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The Wire: A treasure of the modern age

March 16, 2009


GM is celebrating the news that the BBC has announced that it is to show all 60 hours of The Wire.

IN the last series of The Wire a routine in-joke repeats itself: editors ask reporters of the Baltimore Sun to examine the Dickensian nature of the education system and then homelessness problems of the city.
It’s an in-joke between the creators and writers because the Dickensian nature of The Wire was one of the great praises sung of the show by critics exultantly reviewing early series.
They ultimately pointed to its often very gradually unfolding, novel-like plotting as the central pillar of its vast panoramic illustration of inner city Baltimore in decline.
It is the very novelistic, episodic nature The Wire that sets it apart and allowed it to achieve what many TV shows have either failed to do or just clean ignored – classic entertaining drama as a dense political treatise.
The only comparable example in Britain has been Our Friends in the North and even that is merely a super-charged mini series, albeit a bloody brilliant and era-defining one.
The Wire has a set of principle players augmented by many, many supporting members of an extraordinary ensemble, giving the drama an acute sense of place, community and time.
In many ways it mirrors the work of some of its key writers: the novelists Denis Lehane (Mystic River), Richard Price (Clockers) and perhaps most closely, the work of executive producer and crime writer, George Pelecanos (pictured above right with Wire creators Ed Burns and David Simon).
Each writer documents their places of birth, Lehane in Boston, Price Brooklyn and Pelecanos in Washington DC.
Pelecanos, a fellow resident of the Maryland suburb of Silver Springs with Simon, is the creator of several wonderful novels which document the decline of inner city DC from the 1940s through to the present.
The recurring set of characters in The Wire mirror the recurring neighbourhood characters in his Nick Stefanos and Derek Strange books.
Characters from different series often make brilliant cameos in other books which tickle the reader no end. But they act not merely as a post modern in-jokes, they also give a fictive but tangible representation of the living communities of Washington DC in the same way as happens in the West Baltimore of The Wire.
In The Wire, people live and die on the drug corners, they exit and re-enter the narrative often in different series.
We see people grow-up and fall victim, become rehabilitated and fall again and become brutalised by the harsh realities in the ghetto.
The Wire is epic, not in the way that Jeremy Clarkson or Richard Hammond describe some £300,000 super car, but in the sheer scope of its scale and sense of social purpose.
It is rightly called epic because it is on the heroic narratives of Greek drama and Russian fiction that it shamelessly styles itself.
What an aspiration for TV drama to have in the first place. But to achieve that ideal, and then some, makes it a treasure of this often trivial modern age.

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