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The Wire: it’s bullshit.

Given all the hoopla at the start of the latest season of The Wire, I thought I’d give it a go–the writers’ strike is definitely encouraging me to seek out new television. I’d heard about the show in all my media outlets, particularly the blogs that I read, and, somewhat surprisingly, all over public radio.

Well, I just watched the first two episodes of the fifth season, and I can say with little reservation: it’s bullshit. I’m not at all surprised that this show gets terrible ratings. It’s sanctimonious, stereotyping, ham-handed, but mostly, really, it’s just boring.

All I can think is that people with intellectual aspirations think that liking this show reflects well on them, the idea being that only The Wire is daring enough to address the complex challenges facing society. Also, because it’s politics mirror fashionable urban liberalism (corporations=bad, politicians=bad, management=bad, labor=good). But really, the show is remarkably simplistic, perhaps most evident in these first two episodes by the Parade of Stereotypes pawned off as characters: the mercenary weaselly white mayor; the alcoholic Irish cop; the wise-cracking charismatic African-American news editor who is always right, and is always sticking it to the man; the silver-haired sensationalist condescending newspaper publisher; etc. etc.

And I don’t think I’ve ever watched a talkier show. It’s kind of like a soap opera in that there is a lot of commotion, but nothing really happens.

So, please, spare me the fawning criticism of the gritty reality and causal complexity depicted by this show. It’s little more than polemical claptrap to encourage self-back-patting. And while I largely share the creator’s political views, I don’t need them beating me over the head.

Wow. This post got quite screedy. It’s just that all I’ve seen is adulation, and no negative criticism.

God, I wish Battlestar Galactica were back on the air. Another couple months, I guess.


  1. Well, with all respect, I think you’re totally wrong. Two episodes isn’t nearly enough to get into the world of the Wire, and coming in during the 5th season probably isn’t the best introduction to a set of characters that have been developed over the previous four.

  2. I would definitely recommend watching the first half of season one before picking up a verdict.

    Watching the first two episodes of season 5 and judging it based on that is like picking up a 30 chapter novel, reading chapters 22 and 23 and pronouncing it crap.

  3. Its really remarkable to see you someone call an entire series “bullshit” based on watching episodes 50 and 51. I’d recommend you give the whole show a shot before throwing a tantrum.

  4. I have to say, if I wanted to start someone on The Wire, I would expect them to be very disappointed if they started with season 5. I had such high hopes after watching the first four seasons over the last few months. They were even higher after I heard they were adding the Baltimore Sun newsroom to the story line. But McNulty’s arc is freakishly bad compared to his role up to this point. It’s completely unbelievable. And the newsroom is the creator’s parting shot at his old, asshole managing editor more than it is, you know, _interesting to the viewer_.

    If you want to give it a shot, I recommend watching season 1, then start season 2 and see just how well they managed to completely change the focus of the show, and then pull it all together for season 3. It’s one of my favorite series even now, though I’ll be happy just to make it through this season and be glad it’s over.

  5. sorry to pile on here, but the only bullshit in this post is the fact that you have the audacity to declare an entire body of work bullshit based on a very poor sampling. You are right it is a bit soap operaish in that enjoying fully really requires an understanding of the characters, and on top of that Season 5 is the weakest of the bunch. It’s corrected itself a bit since E02 (watched up to E07) but still not on the level of anything before it. And if it does fall off the tracks the last scene in E02 is definitely the shark jumping moment…

    Curious as to what went through your mind to got out and declare “it’s bullshit” in the title. Not an act that speaks well for you or your company is it? I mean you take an very small sampling of a show and then go out and basically declare that its fanbase, which happens to include a bunch of intellectual heavyweights and one of the main candidates for president of the United States, are full of shit. Wouldn’t it be more intellectually honest to say “I don’t like it personally”, or “I just don’t get it”?

    You basically came to a point where your own personal viewpoint came in conflict with a pretty large critical data sample and the response is basically “I’m right they are wrong”, no?

  6. Wow. Definitely touched a nerve. Yes, admittedly the sample size is small, but why should I assume that it will get any better? If you’re not coming out of the gate with your strongest stuff (particularly in your 5th season), then what are you waiting for? And, Abe, I hadn’t heard folks claim season 5 as the weakest… In fact, all I’d heard was how it was an exploration and indictment of the journalism business. But all I saw was cliches piled on cliches.

    Maybe it does get better. Maybe the first four seasons were the best thing ever. But these two episodes were bullshit.

    What intrigues me most is the amount of commentary on this post. The Wire doesn’t seem to have fans so much as it has zealous followers, like members of a cult. Perhaps David Simon should start a religion!

  7. I guess I have one more thought, to explain my rant. The first two episodes weren’t just bad. They were *very bad*. After all the fawning and hype, I had expectations for quality, and they were dashed on the shoals of, well, badness.

  8. I don’t think many are openly writing that it’s the worst season of the bunch, but if you compare the way people were talking about season 4 at this point in it’s run then it’s pretty clear that it’s not the same as it once was.

    Apparently this season got cut to 10 episodes from 12 or 13 sometime in the development process and it shows, there is way too much crammed in there. Too many threads, to many epic stories in a show that’s strength was always how well it captured little details. At an hour an episode there’s something like 25 full length movies worth of character development and plotlines. Trying to add a couple more plots and a bunch of characters while also continuing the past ones is looking like way too much of a task to fit into this season. It’s still the Wire and fans know these stories and characters inside out and we still love it for all it’s current flaws. But it’s just not the same show and I’m not surprised you didn’t enjoy it.

    Still strikes that you are talking about it the wrong way. When I encounter something I don’t get or enjoy but others do I usually think “well I didn’t get it, but clearly I’m missing some piece of context that allows others to enjoy it” not “that’s a piece of bullshit”. Cause even if I suspect the later to be true I’m just not in a position to really say I’m a better judge than the many people who clearly see things differently.

    I mean you didn’t like the Wire, big deal, you are certainly not alone. But making absolute statements about it’s quality is frankly an insult to the many of us who still think it’s the greatest TV show ever made. It’ll actually be interesting for me to rewatch those episodes with your comments in mind, they are so completely the opposite of any reactions I’ve heard. My guess is that Simon and company are just way too deep in the world they created to adequately create a stand alone season…

    And yeah just as a note, I know more than a couple fans who said it took them 4 or 5 episodes to get hooked, so who knows, I’d start with season 1 or 4, but 2 or 3 would probably do the trick too…

  9. Agreed with what the other posters have said. 2 episodes is not nearly enough to judge the entire show.

    That said, I just finished watching the entire 4th season via Netflix last weekend, and now that I’ve caught up, I think The Wire peaked at season 3. In fact, I think they could’ve ended the show after season 3 and it would have been a stellar 3 years.

    Don’t have cable/HBO right now, so I have yet to catch season 5.

  10. If I watched Season 18, episodes 1 and 2 of The Simpsons, I would produce the series as utter crap with a dumb father figure that is borderline developmentally disabled and is cruelly the butt of jokes based on his impaired intelligence. I would take issue with the thousands of sites and hours of fawning praise the show has received. I would never watch another episode and declare my friends nitwits for talking up this “Simpsons” thing so much.

  11. Allow me to be the ~11th person to say that jumping in where you did is a disservice to the show. It’s the last season and they are taking some familiar characters in an odd direction. I would also agree that there are more simple *types* so far this year.

    You can’t appreciate how far McNulty has gone off the deep end unless you saw where he started (although they are still kinda past plausibility with that one). And you missed the whole Avon Barksdale/Stringer Bell plotline, which IMO is the best of the show.

  12. Well, Peter, for the record: I agree with you. I watched most of season 1, and it seemed labored and preachy. People say it’s “gritty,” “complex” and “real,” and that may be true, but it’s still unsurprising, without layers, predictable, etc. That said, I’ve been thinking about giving it another shot if only to have more ammunition for why I don’t like it.

  13. Wait a second, people… You most definitely CAN judge a novel by picking two chapters at random. You do it at the bookstore all the time. These talkbacker arguments show more that fans of the show will need more than two horrible episodes to have their faith shaken, but two is more than a descent sample for someone else, who hasn’t drank the Kool-Aide yet, to realize, ‘Nah, it’s not for me. In fact, this Red Bull tastes like crap. Must be marketing.’ so get off it. And bring back Journey Man, while you’re at it. 😉

  14. I have not yet watched the Wire, but I think the extent to which people go on and on and on about it makes me ALREADY hate it. I agree with you that a few episodes would have to blow me out of the water for me to even break even with all the annoying fans (no offense!). It’s like the Jehovah’s Witnesses with Wire fans. Stop beating down my door!

