Riese’s Team Pick: The Wire

You guys The Wire. The Wire! The motherfucking Wire! I have been eating The Wire for about two months now, and now that I’m done eating it I feel empty inside. It was just so good. I miss Omar. And, to pour a little extra salt into my wound of vulnerability — every season of The Wire is on sale on iTunes for $12.99 as of pretty much the day I finished watching them (Seasons One, Two, Three, Four, and Five) and since I can’t take advantage of that deal, you probably should. It’s “for a limited time.” Or you can buy the entire series or stream it for $1.38 an episode via Amazon. You cannot watch it instantly on Netflix unfortunately.

The Wire follows a few cops and detectives and the criminals they prosecute in the city of Baltimore. Season one of The Wire focuses on the illegal drug trade, Season Two on the seaport system, Season Three on the city government, Season Four on the school system (MY FAVORITE SEASON) and Season Five on print news media.

Season Four

The Wire was a critical favorite — Slate.com called it the best show on television, Salon.com called it the best TV show of all time, and The Telegraph said it’s arguably the greatest television program ever made.

The first few episodes of each season can be a little slow, but give it time — by mid-season you literally won’t be able to think about anything else. It’s masterful, brilliant, careful storytelling and these are stories we rarely hear — at least not presented with this degree of compassion.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!

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Back when it premiered in 2002, AfterEllen pointed out that the series would feature “the first regular Asian-American lesbian or bisexual character on television and only the second regular lesbian police officer in TV history.” Kima Greggs, played by African-American/Korean-American actress Sonja Sohn, was described later as serving as “a moral center for the series, one of the only cops in the group not willing to lie, cheat, and steal to promote herself or to help the case.” Also she’s hot:

And, in one of the show’s many daring/interesting/compelling choices, they made Omar Little, a “renowned stick-up man who lives by a strict moral code and never deviates from his rules, foremost of which is that he never robs or menaces people who are not involved in ‘the game,'” unapolagetically gay, with an extended network of other gay men who meet up at a gay bar owned by a really nice blind guy named “Butchie” who I wanted to hug a lot.

i love you omar

Omar was hands down one of my favorite characters on the show — and FUN FACT! President Barack Obama says Omar Little is his favorite television character (his favorite TV show is, of course, The Wire) — “that’s not an endorsement. He’s not my favorite person, but he’s a fascinating character.”

The Baltimore City Paper said:

“Omar [is] arguably the show’s single greatest achievement. Omar is a same-sex-loving, shotgun-toting free agent who robs drug dealers of their cash and stash. He’s fearless yet tender. He could be as viciously cold-blooded as any thug, yet he’s the show’s most constantly hilarious presence. He is as scary a human being as ever depicted on television, and yet he is one of the only characters who never has a doubt about right and wrong.”

Season Four introduced Snoop, a drug gangster played by lesbian actress/rapper/ex-con Felicia “Snoop” Pearson.

AS A MASSIVE SIDENOTE — in a bizarre intersection of art/life, Felicia, an ex-con, was arrested last week in Baltimore as part of a massive drug bust and charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin. When The Wire creator David Simon was asked to comment on the arrest, he had this to say:

First of all, Felicia’s entitled to the presumption of innocence. And I would note that a previous, but recent drug arrest that targeted her was later found to be unwarranted and the charges were dropped. Nonetheless, I’m certainly sad at the news today. This young lady has, from her earliest moments, had one of the hardest lives imaginable.  And whatever good fortune came from her role in The Wire seems, in retrospect, limited to that project. She worked hard as an actor and was entirely professional, but the entertainment industry as a whole does not offer a great many roles for those who can portray people from the other America. There are, in fact, relatively few stories told about the other America….

In an essay published two years ago in Time magazine, the writers of The Wire made the argument that we believe the war on drugs has devolved into a war on the underclass, that in places like West and East Baltimore, where the drug economy is now the only factory still hiring and where the educational system is so crippled that the vast majority of children are trained only for the corners, a legal campaign to imprison our most vulnerable and damaged citizens is little more than amoral. And we said then that if asked to serve on any jury considering a non-violent drug offense, we would move to nullify that jury’s verdict and vote to acquit. Regardless of the defendant, I still believe such a course of action would be just in any case in which drug offenses—absent proof of violent acts—are alleged.

Both our Constitution and our common law guarantee that we will be judged by our peers.  But in truth, there are now two Americas, politically and economically distinct. I, for one, do not qualify as a peer to Felicia Pearson. The opportunities and experiences of her life do not correspond in any way with my own, and her America is different from my own. I am therefore ill-equipped to be her judge in this matter.

Anyhow. If you need more convincing I’d recommend checking out The Baltimore Sun‘s Top 10 Reasons to Watch The Wire, which includes this compelling argument in its favor:

On its surface The Wire is a cop show, the most stereotype-ridden of TV genres, yet nowhere in The Wire do stereotypes exist. There are no good guys and bad guys, merely men and women who work on opposites sides of the socially acceptable. The Wire treats both as people caught up in the same racial, class, and political tensions that afflict any American, and dramatizes them in manners that feel natural.

Mostly I’d like you all to watch it so that we can all talk about it. It feels so realistic that after devouring five subsequent seasons of The Wire, I find Law & Order really disappointing.

Also Holly from The Office is in it.

Season One: Season One

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2828 articles for us.

58 Comments

  1. Okay, okay, you’ve convinced me. Or David Simon has. Numerous friends have told me I should watch the Wire, but his comment on Felicia’s arrest got me:
    “[T]he war on drugs has devolved into a war on the underclass, that in places like West and East Baltimore, where the drug economy is now the only factory still hiring and where the educational system is so crippled that the vast majority of children are trained only for the corners, a legal campaign to imprison our most vulnerable and damaged citizens is little more than amoral.”

    YES. Fuck YES. I saw this working on the South and West Sides of Chicago–the war on drugs and crime is a thinly veiled war on poor, mostly brown, people. If The Wire reveals even a fraction of that truth, I am so on it.

  2. Also also, each season has a different version of the Tom Waits great ‘Way Down in the Hole’ as its opening theme, a song that will GET INSIDE YOUR SOUL. I mean, it’s Tom fucking Waits. So there is that.

    Omar is arguably the best character ever on a television show ever. He also gets inside your soul. This is a get inside your soul kind of show.

    Watch it, be changed.

    • there were like 5 major characters who’s names i consistently got mixed up and def don’t remember and i still was able to get enough of what was going on to follow. i got a lot of characters mixed up actually i think. anyhow i sort of subconsciously picked 1-2 stories per season that i was really observant on, and the others I just kinda knew enough to stay on it

  3. My brother has been haranguing me for years now to watch The Wire. I am seriously afraid of the time commitment that will be involved, ’cause I find it difficult not to watch entire seasons of shows all at once. I’ll need to be strategic about when to start ’cause I have no self control and I will disappear down a The Wire watching hole.

  4. Yes. This is a good show. Pretty much the only novel I’ve been able to watch instead of read. That will make sense if you think about it. So many layers. So much development.

    Miss your face.

  5. I looooove that you’re bringing The Wire back, Riese. Seriously. Every time I want to talk about it, no one knows what I’m going on about. The same happens whenever I bring up the track-n-field Nintendo game that came with the mat. So it was like the Wii before Wii, y’know? BECAUSE NO ONE EVER KNOWS.

    • You’re not alone! I’ve been trying to get a friend to watch THE WIRE so I can quote it and not feel like I have an inside joke w myself.

      Also, I HAD THAT GAME. And you had to tappy your feets! You’re looking at a ‘triple jump’ masterrrrr.

  6. Never watched it but will have to now. Thanks for the tip, will start downloading episodes.

    I am embarrassed that my tv viewing tends to run oh soooo lesbian….been replaying old episodes of L Word for the last month. Never get enough of Shane….

  7. The Wire was absolutely one of the best shows on television and one of my favorites. My favorite season is season four. Everything about their look at the school system was familiar to me having grown up in an inner city school system. If I started telling stories about the ways my schools (the kids, the parents, the teachers, the building itself) were fucked up we’d be here all day.

      • Seriously. In junior high I had a math teacher go out on disability for six months and they never found a teacher to take over the class. We had a few substitutes who did nothing and on days when they couldn’t find one they either had an NTA (non-teaching assistant) sit with us or just had somebody come in at the start of the period and tell us to quietly go through book on our own. What happened instead was truth or dare, sleep, singing, card-playing, and on one special occasion – I’m not making this up – strip Uno.

        When the teacher came back at the end of the year they tested everybody to see if we learned the nothing they taught us in that class and sure enough, except for the two students who were actually equipped to go through a text book on their own, nobody learned a fucking thing. They would have had to flunk a quarter of our grade at a time when they were being looked at to improve performance. So, plan B was a to administer the previous years final exam. Whatever you got on that test was your grade for the class.

  8. SPOILER ALERT—>>>

    Almost cried in season 5 over Bodie. I’m also very sad at how the enterprising candy seller boy ended up. I’m so annoyed the Namond is so lucky and he got to “escape” the cycle somehow.

    I remember this funny part when Kima’s girlfriend wanted to buy a cup holder for their baby, and Kima went if our baby can’t sip from the cup on his own, we have bigger problems. Hahaha.

    I have many other favorite parts but I don’t want to accidentally give spoilers.

    My favorite cop is Greggs of course, then Daniels, then the Hamsterdam one, then the furniture making guy with glasses.

    I saw a movie version of Brief Interviews of Hideous Men and the guy who played the police chief is in it! Burrell! And last year when I watched Rubicon I saw the guy who played Clay Davis! I ge excited when I see them in other shows.

    • To do business here, we need to deal with Clay Davis type people. For permits, licenses, etc. I always channel my inner Avon Barksdale when dealing with these bureucrats. I always remember what he told Stringer Bell that they could smell him a mile away yada yada. Remember that scene when they were reminiscing lookin over the city skyline.

  9. Things to love about the Wire:

    1. Omar-best character EVER.
    2. Portrayal of the public school system: the most realistic (not perfect, but closer) on TV. i.e. the actors are not 30 and no one gives a shit about prom–teenagers as real people with real lives going to a school that is massively fucked in the way many schools are fucked
    3. Major characters die when you expect them to, no one is saved by random stupid deus ex machina
    4. Soundtrack.
    5. Plot/more plots, none of which are boring or irrelevant
    6. Hot lesbians that are not played by skinny straight white girls

    I think that about does it. I need to re watch the whole thing.

    • SPOILER ALERT

      it took me a really long time to get used to “3” — i remember in season one the person who bodie shot (i’m not giving the name in case anyone is reading this who hasn’t seen the show accidentally sees this comment) I was shocked because in another show, that wouldn’t ever happen, it was just so tragic and unfair. that sort of broke me in.

      Season Four was my favorite too, because I’m obsessed with the failures of the US public school system — I read Savage Inequalities about ten years ago and since then have read everything I can find, watched all the documentaries, really somehow amassed a ridiculous amount of knowledge on this topic but I’ve never seen it delt with so realistically. I’ve volunteered in some fucked up schools and juvenile detention centers and ultimately that’s what i want to do with my life is be a teacher. Season Four reminded me of that. There’s no Michelle Pfiffer saving the children here.

  10. I put all of The Wire on my iPod to watch while exercising at the gym (because if anything’s going to motivate me to go faster, it’s gunshots), and I have totally caught people on neighboring machines leaning over to try to watch.

    I am only through season 2 so far, but damn is this an amazing show. Although, I have to admit, I really, really dislike McNulty.

    • that’s how i watched it too, at the gym on my ipod. which is why i wanted to scream that itunes put it on sale. season two was the hardest for me to get into i think, but by the end i was just as invested as everyone else and was ultimately surprised by which characters i cared about at the end.

      • I liked season two, but only after I accepted that it was a pretty sharp deviation from season one. I mean, it was partly about my people! Who called each other “Polak” lovingly! I couldn’t resist. And damn was Amy Ryan splendid in it, especially in those scenes where her character and Kima did stakeouts together. I wanted them to be best friends!

        Also, I realized halfway through season two that I was kind of attracted to Stringer Bell, which on the whole was very confusing.

    • Very funny, I got a kick out of your story about people peeking a look at the wire on your ipod in the gym.

      Never watched the show but after all this talk I went and got season 1. Will start tonight, if I can stay off autostraddle long enough….

      • It actually happens more often than I would have thought. The Wire is a popular one, as were Caprica and Boardwalk Empire. Big Love, Drop Dead Diva, and Damages only ever seem to get glances. I’m assuming people are attracted to sudden surges in on-screen action and then just keep trying to watch.

        But yes, watch the show! It does start off a bit slow, but it’s completely worth it. Just make sure you’re paying attention, not only to catch all the important details but also to soak in all the excellent writing and acting (particularly when Omar is in the picture).

  11. I was obsessed with The Wire a few years back and really lucky that the whole show was aired by the BBC. When people talk about a show this much and and it receives so much hype you wonder if it can live up to it but it truly does.

    Your world becomes consumed by Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell, you start looking at people as if they’re crazy for not knowing who Marlo is and Omar becomes an inspiring role model.

    It’s hard to pick a favourite character because the best thing about The Wire is that no character represents just one thing. They all feel like fully fleshed out individuals with good and bad traits.
    However I do have a soft spot for Stringer and i know a lot of people dislike McNulty (with good reason) but if i was murdered i’d want him and Bunk working my case! That scene where they work out how that girl got killed in her apartment was pure genius!

  12. I remember when it came out how I resisted seeing it because I thought, “How does this relate to me, my life?” Then I remember after watching the first season calling up all my friends and raving, “best show EVAH!!”

    The thing that really got me was that every year it just got better.

    It’s funny how HBO decided to back The Sopranos over The Wire when it came to awards season, because even though I enjoyed The Sopranos it never came close to The Wire in terms of acting, believable characters and plots.

    Don’t love it as much, but Treme is from the same team and a damn fine show on its own.

  13. I love The Wire. It should be required study for anyone who wants to figure out how to sustain and satisfy a narrative arc.

    One point though: I don’t believe Butchie (or his bar) were ever explicitly marked as gay. Nor were the other guys in the bar. I think (correct me if I’m wrong) that that was left ambiguous. Omar’s boyfriends and the two women who were his associates in the early seasons were identified as gay, but those older men weren’t. Which I always thought was an interesting dynamic: either there was some cool gay intergenerationalism going on in that bar or this was an intergenerational team that operated apathetic of sexuality.

    • I think they made a few references to that bar being a gay bar, unless i was totally projecting and missed everything. Butchie was gay but I don’t think any of the other people with him were identified as gay, just like Avon’s gay relative or other people that would stop in.

  14. I love The Wire, excited to see this post. For some reason, other than myself and my mum, most of the people I know who like it are male. But it really can be watched by anyone, it’s that good.

    Also, Rawls (one of the police officers) is gay – I think it’s in Season 3, there’s a scene in a gay bar and he’s in the background. I assumed this story line was going to be taken up, but it wasn’t, which was interesting in itself. Contributed to the novelistic structure that some people mentioned above!

  15. So people have been recommending this show to me forever and I’ve always been like “Meh, no more cop shows. I don’t care.” But when I saw this I was like “Okay FINE! I’ll watch it!” I got the first DVD from Netflix yesterday, just finished the third episode, like, 3 minutes ago and I LOVE THIS SHOW! Thank you for being the straw that broke the stubborn-ass camel’s back!

    I’m in love with Kima already. KIMA! Why won’t you love me back?

  16. Oh my god y’all. I finally bought Season 1 and have been watching it at a rate of 3 or 4 episodes a pop. And it’s SO GOOD. It’s like watching a Shakespearean drama filtered through Dickens, Raymond Chandler, and Snoop Dogg, only with more cursing.

    Also Kima is hot.

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