard Jr) and second-in-command, Stringer Bell (Idris Elba)

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The Wire is great television. The brainchild of former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, it's an admirably accomplished and unflinchingly honest slow-burner far removed from the abundance of CSI-copycats out there. Combining elements of previous show Homicide (a year in the life of police detail) and miniseries The Corner (a year in the life of drug corner residents), Simon presents a Heat-like view where we see as much of the cops as we do the dealers.

Interestingly, given that truth is the order of the day, the former journo renders a landscape where the heroes aren’t all good and the villains aren’t all bad. Here, while some of the cops are incompetent, a few pocket money and others break rules, the dealers are shrewd and educate themselves while questioning what they’re doing. Much like the DVD box, this is all about shades of grey.

Without any hint of formulaic plotting, by-the-numbers cliffhangers or emotionally-manipulative score music (the only tunes heard are those that come from the actual scenes), the focus here is on hard-assed, you-can-believe-this-would-happen reality. Unlike fluffier shows that have a new case to solve each week, this entire series refreshingly follows a single investigation as it painstakingly unfolds. Sure, it’s often confusing and a bit slow as we're being introduced to the show's world, but once inside, this is truly gripping.

Is it really as heavy as all this makes it sound? Yes, absolutely. However, it's stopped from folding under its own weight by plenty of interesting characters, pepperings of well-placed humour (such as Domenick Lombardozzi’s entertaining Herc trying to get a chair through a doorway) and moments of inspiration (McNulty and Bunk solving a murder using only the word “fuck”).

Though there isn’t a bad performance among the lot – West’s self-righteous McNulty and Elba’s quietly-powerful dealer especially impress – it’s Reddick that stands out. With glassy eyes and a self-sure swagger, his turn as Lieutenant Daniels will surely prompt lots of other shows to nab him. For those that love cop shows but have justifiably grown sick of the tired self-contained, case-of-the-week format, The Wire is what you’ve been waiting for. As the men said themselves, nicely done.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2009
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The Wire: Season One packshot
Baltimore detective series sees a team of detectives take on a drug lord.
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Director: Clark Johnson, Peter Medak, Clement Virgo, Ed Bianchi, Joe Chapelle, Gloria Muzio, Milcho Manchevski, Brad Anderson, Steve Shill, Tim Van Patten

Writer: David Simon, Ed Burns, Rafael Alvarez, David H Melnick, Shamit Choksey, Joy Lusco, George P Pelecanos

Starring: Dominic West, John Doman, Wendell Pierce, Lance Reddick, Deirdre Lovejoy, Sonja Sohn, Seth Gilliam, Domenick Lombardozzi, Clarke Peters, Andre Royo

Year: 2002

Runtime: 840 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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