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The Wire Ruined TV For Me
No other show can ever compare to its greatness
by Ryan Fan
I absolutely love The Wire and credit the show with changing my life. It’s the best show of all time, God’s gift to the Earth, and everything else in between. It is foundational of my political and moral beliefs, second only to the Bible. I will credit the show for why I became a teacher in Baltimore City and I am an active contributor to a Facebook group that shares memes, quotes, gifs, and detailed discussions about the best show of all time.
The only bad thing about the show is that it ruined TV for me. I’m currently watching The Sopranos ranked number one on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest TV Shows.” It’s a good show, but it’s not The Wire and I believe it’s an absolute travesty that Rolling Stone chose to rank The Sopranos above The Wire which came in at number two.
I know The Sopranos is good. I might even call it great. But it will never reach the standard of The Wire and I can’t watch more than an episode every couple of days. In a day, I can watch a whole season of the show and I’ve already watched the show seven different times. Before I started watching The Wire I would have enjoyed The Sopranos more years ago.
Unfortunately, however, I don’t. The Wire is the best show of all time, and it is the best show of all time because it makes you a better person. It taught me empathy. It taught me compassion.
The show, which looks at Baltimore’s dysfunctional institutions, from its political system, police department, school system (that I currently work in), drug trafficking organizations, and newspapers. ended in 2008, and it still resonates today in 2020. According to actor Michael K. Williams, who plays one of the most popular characters in the show, here is why the show is still relevant:
“I think it has just stayed with people because it’s still relevant now, because of the climate of what’s going on in the United States. I think it’s actually a little sad that it’s still so relevant in 2018.”
There’s a reason why the show was titled The Wire — it’s a show about the wire between good and evil, and most people fall somewhere in between. It’s never too clear cut — with both drug dealers and politicians being on that line, but I found it very refreshing that no one is good or bad, much like real life.
The show is realistic and tragic, much like real life in an American city so often is. At the time, the show featured several Black actors as its ensemble cast and helped catapult the careers of Michael B. Jordan and Idris Elba. I actually don’t know them as Michael B. Jordan and Idris Elba when I see them on other TV shows and movies — I see them as Wallace and Stringer Bell.
But regardless, The Wire didn’t achieve success while it was out. It hit a peakof four million views on HBO, which paled in comparison to The Sopranos. Michael K. Williams made a joke to Jones that one episode of The Sopranos cost about the same as one season of The Wire and it was probably true. Sure, it didn’t get as much attention as The Sopranos. It didn’t even win any Emmys.
Season 4 mainly speaks to me and is reflected by co-creator, Ed Burns, and his experience in a Baltimore City middle school classroom. It is incredibly accurate and inspiring when showing the harsh realities, trauma, and challenges of the kids and the education system.
My only critique is that the show underplayed the challenges — if anything, my experience during my first year, including more challenges than first-year teacher and former cop, Roland Prezbylewski. At no point did the show mention the phrase “IEP,” which I hear about ten times a day as a special educator. Oh, and it included a lot more humbling failures.
The realism of The Wire is especially true in today’s heavily polarized day and age, especially about policing. It is the only “cop show” I’ve watched that doesn’t romanticize policing in an era where we grapple with police brutality. It shows the Baltimore City Police Department as highly dysfunctional, with career-climbers manipulating and fudging stats to earn promotions, and even the most competent officers being motivated by power trips and vanity as opposed to a genuine need to serve the community. It depicts petty patrol officers arresting people for loitering and even robbing innocent citizens. In one instance, the police irresponsibly use a helicopter to catch a 14-year-old low-level drug dealer.
One of the most jarring scenes in the show comes very early. One of the most positive characters in the show, Lieutenant Cedric Daniels, instructs his officer on how to lie and cover up an act of police brutality that blinds a 14-year-old boy. In response to criticism of the show being propaganda for police, Wendell Pierce, who plays a main character in the show, says:
How can anyone watch “The Wire” and the dysfunction of the police & the war on drugs and say that we were depicted as heroic.
It shows teenage and young adult drug dealers as genuinely good kids raised in a broken system, doing their best to support themselves and their families. It shows corrupt union stevedores doing the wrong thing for the right reason, politicians under significant pressure to win elections.
Everyone is humanized. There is no character I genuinely hate at the end of the show, as the show reflects the complex institutions and forces pulling strings to make everyone seem, well, powerless. That’s how I sometimes feel as a teacher — sometimes that no matter how hard I try or impact I can make towards a child’s education, I don’t have that much control over their lives.
My favorite character in the show, Bubbles, is a heroin addict who repeatedly fails at getting clean. He is a funny and compassionate character who cares for his friends. We see him in pain. We see him struggle. We see him fail time and time again. He is my favorite character, and actor Andre Royo said his approach to playing Bubbles was the following:
“I wanted Bubbles to be human first, addict second…I wasn’t trying to play the addiction. I was trying to play the person.”
I have watched it seven times and every show I watch now is just bad or, at best, mediocre. After all, it’s not The Wire which is God’s gift to the Earth and the best show of all time. I feel drawn to police officers, drug dealers, serial murderers, politicians, addicts, journalists, and students. And it’s all because of The Wire. I have trouble telling people what The Wire is about, actually, because it’s about all the major institutions within an American city.
In part, I became a Baltimore City teacher because of “The Wire,” and damn it if “The Wire” didn’t make me a better person.