The Wire: When Novelists Take On Television

By: Oumar Diagne

In the early 2000s, HBO had begun to dip their toe into television. Shows such as The Sopranos, and Sex and the City were beginning to make their mark by gaining popularity, winning awards and raising subscription numbers. In the years since the network has only continued to push forward with new and inventive content. Game of Thrones is probably the biggest show in the history of television, whilst series such as Westworld and Barry are growing with each passing season.

hbo Series
Game Of Thrones/ Insecure/ Westworld/ Silicon Valley

There was, however, a show that was completely overlooked. It never won any awards, it never broke records, and faced cancelation every offseason. Yet today, many might say, myself included, that this show is without the shadow of a doubt, the most ambitious and course changing epic in the history of television. This show is none other than ‘The Wire’.

Jimmy Mcnulty and Kimma Greggs face Stringer Bell


Premised as a simple police procedural, a police detective by the name of James Mcnulty (Dominic West) strives to fight off the scourge of drugs, that has been decimating the city of Baltimore. He sets his sights on the current biggest dealer in the city, Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris). Barksdale and his cohorts have sealed off most of the territory in Baltimore and keep their ground through fear and violence. There is bloodshed in the streets, and who else to protect the people of Baltimore than its wise and well-managed police department?

The Unit


Unfortunately for the people of Baltimore, their police department is anything but. Mired by interior politics, low funding and poorly trained officers, the Baltimore Police Department has no clue how to properly approach Barksdale’s Crew. They lack the talent, foresight and surprisingly enough, the necessary work ethic to work cases such as these.

The Wire Stringer
Stringer Bell (driver) & Avon Barksdale (passenger)


Meanwhile, the Barksdale Crew, headed by Avon and his right-hand man Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) are nothing short of a well-oiled machine. They are conscientious, intelligent with a clear hierarchy and one singular goal. This makes them incredibly difficult for a department so far behind to catch up.

What The Wire does well is not only the realistic depiction of the institution of the Baltimore Police Department and the criminal organization they are hunting, but it also treats the players on both sides the same way. In the instance of the police officers, while some are smart, determined, seek out justice and are great at their jobs, others are lazy and simply in it to get their pensions, and others are political and seeking their next promotion.

The Brass
The Brass


What is more impressive is that these characters are portrayed as people with multiple dimensions, with some individuals holding brilliant qualities, but also filled with sins and egos. McNulty is the perfect manifestation of that honesty. While on the surface he seems to be a great detective, the more insight into the man we get, the more we see how broken and toxic he is to himself and all those around him. He’s a great cop, (natural PO-Lice) yet his vices keep him from doing as much good as he would hope.

Dominic West as Jimmy Mcnulty


The Wire doesn’t stop there. It breathes life into the Barksdale Crew. These criminals are not just criminals. They are people with hopes, dreams, strengths, and weaknesses. They feel fear and they care about one another. Just like the police officers, they each have a different motivation for being where they are.

Stringer Bell
Idris Elba as Stringer Bell in The Wire


Take Stringer Bell for example. He is the second in command of the Barksdale crew, yet he doesn’t seem to fit in. While the others dress in very urban clothing, his style is far more businesslike. He’s not flashy, carries himself methodically, is soft-spoken and deadly intelligent. He goes to business school and holds a fascination with Japanese culture.  A man born and bred in the streets of Baltimore, yet his ambition for a life beyond the game is what drives him daily. Others on the show, do not have the same luxury. Unfortunately for them, they are part of this game due to circumstance. They became drug dealers because it was the only way to have some sort of income; a modicum of respect among their peers.

Barksdale Crew
The Barksdale Crew


This dilemma is where the true genius of The Wire is displayed. These men and women aren’t only in this place due to their own choices, but because of a series of failures caused by their institutions.  David Simon, the show’s creator and one of its writers, takes us not only into the streets of Baltimore, where the cops and drug dealers try to one-up each other, but he also takes us on a trip through the infrastructure of the city. From the ports that link it to the rest of the world, to the hallowed corridors of City Hall where greed draws influence. From the public schools that fail children before they even have a chance, to the newspapers that never seem to focus on the true issues plaguing the city, instead far more interested in chasing a Pulitzer prize regardless of integrity.

The Future Of Baltimore


The Wire does this by introducing us to the people that fill these institutions. From teacher to politicians to the dock workers to the men and women who work at the Baltimore Sun. All of them are given room to breathe and grow and feel like actual individuals and not just caricatures. There are no good guys. There are no bad guys. Only people. And these people do their best, but it gets so much more difficult when the system works against us all.

The Wire Location
The Streets


The Wire is unrelenting in its truth. The storytelling wraps you in and does not lead you by the hand. There is tragedy, there is drama, there is pain, but there are also moments of glory and well-earned victories. The Wire is nothing short of a spectacular tour de force which highlights the good within each of us as well as the evils that haunt us all. So watch the Wire, “You got to….This Is America.”

Amazon Prime Members can watch the first episode of The Wire right here:( The Target

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