Revisitng The Wire: The Greatest Show Of All Time
The current media landscape creates a disconnect between police officers and people of color. Of course the actions of these law officials draw fire from members of the black community, but news organizations such as CNN utilize the surrounding controversy for an increase in both ratings and viewers. From 1999-2008, a television show named The Wire tackled the disconnect between officers, people of color, politics, and education in a realistic way; combining the thin strands that connect each subject into a cohesive piece and in the process, created the best television show in history.
The show follows the Major Crimes Unit of the Baltimore City Police Department as they investigate different criminals involved in the narcotics trait. In plain words? Cops busting drug dealers. While this may sound similar to any number of low budget crime flicks or television shows, the way that this conflict is analyzed is different than anything else in the history of the genre.
While the show follows what the Major Crimes Unit does in relation to big players in the narcotics game, figuring out if the protagonists are the police officers or the drug dealers is an interesting debate to have at the office water cooler. The show gives equal time to both sides, explaining the motivation behind each sides actions as they work towards their goals. When people are killed, you understand why- even if you don't like it. Business decisions go wrong on both sides and you wonder what's going to be the long-term fallout.
The name of the show itself comes from the wiretap that the officers use to listen in on drug dealers without them knowing. It plays a major part in the first three seasons but loses importance in the last two.
What makes the show so realistic is the unflinching depiction of cop culture. There aren't any attempts by showrunner David Simon to cover up police brutality or questionable ethical decisions made by officers. Whatever happens, happens. Scenes move so quickly that if you stop to question the moral aspects of certain actions you'll miss important details in other scenes. Ironically, it's effective in rationalizing the nature in which quick thinking leads to dumb decisions. An example of this: A group of officers head to a low income housing area of an investigation. They engage in an argument with a drug dealer and proceed to beat him down for no reason. While other shows would analyze the ethical and racial implications of the attack, The Wire moves right along. The only time the beating is mentioned again is in a legal slap on the wrist.
Excellent characters and their actor portrayals are at the heart of The Wire. Omar (played by Micheal K. Harris), the legendary stickup man that sends adults and children running when he casually strolls by with his double barrel shotgun in tow, is the standout of the show. He lives by a strict moral code, refusing to turn his weapon on someone not in the drug trade. Curse words aren't in his repertoire either. He also is an openly-gay man. These combination of characteristics make him one of the most unique characters in television history. Excellent writing make every scene he's in feel poetic in nature, like his dialogue is ripped straight from a Shakespearean script and mixed with a little bit of urban flavor.
Another stand out is Stringer Bell (played by Idris Elba) who is a gangster that wants to be a legit businessman. He believes himself to be the smartest person in the room, but to everyone else he's the dumbest. His character is cold, calculating, and downright scary. His conflict with business partner Avon Barksdale (played by Wood Harris) pits two unstoppable forces against each other, culminating in a season full of mental showdowns, intense arguments, and shattering conclusions.
Watching The Wire in 2017 is essential because of the way it handles police and citizens relationships. It's also an amazing show in it's own right -- full of amazing characters, complex situations with no proper course of action, and unpredictable outcomes. It can be found on HBO and both of its streaming applications, HBO Now and HBO GO. Be prepared to become addicted to finishing all five seasons within a couple of days.