According seemingly every TV critic in the world, The Wire was the greatest TV show ever made. I don’t usually base my television viewing habits on what critics tell me to watch, but a lot of people who really love the shows that I loved, like Boardwalk Empire and Breaking Bad, have nothing but praise for the show, so I decided to give it a shot. I watched the first couple of episodes and found it really boring, so I stopped watching it.
After I initially gave up on the show, its praise on the Internet and social media continued to get louder and more enthusiastic. It seemed every review of a current cable drama always seemed to make some reference to the Wire. Prominent sports columnist Jason Whitlock started comparing every sports story to a Wire character or plotline. While waiting for the final half season of Breaking Bad to start I decided to give the show another chance.
I re-watched the last episode I had watched and then suffered through one or two more before again giving up on the show. When I first tried watching the show I thought it was just boring. When I tried watching it the second time I still thought it was boring but also realized that a lot of the characters and dialogue were terribly clichéd. In the last episode I watched McNulty was in a meeting with a bunch of veteran cops talking about some type of investigation or other, and the veteran cops, who looked like every single secondary cop character in every single cop movie ever made, talked just like every single secondary cop in every cop movie ever made, making snide remarks and basically just serving to show how our smart the protagonist cop is. There have been 1,000 scenes just like that in TV shows and movies in the past 40 years. I gave up after that.
A lot of the fans of The Wire like how it highlights how unfair and counterproductive the anti-drug policies have been in the United States. That’s great, but I already knew that long before I ever heard of The Wire and the flaws in the drug policies had been pointed out a million times by a million different people over the past 20 years, so I didn’t need to suffer through a boring TV show to hear a point that had already been made.
I feel like The Wire is the modern cable TV show version of Moby Dick. When Moby Dick was first published, it received high praise from one of the greatest writers of the era, Nathanial Hawthorne, but was a commercial flop. Only many years after the author’s death that it came to be regarded as of the great works in American literature. As with the Wire, I decided to see what all of the fuss was about and tried reading the 900 page book about hunting whales. Unlike the Wire, I managed to finish the book. But just like The Wire, I found that the book had a painfully slow developing plot and I was not remotely emotionally involved in the characters. After 600 pages I couldn’t have cared less if they killed the White Whale (spoiler: they don’t, the whale sinks the ship and kills almost everyone on it).
Imagery, symbolism and social commentary are all well and good, but if you are going to be a great storyteller, be it with film or letters, you have to tell a great and compelling story. The truly great storytellers are able to wrap their up their social commentary and symbolism with an entertaining storyline. Too many talented writers get so caught up in their message that they neglect the medium. The Wire may be an example of that, but truth be told, I may actually give the show yet another shot.