iWINuFAIL's Best of Television: The Wire (Now Spoiler Free!)

NOTE-While this is SPOILER FREE I mean that in that it does not contain any specific plot details.  I include a basic outline of each season's story (without any major developments/revelations of course), and take a close look at some of my favorite characters.  I do not ruin anything that occurs during the show, however if you wish to watch this with completely fresh eyes, do not read beyond the introduction, if even that.


I hate cop shows.  Hate them all.  And yes I consider the CSIs and the NCIS' and the Law and Order's to be cop shows.  Even Emmy Winners such as the 'Shield' or 'NYPD Blue' never interested me, save for the first two seasons of Blue.  At the end of the day, all of them are the same.

I like crime shows, but after the Sopranos, nothing seems to measure up.  Sons of Anarchy is okay so far (mid-season 2) but nothing special.  Breaking Bad is only good due to Brian Cranston's exceptional skill in that role.

So why is it that the Wire, which can be boiled down to 'another cop show', is the greatest thing I have ever seen?  Well for one, you CAN'T really boil it down to 'another cop show'.  Partly because the show depicts both the criminals and police equally, and partly because of how REAL it is.  Writer and creator David Simon spent a year in the 90s following Baltimore police on their daily routine.  He used this experience to write a book, "The Corner", which was adapted into an HBO miniseries.  A later book was the basis for the NBC series 'Homicide' (which had little input from Simon).

Each show centered on an individual side of the story: 'Corner' was about the dealers, 'Homicide' the cops.  Simon used the experience from the street, and his previous works to write/produce The Wire.  He was committed to giving as realistic and brutal portrayal of Baltimore crime as he could, giving the show a much more pessimistic feel than 'Homicide' (which Simon considered a failure).

So what is the Wire about?  In a nutshell, it is about the drug war between Baltimore police and drug dealers.  The difference here is that, unlike most shows where each episode is a different case, a single season of the Wire covers an entire investigation from beginning to end, going into extreme detail on police methods and criminal dealings.  In addition, character relationships are heavily explored, and viewers can actually feel how the strain of the investigation affects characters on both sides.

It should be noted that The Wire is an INCREDIBLY complex and detailed show, so it may scare some viewers off.  The first season focuses on the Barksdale organization, but there are really four major groups to follow: dealers, cops, bosses, brass (cop bosses).  On top of this formula, each season adds another aspect of Baltimore city life, be it politics, press, or schools.  By the fifth season, there are well over thirty major characters, each with a unique role and personality.  Somehow, despite the craziness, everything eventually falls into place in a neat-though not necessarily happy-way.

You probably know the drill by now; let's rank the seasons!
---Also, a large part that the show is known for is the intro, which each season features a different recording of the song 'Down in the Hole'.  I will also rank those by my preference.

5.  Season 2
Intro rank-5

After a fantastic first season, The Wire stumbled out of the gates with the second.  The drug war took a backseat to the stevedores (dock workers), who take money from dealers to ship in illegal substances.  On paper it sounds interesting, but the fact is the first few episodes were really quite poor.  For a show that thrived on heavy exposition and slow pacing, it's amazing how BORING the first few episodes are.  The dock workers simply aren't as lively and interesting as the dealers, and every scene with them appears to drag on.

Later episodes come back to the dealers, and they make up somewhat for the slow beginning.  On the police side, the discovery of several bodies within a cargo container prompts an investigation into the dock workers and their union rep: Frank Sobotka.  

Halfway through the season, the show picks things up big time, introducing some new major players in the drug scene, as well as finally breathing some life into the dock storyline with a major twist in the investigation.  By the end, though it didn't completely make up for the rough start, the second season proves that, even at it's worst, the Wire is tough to beat.


4.  Season 5
Intro Rank-4

Similar to Season 2, the final season falters a bit during it's run.  However this takes place more towards the middle, as it became clear the writers were trying to waste time before closing out the show (the season was already the shortest at 10 episodes).  The focus on the Press didn't go as well as one might have hoped, simply because the writers didn't go as in-depth into the system as they did with the other sections highlighted by the show.  

