Binge Watchin’ TV Review: The Wire

Welcome to Binge Watchin,’ where we take a look at some of the best TV shows available on streaming or disc that have a great catalogue of seasons to jump into and get sucked into the beautiful bliss of binge watching! From crime, action, comedy, drama, animation, etc., we’ll be evaluating an assortment of shows that will hopefully serve as a gateway to your next binge experience.

the wire mcnulty

Series: The Wire

Number of Seasons: 5

Where to watch: HBO Go, DVD, Amazon

What's the show about?

THE WIRE is focused on the underworld economy of Baltimore, from the drug dealers that rule the streets, to the dogged cops who try to keep them in line, and up through the city's political machinery, the school system, and finally the media – each of which plays a not-so-honourable role in keeping the streets flooded with crime and narcotics.

Why should I watch?

It's funny to think it, but THE WIRE has been over for six years now. The finale only aired about six weeks after the first episode of BREAKING BAD, but for some reason it feels much newer. Maybe it's the fact that so few people actually watched it during it's initial run on HBO. Over five seasons it struggled mightily for ratings, and never took home any major awards. Crazy as it seems now, the show only ever managed a couple of Emmy nominations for writing. One wonders if the voters ever even watched the screener copies they received. How could it have been ignored for so long?

the wire omar

Now, THE WIRE is regarded as an undisputed classic, thanks to the fact that once the whole show hit DVD, people started binging on it. Word of mouth finally kicked in, and it's interesting to see how even in Hollywood it's rep was slow-going, as only in the last few years of so have some of the best actors from the show started to pop up in features.

Maybe it's not such a surprise that THE WIRE was never a ratings juggernaut. I actually couldn't imagine watching it week-to-week. It's such a sophisticated show story-wise that it really needs to be binged on, as it's the only way to really get what showrunner David Simon seemed to be going for. It's highly serialized, and very complex, with dozens upon dozens of character showing up each season. Leads one year can come back in small roles the year after, or disappear for a season or two and come back later on. Even THE WIRE's defacto lead, Dominic West's Jimmy McNulty is almost entirely absent for the fourth season, but everyone's stories are so compelling you'll barely notice.

the wire mcnulty omar

For those of you who haven't seen THE WIRE, it's a tough show to explain. While on the surface it's a cops and robbers show, it's actually much more than that. THE WIRE is a real reality check as far as explaining how an actual city runs. As a society and in the media the fight between cops and robbers is ofter simplified, as if it were a case of good versus evil, but it's far more complex than that. There's a reason people wind up where they wind up, and society, prejudice and especially poverty play a big part.

Each season is its own beat. The first season is concerned mostly with the special crimes detail run by Captain Daniels (Lance Reddick) who are pushed by a former homicide detective, Jimmy McNulty into investigating the drug empire run by Avon Barksdate (Wood Harris) and his right-hand man, the cultured, sophisticated Stringer Bell (Idris Elba). We follow the cops on the day-to-day process of running an investigation, complete with tons of red tape, and a little unexpectedly ingenious aid from street informant/junkie Bubbles (Andre Royo) and cold-blooded killer Omar Little (Michael K. Williams), not to mention McNulty's old partner Bunk (Wendell Pierce). Later seasons keep most of the characters, including genius detective Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters), and the streetwise Kima (Sonja Sohn) as they investigate drug and human trafficking on the docks, before taking a more political, issues-oriented focus with season three and onwards, where we really get to see how dirty the job of running a big city can be (as Clay Davis would say, “sheeeeeit”).

the wire stringer bell

Through it all, THE WIRE is a masterpiece, but it can't be denied it takes some commitment. In the first two seasons it can be slow-going, but patience is rewarded, and I've yet to speak to anyone that hasn't considered THE WIRE one of the best things they've ever seen by the time they blew through all five seasons. Most importantly, it's among the most empathetic shows you'll ever watch. While you may not have sympathy for the drug dealers that are shown here to run the streets, you may understand a little better where they come from, and don't be surprised if your politics make a major shift once you've made it through the series.

Best Season:

This is a tough one. Seasons three and four are pretty close, with three having an especially interesting subplot about Major Bunny Colvin (Robert Wisdom) and his attempts to created a de-criminalized section of the city to reduce crime elsewhere. Morally it makes for an interesting argument (and such a thing does exist in Vancouver to a certain extent). But, for me the edge goes to the devastating fourth season, which blows the lid off the public school system. Here, the show becomes a real tragedy as we follow a group of kids into a miserably underfunded inner-city high school which sets them on a terrible path that seems tough to overcome. What's especially interesting here is the development of the Pryzbylewski (Jim True-Frost) character, who goes from being a lousy cop into an inspiring, heroic high school teacher after he's thrown off the force. It's an interesting depiction of how the same person who's a disaster in one career could become a ideal worker in another, with him ending the series as its unspoken hero, alongside great Cutty (Chad Coleman) and the unexpectedly noble Omar, who remains one of the most complex characters in TV history.

Final Thoughts

More than any show out there, THE WIRE is a must-see. There's a reason why university courses are taught about it, and why everyone always says it's the greatest TV show ever made. It's a real work of art, but it's also the only show I can think of that has the real potential to fundamentally change you as a human being.


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.