The Wire: Season Two

The Wire: Season Two

***1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

How do you follow up a ridiculously-acclaimed first season? Simple, you deliver more of the same. Continuing where they left off, showrunners David Simon (one-time Baltimore Sun reporter) and Ed Burns (one-time Baltimore policeman) craft a second year every bit as hard-hitting, deliberately unhurried and grittily realistic.

Narrative-wise, former detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) is now working as harbour patrol and finds a dead girl which ties to 13 other unidentified bodies that old colleagues Bunk (Wendell Pierce) and Freamon (Clarke Peters) have been stuck with. Meanwhile, following a feud with longshoremen union leader Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer), the demoted Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) is commissioned to lead an investigation into the docks. Elsewhere, the Barksdale organisation continues under Stringer Bell (Idris Elba)...

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Okay, so there's a slight tweak as the duel focus on both cops and drug-dealers is now supplemented with an examination of blue-collar dock workers, but it remains largely well-balanced. While on the one hand this might frustratingly distract from previous storylines and push the Barksdales into the background, we do get some new, interesting characters thrown into the mix (such as Chris Bauer's Burt Young-alike Frank Zabotka) and a few lessons on how not to treat a duck.

Like last time though, its painstakingly-measured pace will lose the casual viewer as the first couple of episodes (which operate like the opening 20 minutes of a movie) are all intro and set-up. Whilst requiring patience and audience commitment as the seemingly unrelated events begin to piece together, the payoff is assuredly worth it. For example, those paying attention will love McNulty's geographical efforts to lumber Major Rawls (a suitably hateful John Doman) with 14 Jane Does, those not, will just see a guy drawing lines on maps.

However, as dry as it is, there's still much to be admired. The densely-plotted scripts are never anything less than intelligent, the investigation remains focused on a single incident as opposed to case-of-the-week nonsense and logical plausibility always takes precedence over any cheap-thrills. As for showrunners Simon and Burns, they combine to render such intimate detail of policework and the city's inner-workings that a gang from Queens supposedly uses the show as advice on how to avoid wiretaps.

The characters are well played from top to bottom. Though there isn't a bad performance between the lot, Elba stands out again as the presence-exuding Stringer Bell, Pierce provides plenty of smiles as the cigar-chomping "Bunk" Moreland (see him hurling during a meeting) and West anchors proceedings as the self-destructive Jimmy McNulty. As for Reddick's swaggering Lieutenant Daniels, nobody delivers exposition quite like him.

It might be a tough watch that'll put many off early doors, but this is still top-notch television. Definitely best enjoyed on DVD so you can make sense of the slowly-forming jigsaw, The Wire is much like the detail’s investigations; long, painstaking and arduous, but eventually worth it.

Reviewed on: 31 May 2009
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The second season of the Baltimore drug-ring cops - and an all-new case.
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