Top 10 TV shows of the decade – # 4
It seems a bit redundant to talk about how great The Wire is, like some prick dancing about and saying “yeah but the thing about the Mona Lisa is, is she really smiling?” as though it’s some great revelation. There can’t be much more left to say, but fuck it, either I tell you why The Wire is my fourth best show of the decade, or I fill the space in this article with detailed transcripts of my last dozen visits to the toilet, or a 2,000 word dissertation on why Brendan Fraser creeps me out.
As has been said many times, it’s structurally closer to a novel – or series of novels – than any television show you’ve ever seen, and starting out from the beginning has you feeling like you’ve been dropped into a war zone, with faces, names and plotlines dinging into the concrete around you before you’ve had a chance to take your rifle out of the wrapper. Recently, it was fun to watch the people catching BBC2’s run for the first time and being massively confused until the last episode of the first season, where they graduated to being only a bit confused, and proudly boasted of finally getting a handle on who everyone was, just as season two switched to a completely different setting and new batch of characters. But that’s half the fun, stick with it and you shall be rewarded. Think of the entertaining-yet-impenetrable early episodes as something that keeps out the idiots, plebs, and tossers who’d bore us by overkilling favourite Omar lines of “epic win!” and showing off their Prop Joe ringtones, leaving one of the greatest shows ever to the people like us, who can appreciate and understand it without having to act like dicks.
The main, and really only, problem with The Wire is just how shitty all other TV looks in comparison once you’ve seen it. There’s no going back. When you venture back outside the world of Bodymore, you’ll virtually see supposed gritty urban dialogue above actor’s heads in Whizzer and Chips speech bubbles, while storylines and plots will seem thin and cliched, character development non-existent, and televised gun-play and murder will look like a bunch of twats running about making bang noises and rolling around on the floor. A lot of shows pride themselves on their realism, particularly those in the cops ‘n crimes genre, but compared to The Wire, everything else just plays like those special episodes of Eastenders where they go on holiday for a week and get in fights with pantomime Italians with stick on moustaches and Mario Bros accents. Catch an unfortunate glimpse of The Bill and you’ll find yourself shouting “he’s behind you!”
The Wire is reminiscent of HBO’s Oz – my favourite show ever – in a couple of ways. Firstly, characters who’d lurked in the background for years could come to the forefront of the action, just like in real life. Also, the tension stakes were raised with the notion that no character, no matter what their billing on the opening credits, how long they’ve been around, or how much of a fan favourite they were, was safe from getting killed. And let’s talk about that cast. By the end of the show, well over a hundred characters had made themselves known, each uniquely memorable in their own ways, and virtually none of them simple goodies or baddies. Nothing on The Wire was ever black and white. Even the most evil of characters usually had some redemptive aspects that stopped them from being entirely hateable, and likewise those who came closest to being any kind of moral centre also had their failings. In a show that could, in insultingly simple terms, be described as police versus criminals, you often found yourself pulling for both sides, as the lines were so blurred that they looked like the pixellated penises in Japanese grot-tapes.
The problem I have as I get to the part where I discuss the great characters or memorable scenes is again one of echoing what’s already been said ten thousand times. Of course, Omar Little is worthy of the iconic status he’s achieved, and yes, season four is the single greatest season of any show ever broadcast. Ziggy’s meltdown and the realisation of what he’d done was an incredible scene, and the Old West alleyway showdown between Omar and Brother Mouzone contained so much charisma that my TV started creaking and buckling at the seams. The circular generation-next ending was equal parts depressing and uplifting, perpetually-emotionless Marlo Stanfield’s “my name is my name speech” was so startlingly powerful it was like getting shot in the face with Snoop’s nailgun, water is wet, the night is dark, Peter Kay is an unfunny sack of shit – come on, The Wire is the most acclaimed TV show ever made. Nobody really needs me to tell them how amazing it is, or to make trite remarks about Herc and Carver being the R2D2 and C3PO of season one, so let’s all just agree that it’s fantastic and go our separate ways until tomorrow’s entry.
I should add that I’m not saying I was greatly influenced by The Wire, but I find myself taking a dive into the nearest bush every time I hear the po-po, oh and I’ve been addicted to heroin for the last three months. I also find that “all in the game, yo” can be used as an excuse for anything. Push past an old lady in a queue? All in the game, yo. Ruined some wedding photos with a cunnilingus gesture? All in the game, yo. Broke into someone’s house while they were busy reading a blog post about The Wire and farted all over their pillows? All in the game, yo.
Enjoy the smell of bottom while you’re trying to sleep. Peace.