There are a lot of TV shows I love. Due in no small part to HBO, I think that the best TV shows of the past ten years compare favorably to the best films of the era. As much as I love The Sopranos and Deadwood, I have no trouble choosing the best series on TV of this decade, which means the best series of all time.
The Wire is the best show ever put on television.
There were several seasons when the Emmys ignored The Wire. I think the show confused them. Though it was put directly to film, it might be more instructive to think of the series as five novels, and in that form it could also be listed as the best series of novels in all of American literature.
The police are in every story, but the five novels would be the stories about the drug trade, the docks, politics, the school system and journalism. The greatness of The Wire is the number of vivid characters every story has. As I said in the title of this post, every story is twelve deep at least. Take the drug world. If we were listing the most important characters, the list would fairly start with Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell. It would make sense to include members of their crew, most especially Avon's nephew D'Angelo, and Bodie, who started out working for D'Angelo. The Barksdale's young competitor Marlow Stansfield also deserves a position at the top of the list. But if that's the top five, what about Proposition Joe, Bubbles, Cutty, Wee-Bay, Cheese and Wallace? What about Brianna Barksdale, sister to Avon and mother to D'Angelo? These are all rich and vivid major characters.
I made the list intentionally leaving out these two individuals, Omar Little and Brother Mouzzon. Omar makes his living robbing drug dealers. Brother Mouzzon is a quiet and well spoken assassin from New York who dresses like a Black Muslim and speaks like a college professor. Their scenes together at first start as confrontations, and later become collaborations. They are both fascinating and terrifying, and like so many others, brilliantly well written. Though they are violent characters, they both live by a code, and the show makes it clear that they are supposed to be compared to gunslingers from westerns. Omar takes pride that he never pointed his gun at a citizen, which is to say someone who is not in the drug trade. As a hired killer, Brother Mouzzon is a little less pure, but he is still a man of honor. As scary as these guys are, they are not the scariest characters on the show.
Chris and Snoop are the scariest characters on the show. They may be the scariest characters ever put on film.
The show is not everyone's cup of tea. My mom tried to watch, but was put off by the obscenities and the violence. The Wire certainly has plenty of both. But for great dialog, great storytelling and great acting, the show is hard if not impossible to beat.