It is very easy to get caught in the media hype of current popular entertainment, considering the longevity of so many reality-TV, sitcom and hospital drama series that play so perfectly to the nuances that reign in the mainstream demographic.
Enter... The Wire. No media hype - just critics that have been blowing a horn with few people taking the time to open their ears to hear.
Critics have hailed it as one of the masterpieces of TV - one of the best ever produced (See: Metacritic, Salon, Slate, Time, New York Times, London Guardian, London Telegraph)
The series was created by David Simon, a former police reporter with the Baltimore Sun, in partnership with former Baltimore homicide detective Edward Burns. Over its 5 seasons it didn't gain a large audience, but it is saturated with relevant social and political themes that will resonate for a long time to come.
The name of the series refers to the small squad of Baltimore detectives who's directive is to bring down the burgeoning drug business of Avon Barksdale. Their tactic is to implant wire-taps on the pay phones in and around the tenement buildings surrounding an inner-city Baltimore courtyard where most of the small but lucrative drug deals go down. As a viewer, the problem you are immediately faced with is that both sides of the law in this series have characters that you are empathetically drawn to. Jimmy McNulty provides the outward bravado for the team of detectives, with his supporting crew of Herc, Freamon, Sydnor, Greggs and his new lieutenant Cedric Daniels each having richly written story-lines that are equally compelling. The same holds true for Barksdale and his ilk - his nephew D'Angeloe Barksdale, Bodie, Poot, and most notably Stringer Bell being the business minded mastermind, using Robert's Rules of Order for his meetings with his underlings. Throughout the first few seasons he is suave and persuasive but not afraid to lay a heavy hand when it comes time to claim territory.
The cast is composed of numerous character actors, mixed in with the likes of folks you've seen playing fantastic roles in other series. Watch for the singer/songwriter Steve Earle as Walon, the leader of the 12 step program attended by Bubbles, a scene stealing drug addict who is quick to to give a tip now and then to the detectives for a few bucks. The opening song, "Way Down in the Hole" is a song composed by Tom Waits. Each season it is performed by a different artist. In the first season by The Blind Boys of Alabama, then in successive seasons by The Neville Brothers, DoMaJe, Steve Earle, and for the final season, Tom Waits.
Season 1: Deals primarily with the Barksdale syndicate, and sees the introduction of Omar, the somewhat equalizing foe who plays both sides to his advantage. The detectives work to build their team, while Barksdale sees to build his empire.
Season 2: Focusses on the corruption on the Baltimore docks, with a Russian/Greek mafia understory that adds even more mystery as the episodes play out.
Season 3: Brings a political theme to the forefront, with the power-plays of city councillors and mayoral candidates in their quest to make their way to the top, exposing the gritty reality of all levels of government in the microcosm of Balitmore politics.
Season 4: The school system is explored, as a member of the detectives team, having made a fatal error in judgment on the police force, takes a job as a teacher. His attempts to divert one of his students from a life of crime are noble, yet too little for the magnetic pull of the upward mobility of a young drug hustler.
Season 5: A serial killer myth is perpetuated by McNulty and Freamon, leading the media down a path that they think serves their needs, but ultimately becomes the machine of their undoing.
This series is entirely satisfying. It serves as a magnifying glass on any big city and the various cultures that ultimately result. It is not a case of "favorite episode", "favorite season" or "favorite quote" - the compendium of The Wire should be watched in its entirety.
Immerse yourself in the phenomenon, you won't be disappointed.