It as interesting, and the characters were good enough, but one never got the sense of WHY things worked the way they did.  Had more time been spent exploring the mechanics of the 'Baltimore Sun' rather than wasting time on useless garbage, the season may have been up with the other three.

Luckily, the last three episodes are absolutely brilliant.  Beginning with one of the most shocking scenes in the entire show, the series ends on a tide of emotion and energy.  The finale is so perfect I had to watch it twice; I couldn't believe how amazing it was.  It''s often said the 'Six Feet Under' has the greatest finale of all time, I beg to differ.


3.  Season 1
Intro Rank-2

Every show has to start somewhere.  The Wire opens with a fantastic scene, with main character McNulty talking to a hoodlum about the death of his friend 'snot boogey'.  The scene is at once hilarious and depressing, setting the tone for the fantastic show.

When the name Avon Barksdale comes to the attention of Baltimore police, they think they have discovered the man behind the city's drug problem.  What follows is a methodical, determined investigation to bring Barksdale down, using the newly formed "Special Cases Unit".  Though the higher ups look down on the investigation as a waste of resources, eventually they gather enough evidence to earn the right a Title-3 Wiretap...and that's where the real fun begins.

But what will really draw viewers in is the dealers themselves.  The street guys who deal with cops on a daily basis, and the men at the top, whose job it is to run the organization while outsmarting those very same police.  Most cop shows only show dealers as cut-and-paste ignorant criminals.  Here, they are brutal, intelligent, and unique.  


2.  Season 3
Intro Rank-1

Television does not get much better than this.  After taking a year away from the major drug dealers, the Wire returns to the Barksdale Organization, though this time introducing a new  gang to rival them; the Stanfield Crew.  The growing animosity between the is one of the most exciting aspects of the series, highlighting the attempts of one of the Barksdale higher-ups to go legit.

On top of these developments, the show uses this season to give insight into Baltimore City's political system.  Tommy Carcetti is an up-and-coming councilman who sees something truly wrong with his city, and wants nothing more than to fix it.  Another amazing plot point revolves around a location known as 'Hamsterdam', though I won't say more for fear of Spoilers.

The last few episodes are rife with tension and insecurity.  The events of the previous two seasons are revisited and several characters finally see the consequences of their actions.  It's a hell of a ride, and an unforgettable one at that.


1.  Season 4
Intro Rank-3

How do you improve on perfection?  Ask David Simon, because that is exactly what he did with the Wire's fourth season.  Turning a great show completely on it's head rarely works, but when it does (New Caprica), it's really amazing to see.

For the cops and dealers story, Season 4 sets up a shift that would bridge seasons 3 and 5.   I won't say much, other than that the Stanfield-Barksdale war takes some interesting turns.  The cops are much less of a factor this season, at least as a unit.  Very little occurs in terms of major cases, save for some mildly-amusing incidents revolving around a stolen camera.  In terms of their characters however, viewers are treated to some of the most intimate-and at times depressing-looks into the lives of Baltimore's best.

Also continuing from Season 3 is Tommy Carcetti's attempts to improve Baltimore, by taking on a government he views as corrupt and ineffective.  His arc is full of trials, successes, and one steaming bowl of shit after another.

But the most amazing part about the Wire's 4th Season is the focus.  As mentioned, every season has a specific piece of baltimore which is examined in depth.  This time around, it's the schools.  Viewers see the struggle teachers go through in the city in order to get by, and the government-like bullshit that goes on behind the scenes.  

But the real show-stealers are the kids.  You thought school was tough?  Try going to school surrounded by kids destined to die on a Baltimore street corner.  Imagine if you looked forward to school just to get away from the rest of your worries.  While the season highlights a couple of kids in particular, it's very easy to see what they all go through on a daily basis, and it can be heartbreaking to watch.  Growing up on the street can't be easy, but short of living it yourself, this is the best way to understand the pain and suffering associated with that life.

