I don't have HBO

because I already pay waaayyyyy too much for cable and internet, so until I got hooked up with Netflix, I didn't have a chance to see The Wire. I watched all of season one and am in the middle of season two, and, frankly, Holy Shit but this is a good show. It was created by David Simon and Ed Burns, the same guys who created Homicide:Life on the Street. David Simon is also a former journalist for the Baltimore Sun and the guy who wrote the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which is the nonfiction book the tv series was based on, and the best damn book about police work ever. In short, these guys know what they're talking about when they talk about Baltimore and when they talk about police.

The Wire is a show about the police in Baltimore. The first season is about a squad that's trying to bust a drug gang. This makes it sound boring as hell. It's not. The show gets into the hearts and minds and politics behind both the police work and the drug gang. One the police side we meet a homicide detective with an ex-wives who uses his kids to tail drug kingpins in the supermarket, and a lesbian narcotics detective whose partner hates that she's on the street, and their cohorts and departmental enemies and the people who stick up for them. And, on the drug side, we meet a druglord who takes business classes at the community college so he can run his territory better, and a 14 year old corner dealer who spends his free time helping a bunch of other little kids with their homework and getting them off to school, complete with juice boxes. We see the competeing forces that make temporary allies of criminals and cops, and the pressures that can turn good guys into bad guys and bad guys into ... well, not good guys, but at least understandable guys, sympathetic guys, guys who have families and friends and competing loyalties.

It's a storyteller's dream. All of the characters, even the minor ones, have motivations and interests and personal lives. All of them are complete, even if we don't see them completely. This is, in part, because the first season is based a lot on what David Simon saw during his time with the Baltimore Police - some of the characters could have been ripped right out of Homicide. But it's more than that - Simon and Burns are enmeshed in the life of Baltimore. They are embedded and so they don't need to base their characters on real people, because they can pull these people out of their heads.

And then, the second season. We expect more of the same - more dealings with the drug kingpins and the police, and we get them - but we also get a whole new world, the life of the shipping dock, where the cargo comes in and out of the city and the dockworkers and the union control the turf. It's a strange turn, but a brillant one, pulling us deeper and deeper into the life of the city and it's interconnections. And despite the fact that we are dealing, literally, with a primary cast of a dozen people or more, the whole show makes sense and moves forward in every episode. I don't know how Simon and Burns run their show, but when I watch The Wire I don't have to worry that something's going to be confused or not make sense or contradict what happened before. It's seamless and airtight. (It's also beautifully shot - while last year the only spots of color were the clothes of the homeboys, the docks are a riot of primary colors, the trucks all red and yellow and blue and the safety vests virulent orange.)

If you haven't seen it, get the DVD and give it a couple of episodes - it's complex, but by about episode three, the whole thing starts falling into place. It's well worth the time.

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