The Wire — Killer TV No 3

The Wire HBO

HBO, 2002-2008

‘Ayo, lesson here, Bey. You come at the king, you best not miss.’ – Omar

Dominic West, John Doman, Idris Elba, Frankie Faison, Larry Gilliard Jr, Wood Harris, Wendell Pierce, Sonja Sohn, Michael Kenneth Williams, Lance Reddick, Clarke Peters

Identikit: Despite internal divisions, the Baltimore police department elevates its battle against drug crime above street-dealer level by targeting the bosses of the Barksdale gang with the use of wire taps.


FIRST of all, there was the cast – no big name stars to buff and glam-up the characters. Then, there was the style – accurate, realistic, with many stories written by Ed Burn, former Baltimore homicide cop and teacher. Finally, there was the ambition of the series, led by showrunner David Simon but with a writing team including acclaimed crime fiction masters George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane and Richard Price. Over five series the drama focused on different levels of Baltimore society and the drugs food chain – the cops, the docks, politicians, schools, newspapers – in a powerful depiction of the never-ending, fractious and seemingly pointless struggle to contain the drugs epidemic. It was realistic (sometimes the street patois was so accurate as to be impenetrable, even to the characters!), and it gave us a gallery of unforgettable characters – Omar Little, Jimmy McNulty, Stringer Bell, Bubbles, Avon Barksdale, Kima, Bunk, Lester and more. It was never a ratings blockbuster (peaking at 4million in the US, against 26million for, gulp, CSI) and it took several episodes before most viewers could get into what was an epic TV experience. But once you did, The Wire was one of the most compelling and vivid dramas ever broadcast.

Music: Way Down in the Hole, performed by The Blind Boys of Alabama (series 1), Tom Waits (series 2), The Neville Brothers (series 3), DoMaJe (series 4), Steve Earle (series 5)

Classic episode: Old Cases (series 1) – Bunk and McNulty investigate an old crime scene. Using no dialogue in this scene other than the word ‘fuck’ repeatedly, we see the two old pros uncovering truths no one else had spotted.

Watercooler fact: The Wire featured in minor roles several real-life Baltimore figures. These included former Maryland Governor Robert L Ehrlich, former police chief and convicted felon Ed Norris, and Virginia Delegate Rob Bell. ‘Little Melvin’ Williams, a drug lord arrested in the 1980s, had a recurring role at the start of series 3, and longtime police officer Jay Landsman played Lieutenant Dennis Mello.

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