The Wire's 4th Season is currently the highest rated TV Season ever on Metacritic, with an astounding 98.  I don't know who dared score it below a 10, but they need to get their head examined.

10/10 (If I could give it an 11, I'd give it a 12)


Now normally I would divide the characters into two groups, and do a top 5 of each.  But there are just so many characters, who fill so many different roles, it was easiest for me to just do a Top Ten.  Before I do however, here are the honorable mentions:

Snoop/Chris (legendary enforcers found a whole new use for a nailgun)
Cedric Daniels (We grew to love you)
Kima Greggs (Missed the list by 'that' much)
Wee-Bey (Why'd he have to fuck with ma fish?)
Michael Lee/Duquan (Had you not grown up in Baltimore...)
Marlo (And you thought Avon was a monster)
Bunk (The funniest man in the Baltimore PD)

Top 10 Characters of The Wire

10.  Tommy Carcetti
Not so easy is it?  Carcetti decided to match wits with the leaders of the city, not realizing that, even if he won, he'd never TRULY win.  There's too much shit, and not enough time/money.  After watching him, you'll learn to cut politicians some slack.

9.  D'Angelo Barksdale
The crew chief of Baltimore's leading drug organization, D is just amazing to watch.  Smart enough to keep the boys in line, and loyal enough to trust when shit went down.  If every dealer had a man like him watching the street, cops wouldn't stand a chance.

8.  "Bubbles" Cousins
If Charlie Chaplin were black and an addict, he'd be something like Bubbles.  Bubs reflected the audience's view of the drug war.  He was outside of it, though still affected by it.  He saw shit for what it was, and just let him pass it by.  

7.  Herc and Carver
These guys have to be on here together.  Best friends, and great cops, these two were often the comic relief in the show (along with Bubbles).  They were smart, talented, and yet every now and then one of them would fuck up and have to deal with it.  When that happened, the other was always there for him.

6. Roland Prezbylewski
In life, there are those who are simply above average.  However, we wouldn't know that without those who were either average, or possibly even below average.  For the longest time, Prez seemed just that.  However, every now and then we saw flashes of brilliance from this young officer, who simply lacked the killer instinct to act on his (often correct) hunches.

5. Lester Freemon
When we first meet Lester, he's just another member of a case unit.  However, it becomes clear over time that he is, without a doubt, the smartest character on the show.  Always one step ahead of his colleages, and right in time with the dealers, Lester frequently was behind the discovery that broke the case.  Pack that up with great wit and wonderful sense of humor, and you have a really enjoyable character.

4. Bodie
Arguably the most tragic character on the show.  Bodie is, at the end of the day, just a soldier, a pawn in a massive game of chess.  But he is by far the smartest pawn on the board.  He knows what he is, where he stands, and why it will always be that way.  Because while he may be the smartest guy on the streets, he just doesn't have what it takes to get beyond that.

3.  Jimmy McNulty

McNulty is, if no one else, the main character on the show.  It's hard to define that role in a show with some many diverse people of seemingly equal importance, but if anyone is, it's Jimmy.  Jimmy is great police, but he's willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.  Normally that would seem like a good thing, but after watching the supermarket scene, you'll realize why it isn't.  Great cop, terrible person.

2.  Stringer Bell

Guys like Stringer are a constant reminder as to why, no matter what, drugs will always be for sale on city streets.  The smartest man in the game, not afraid to get his hands dirty, Stringer is the Darth vader to Avon's Emperor.  He's cold, hard, and only cares about one thing: results.

1. Omar Little

If you've seen the show, you saw this coming.  I don't want to say anything about Omar, other than that he is the badest, coolest, most fearless man to ever be on television.  


What do you think?  Have I convinced you to watch it?  Or if you have, how do you feel about my picks?


brodyitis's picture

I don't watch much television, but I think I will give this a shot.

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