The Wire: Season 5 (HBO, 2008)

The Wire looks long and hard at the wide-ranging falsities ravishing modern day social institutions (the police department, city hall, and most notably the media), ranging from the most minute white lies of fabricating a quote to the grandiose corruption within the highest echelons of bureaucracy.  As usual, the devastating ramifications of this trickle down effect fall directly on the shoulders of the innocent, the naive, and the weak, creating an intricate urban mosaic plush with drama and tragedy. Creator’s David Simon and Ed Burns have fashioned a worthy ending to what many believe is the finest piece of media in the last decade, engaging the numerous characters through moments of finality and clarity before dimming the lights over the locale’s epicenter, the shifting landscape of Baltimore. The Wire, with its sprawling scope and fascinating parallels, is not just about the human cost of the drug war, shady politics, or education cuts. It deals with the circularity of the entire process, where ignorance and arrogance spawn generations of ill-equipped professionals and cynical civilians, leaving everyone caught in a lie. Together, this tandem slowly dances the community towards a grave of irrelevance, shaking the very notion of human interaction to the core. The Wire reflects the most complicated and calculated aspects of human nature in shades of grey, but never loses sight of its greatest idea; that the dark and muddy waters of truth might lead to a newfound propensity for hope.

The Wire: Season 4 (HBO, 2006)

The series hits new peaks in Season 4, focusing on the failing Baltimore education system and and it’s complex relationship with the booming drug trade. When disgraced Detective Roland Pryzbylewski enters Patrick Tillman Middle School as a teacher, he gets a first hand look at the learning process under constant attack by outside influences. This new environment for conflict introduces an astounding group of young characters, one a child from a past enforcer, the others offspring of drug addicts and foster parents, all attempting to find an identity. The options become wonderfully complex as these children find adult voices in educators (Prez, Colvin), cops (McNulty, Carver) and gangsters (Chris, Marlo), all soothing their uncertainties toward the future in varying ways. The role of the mentor dominates Season 4, making these episodes the most fascinating and intricate yet. Both tragedy and celebration pop up in the finale, representing the push pull relationship between the community, City Hall and the education system, showing how well-meaning solutions for reform often contradict each other. The failures and successes of the “no child left behind” policy are systemic of the criminal violence and manipulation perpetrated on the young minds of a particular environment. In the end, the “youngin’s” pay with their future.

The Wire: Season 3 (HBO, 2004)

Stringer Bell falls, Tommy Carcetti rises, and host of other dynamic events occur in the masterful and brutal Season 3 which focuses almost entirely on the theme of loyalty. Most distinctively, the show moves away from the police procedural angle and toward political jockeying, both on the streets and at City Hall, showing how similar politicians and gangsters can be. Loyalties are tested in every setting, from the conflict between new hood Marlo Stanfield and the Barksdale Crew, to the upcoming race for Mayor of Baltimore, which has vast repercussions from top to bottom. The Wire takes it’s time in developing these complex relationships and improves on Season 2’s somewhat stale re-visioning and breaks new ground with intricate arenas outside but equally important to the CID Unit. After thirty episodes or so, The Wire stands far and above all cop shows because it looks at the connection between all social and cultural institutions, showing the contradictions of power and the citizens who get lost in the shuffle, no matter how brutal the sight.

The Wire: Season 2 (HBO, 2003)

While a bit repetitive, Season 2 takes the brilliant formula of Season 1 and churns out some new angles of criminal activity down at the Baltimore Port with similar procedural brush strokes. But as the overarching story moves forward, The Wire provides increasing amounts of tension while most major characters begin to develop beyond their surface archetypes. The addition of the highly underrated Amy Ryan is a masterstoke as well. One of television’s finest.