  15. As a counterpoint to the characters being stereotypes, maybe some of them are but the show has a great deal of realism, as influenced by the involvement of former Baltimore police Ed Burns. You can read a bit about him and how some of the actors are former drug dealers here:

    For shows like this I can only suggest starting from the beginning. It’s getting to the point that I never watch a TV show on TV, the DVDs let me soak in the full storyline in order.

  16. From your lines “But really, the show is remarkably simplistic, perhaps most evident in these first two episodes by the Parade of Stereotypes pawned off as characters: the mercenary weaselly white mayor; the alcoholic Irish cop; the wise-cracking charismatic African-American news editor who is always right, and is always sticking it to the man; the silver-haired sensationalist condescending newspaper publisher; etc. etc.” it becomes obvious to any regular viewer of the Wire that you don’t know what the heck you are talking about. All of these “stereotypes” as you call them, are carefully crafted evolutions (and some devolutions) of characters that you get to know from season 1. This isn’t CSI or Law and Order (both of which are complete bullshit) with a nice neat story all open and shut within 42.5 minutes. Go watch the first 2-3 episodes of season 1 and you’ll soon realize how very mistaken you were.

  17. peterme: it’s bullshit.

    I only read the first couple paragraphs of the post but I can tell this site is bullshit. The author pretty obviously has a strong intellectual insecurity. He is clearly trying to tear down the popular consensus among the truly intelligent in an attempt to invalidate their worth, not realizing that he is only exposing his own foolishness. Etc, etc, etc.

    Anyway, I’m through four episodes of this season of The Wire and I like it pretty well. The McNulty angle is a bit out there and I kept hoping it would get reeled in, but I guess it won’t. The newsroom stuff is good but probably not as fleshed out as it would have been in previous seasons. I really wish they’d had a full season to work with, but it is what it is and the acting and writing is still great as ever.

    For what it’s worth, I thought the second season was the worst. It just didn’t have the same gritty–yes, gritty—realism that the other seasons had. It’s not that I don’t think there is a blue collar world like that, I just feel like it has been better expressed elsewhere, for example the first season of Brotherhood.

  18. Please don’t judge the wire based on season 5. It is by far the worst and most unrealistic season they’ve ever produced. I’ve had friends that I’ve raved about the show that have watched it for the first time this year. All of them ask the same question: “What’s the big deal?”. It’s emabarrassing. I feel like the guy in the old looney tunes cartoon with the singing frog. The points you brought up: Weasly white mayor wasn’t always weasly. The alcohlic irish cop had cleaned up and just recently went into an awful downward spiral and his storyline is like something out of CSI this year. All of the main characters have been behaving totally out of character and the media storyline just plain didn’t work. For your own sake, watch the first 4 seasons. When you finish, do like me and pretend season 5 never happened.

  19. I agree with the original comment and note the way people who like the wire for its critical intelligence have little inclination to extend such thinking to an analysis of the show itself. Personally, I agree with the basic politics of the wire, but cant understand what is so entertaining or thought provoking about watching it played out in sociology textbook fashion. TV should take you somewhere, surprise you, not confirm previously held convictions. I do think the characters are stereo-typical, but actually think stereotype can be a great dramatic device if used well, e.g. any of the 2 dimensional characters in The Sopranos. So its good, but not that good.

  20. Have to say that I kinda agree with some of the points made in the first post.

    Some aspects of The Wire are a little weak. Some poor acting and very predictable subplots have, imo cast a shadow over an otherwise good programme. I thought the first two seasons were average at best. I’m currently watching the third season, which is pretty good on the whole but it’s still plagued by terrible acting by some of the actors playing cops.

    I completely agree with James above who posted:
    “TV should take you somewhere, surprise you, not confirm previously held convictions.”
    ..”its good, but not that good.”

    I’m looking forward to watching the remaining seasons..I hope the show continues to improve.

  21. As a johnny-come lately to The Wire I can only wonder what the preceding fuss is all about. The Wire, like all successful TV programming is generally more addictive than it is good. I am in the middle of Season 2 and the thing I like best about the show is that everybody drinks a lot. I watch the DVD before going to bed and I don’t like to drink alone. We’ve become drinking buddies.

    Think about it: if TV required quality programming to survive there would be no more than three channels broadcasting four hours a night five days a week. And I doubt that Battlescar Galactica would make the cut.

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