“Forgive us for actually thinking about this shit; we know it’s television, but we can’t help ourselves.”
I feel like I’ve written about “The Wire” a bunch, but skimming my archives for this article I wonder if I ever got around to it. Maybe I’ve just intended to. Maybe I’ve just made half-hearted sales of the show during conversations that were not suitable to the five minutes needed to explain why the show is worth watching beginning to end.
Regardless, I’m horrible at managing email archives, so when I try to clean them out and come across a random link from a friend like this, I know there’s a reason I saved it; I know there’s a reason I wanted to put it someplace more permanent than my inbox. This is that link: A Q&A between writer Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity,” etc.) and David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” the HBO series I’m only the 4 millionth person to call the greatest television series ever created.
In person, I always struggle to explain to people (before they get bored) why they should pick up “The Wire.” That link probably does it better than I can:
“Untethered capitalism run amok, about how power and money actually route themselves in a postmodern American city, and, ultimately, about why we as an urban people are no longer able to solve our problems or heal our wounds.”
Or in a more nuts-and-bolts way, a less metaphorical way, why the series could stand alone as a civics class:
“First season: the dysfunction of the drug war and the general continuing theme of self-sustaining postmodern institutions devouring the individuals they are supposed to serve or who serve them. Second season: the death of work and the destruction of the American working class in the postindustrial era, for which we added the port of Baltimore. Third season: the political process and the possibility of reform, for which we added the City Hall component. Fourth season: equal opportunity, for which we added the public-education system. The fifth and final season [is] about the media and our capacity to recognize and address our own realities, for which we add the city’s daily newspaper and television components.”
The genuine acting, gripping story lines and often hilarious dialogue make it stand on its own. But then you add the textured meaning behind it, and it’s difficult to imagine any fictional TV that could be anymore significant as an artistic work representing the end of the 20th century. I can’t really exaggerate that. If I had a kid or a grandkid in 20 years and I wanted to explain to him at age 15 how modern America got this way and why there are so many weird versions of “the city,” that place suburbanites briefly dip their toe into for work or sports games, I’d show him this series. Politics, education, media, the futile War on Drugs — it’s all there, and it’s all captured in fantastic, artistic form.
This isn’t new stuff. The show’s been over for years and critics have written all kinds of the same. But I know there are tons of people who watch old series on DVD but haven’t tried this one. So that’s my plea. And barring that time investment, that interview is worth a read either way.