The Wire Is Like, Real
Like most critics have told you for the last four to five years, I believe HBO's The Wire is the best show on television, even though I don't watch that much television. But the nut-swinging criticism this show is being given is ridiculous. It's not to say The Wire doesn't deserve the praise it receives. Rather, the contrary. The problem for me happens when all these critics start comparing the show to the works of "great 19th century novels,â€ and to Dickens, Faulkner, and all these other writers that were around when slavery was still an in thing.
Let's say I love Work A. Then I read a critics review of Work A, who also says Work A is great, but to bring his point home, the critic also says Work A is just as good as Work B. I've never heard of Work B though, but because the critic says Work B is great like Work A is, I'm going to check out Work B simply because the critic and I have already agreed on Work A.
Now, the way a lot of these critics have been writing about Work A, which is The Wire, is they say it's just like Work B, which is, let's just say, a Dickens novel. Well, I read a Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities, and call me slow, but that shit sucked. The Wire, on the other hand, is greater than any expectations you may have about a cop drama. Like I said, best show on television.
If you want to say the storytelling is similar in structure to a "great 19th century novelâ€, I understand that, but what I don't understand is why we're saying The Wire is great like them.
What critics are doing is over-intellectualizing The Wire. There only frame of reference for a show like this is the stuff they read when they were studying at one of those fancy schmancy Ivy League institutions, so what they do is, they compare The Wire not to its real life, modern-day counterparts. But rather, they reach way back into the pantheons of literature, and lobby the kinds of praise that only AP English students are going to understand.
The reason why The Wire is good is because it's just like the Harlem I've called home for the past two years, and just like the D.C. neighborhoods I'd see from time to time while I was in school. It's like Oakland, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Newark, and any other hood you can probably think of. It's more than a tale of two cities, it's a tale of many.
The other problem with all the grandiose praise being given to The Wire's writing is the cast of the show fails to be mentioned with as much adulation. Sure, the writing is great, but the cast of The Wire is one of the best on TV and critics only slightly touch on the great acting displayed in it. This is probably because a lot of critics don't believe these black actors are really doing anything more than acting like they do when the director yells cut, when the truth is, they're doing some of the best performances on television. The problem is when black actors depict the kinds of characters the media perceives to be true of black people, they don't get the respect they deserve. Not to rehash old stuff, but we all know the only reason Denzel wins his Oscar for his performance in Training Day is because the Academy was so used to seeing him play less of a bad-ass in previous films. Though a great deal of The Wire's authenticity is due to the efforts of the casting directors who seek out people from Baltimore's earth, the ones who aren't, like Tristan Wilds (the young actor who plays Michael Lee), are true-to-the-school actors who deserve props for their performances.
Just say The Wire is great because it's more real than any television show, reality or otherwise. Say it's great without all the hyperbole and comparisons to literatures dead greats. Even if the show's creator has these grandiose ambitions of making a Greek tragedy, the truth is, The Wire depicts a modern day tragedy that is being played out in neighborhoods all over America. It's not a period piece. It is a piece about America as it exists today. Period.