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Wire: Complete First Season, The

HBO // Unrated // October 12, 2004
List Price: $99.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted October 8, 2004 | E-mail the Author
The Show:

The executives at the networks must really be worrying.  At the latest Emmy awards, the four broadcast networks were almost snubbed.  Cable shows, that once couldn't even get nominated, won the lion's share of the major awards.  Viewership at the networks is declining, while cable's is on the rise.  One of the reason for those facts is that cable, HBO in particular, are consistently putting out high quality shows. While the networks are still programing shows with single episode stories for the most part, cable has been focusing on long story arcs.  And they have been airing the shows in several time slots making it easier for viewers to catch the program.  These tricks wouldn't amount to much if the shows weren't good, but cable channels are willing to spend money on good stories and actors, and to have high production values.  They are also willing to have very short seasons, 13 episodes often.  But most importantly, they are willing to fund new and different programing.  Shows that don't seem like a retread of the last successful show.  HBO's The Wire is one such show: A high quality program that delivers an excellent story with outstanding actors.

The Wire is a complex story about a drug investigation, from beginning to end.  It all starts when Homicide Detective James McNulty (Domonic West) sees a witness in a murder trial change her story on the stand.  Her change of heart lets D'Angelo Barksdale (Larry Gilliard Jr.) walk.  D'Angelo is a mid-level drug pusher in his uncle's organization.  Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) controls the drug traffic in the Baltimore projects, and runs the area strictly.  Anyone who testifies against a member of his crew ends up dead.

This latest member of the Barksdale crew to get off really sticks in McNulty's craw.  He talks to a judge he knows, who makes a few phone calls to get an investigation rolling.  This lands McNulty in the dog house as far as his superiors are concerned.  He didn't follow the chain of command, and now they have to redeploy their manpower on a case they don't even want to pursue.

Coordinating with Narcotics, a small team is put together to handle the case.  A Narcotics Lieutenant who is up for a promotion is picked to lead the team, since he won't cause any waves.  McNulty is on the case, of course, but the rest of the officers are the dregs of the department.  The screw-ups that no one wants on their staff.  Together these underfunded, unsupported cops have to build a case on a very careful drug lord, while managing not to get shut down by their superiors.
This story isn't told only from the police's point of view though, it is actually told from the prospective of the cops and the drug dealers themselves.  Like Boomtown, which premiered the same year, this show puts a human face on all of the players.  The cops aren't totally good, and the drug dealers aren't all evil.  They each have their problems, with pressures from their family and their jobs.  This show does an excellent job of blurring the line between good and evil.
The strength of The Wire, is that the program takes the time to show how the case is built one step at a time.  There isn't any smoking gun evidence or someone with a guilty conscience that solves the case after an hour.  This single case is told over the thirteen episodes that make up the first season.  That makes the show move a little slow for some people, especially in the first couple of episodes.  The beginning shows can be confusing too, since there are a very large number of characters in the show, and it can be a little difficult to put a name with a face in the beginning.  By the third or fourth show though, things become much more clear.

The writing on the show is very strong.  Created by David Simon, of Homicide: Life in the Streets and The Corner fame, the show has a very realistic and gritty feel to it.  The dialog is superb, the people in the show sound like real people talking rather then someone reciting a speech.  The show does a good job of holding your interest for the entire thirteen episode run, without adding a lot of extraneous plot twists just for the purpose of making it longer.

The acting was great too.  There were several people in the show that gradually changed over the course of the season, and for reasons that were clearly spelled out.  The change in these characters seemed natural and logical, and the actors were able to play these complex persons very convincingly.  Domonic West did an outstanding job, filling McNulty with contradictions.  He was able to portray the officer's drive realistically without making him a one dimensional charactrer.

This was a very interesting and thought provoking show that it both complex and enjoyable.  The creators did a great job on every aspect, from writing to casting to set design.  A top notch effort.

The DVD:

This five disc set comes in a book like case.  The cover opens up to revel five pages, each with a separate DVD.  I really like this design for multi-disc sets.  It is more compact than having five Amaray cases, and much more wieldy than the foldout type case.


This set has a good set of audio options.  Viewers can listen to this show in stereo in French, Spanish, and English, and there is a 5.1 mix in English too.  The show sounded excellent.  The show was very busy with a lot of sounds in the background, from kids playing ball and rap music to gun shots and screams.  All of the sounds in the foreground and background come through clean and clear.  The mix is very dynamic with a lot of highs and lows, going from a loud club to a quiet alley with both sounding good.  The 5.1 mix made good use of the soundstage, throwing background noises and music to the rears to create an enveloping sound.  A great sounding show.  There are also subtitles in French, Spanish, and English.


The full frame video looks as good as the show sounds.  There are a lot of dark scenes taking place in project buildings and alleyways where details are still visible.  The colors are accurate and the flesh tones look real.  With only two or three hour long shows on each DVD, digital defects are not prevalent, though some aliasing is visible.  The show looks very good.


The only extras on this set are audio commentaries accompanying three episodes.  Creator/writer David Simon gives his thoughts on the first episode, director Clark Johnson comments on the second show, and David Simon and writer George P. Pelecanos talk over the penultimate episode.  These were interesting commentaries, where the creators explained why the structured the story the way that they did, and related some anecdotes.  Though they get a little dry by the end, all three are well worth listening to.

Final Thoughts:

This is a very interesting and complex series.  It doesn't insult the viewers intelligence by endlessly repeating every major plot point.  The scripts are very tight and well crafted and the actors are superb.  HBO has come out with yet another fantastic series.  Highly Recommended.

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Highly Recommended

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