Normally, my inner-academic snobbery quietly (or not so quietly) mocks the vast majority of television “entertainment” for its shallow plot lines, flat characters, stilted drama, and neatly packaged resolutions that fit into 22 minute segments for the vegetative consumption of the masses.
Well, I finally got around to watching the acclaimed series The Wire, and just a few episodes in, I was hooked. For years, various friends have been telling me that I would love the show, and they were right. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to call it one of the (if not the) greatest television series ever made.
What makes it so great, you ask? Well, not any one thing in particular- it is a combination of factors that drive the show’s unique depth and narrative quality. Moral complexity, urban realism, and a multi-layered literary structure work together to construct a visceral picture of the American city in all of its power and pathos. Flawed characters navigate impossibly compromised urban institutions and vacillate between embracing corruption and changing the system. Want to see complex ethical situations portrayed with nuance and creativity? This is your show.
Most importantly, as a quasi-cultural-conoisseur of many things urban, The Wire continues to remind me (via John R. Short’s The Urban Order) that “our cities… are a mirror of our societies, a part of our economy, an element of our environments. But above all else they are a measure of our ability to live with each other. When we examine our cities, we examine ourselves” (Short 1996:5).
The best part of my late discovery of this bit of television genius is that I get to call it (at least loosely) “research.” A friend and colleague invited me to guest lecture at his UW CHID class in the spring, titled “Race, Education, and Poverty: The Wire.” That reminds me- I have work to do… I still have three seasons left to watch!