I was channel-surfing late one night when I stumbled across a scene where a couple of ghetto kids were discussing arithmetic. Then it cut to to an off-duty detective with his sons at a local market and, seeing who I presumed was the show’s villain, used his sons to tail that person. And then it cut to the ‘villain’ attending a community college lecture about business management.
A university-attending villain? A cop who wasn’t above using his own flesh and blood to run surveillance? Kids who couldn’t do maths at school but could flawlessly keep track of the flow of money and drugs when they’re on the street corner?
What. The. Hell?
I watched the ep right to the end and was little the wiser: there was a large cast; the street talk was unintelligible to me; the cops were coarse, profane and prone to disturbingly casual brutality; the drug dealers were disciplined, organised and smart. Each character seemed to have their own storyline. My casual assumptions of baddies being bad and stupid, and goodies being good and smart, did not apply. It required concentration. I had no idea what was happening.
I remember thinking, What the hell kind of cop show is this?
And I knew for sure that I wanted more.
On the strength of that chance channel-surf, I bought the DVD of the first season and never looked back. There’s nothing I can say here about the writing and the acting and the production that hasn’t already been said a hundred times over in the aether.
Creator David Simon‘s assiduously spare approach to The Wire – keep up, bub – was hard work but hugely rewarding, and give me half a chance, I’ll bore you to tears with how much I love the show. Instead, I’ll give the last word to Mr Simon himself, from an interview with Nick Hornby:
My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell.