By Andrew Williams
December 20, 2012
Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and warning you away from the specific episodes – or even seasons! – that might have ruined their reputation).
Now, this is a story all about how... A police unit including divorced, bull-headed homicide detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) investigates a brutal gang of drug dealers headed by Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) and his second-in-command Stringer Bell (Idris Elba).
Happy days? Absolutely. You’ll notice The Wire cropping up again and again on various 'Best of All Time' lists, even though practically nobody watched it the first time around. It’s a densely plotted, dialogue heavy series with immense rewards for anyone who affords it the time and commitment it deserves. The second half of the series in particular contains some standout sequences; you’ll be utterly shocked one moment, thrilled the next, and intrigued the moment after that. It’s all delivered with a hefty side of creator David Simon’s signature cynicism. The Wire will work its way into your brain and make you distrust everybody around you, especially the establishment. The Wire really doesn’t like the establishment.
Upon finishing Season One, it will come as no surprise to viewers that several members of The Wire’s cast went on to be familiar faces in the world of television. Of those that did, two in particular stand out: Lance Reddick’s intimidating, complex police chief Daniels is a force to be reckoned with, and Idris Elba’s Stringer Bell is a softly charismatic presence in the background. And although Dominic West is constantly battling his American accent (some of his delivery is hilariously British), he’s also a commanding force.
The negatives are few and far between. My main complaint about this season is the snail’s pace early on, even though Wire fans tend to argue that this is what makes the show so appealing. There’s really no reason the creative team couldn’t have tried to make it a little bit more entertaining, and the occasional plot point is wildly telegraphed, but these are minor, minor quibbles for what is a terrific season of television.
The final frontier: Possibly the best police drama of all time gets off to a fantastic, if trudging start. The hours are long, but the rewards are many.
Top three episodes: 12) Cleaning Up. One of the most chilling moments in the entire series takes place in this blistering, angry, and brilliant entry. 10) The Cost. The slightly ham-fisted foreshadowing of the denouement makes it no less affecting; one of television’s tensest sequences. 4) Old Cases. Possibly my favourite scene of the entire series (consisting pretty much entirely of swearing) takes place halfway through this episode.
Worst episode: 5) The Pager. This is the only instalment of the season I can think of that doesn’t have the kind of standout scene The Wire does so well, but it’s still a pretty good entry in the series. That’s the kind of quality we’re dealing with.
Season MVP: Larry Gilliard Jr. is a fascinating, emotional presence as Avon Barksdale’s nephew D’Angelo, a man torn between a life he thinks he can have and the one reality has forced upon him.
The Wire - Season 1 is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY.