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The Wire

Four years ago, I was working with a physician, and he mentioned that he had just finished up a yearly rewatch of The Wire. This was interesting, because he wasn’t the type of guy, I thought, who would have watched The Wire. I didn’t know much about the show other than it was about a police department and the war on drugs, but this doctor swore up and down it was the best thing he’d ever seen in his life.

He was the third or fourth person to recommend the show to me, so after work I went home and turned it on. Around the ten-minute mark, I turned it off.

The show just drops you into things with no warning and no buildup. There is no exposition really, you just find yourself in a place that feels uncomfortable. That didn’t seem like something I’d enjoy, so I went on with my life assuming The Wire just wasn’t for me.

Then earlier this year, I began watching Bosch. I fell in love with that show and once it was over, I went looking for something similar. Everywhere I looked online said to check out The Wire. There were several actors who were on both shows and the seriousness of how they handled the police profession were cited as similarities. So, once again, I sat down and started up The Wire. I made it to the thirty-minute mark before turning it off this time.

Sometimes in life, there are things that you just don’t get in on. For example, despite my love of nerdy stuff, I’ve never found an appreciation for Lord of the Rings. I mean, I respect it but it’s just not for me. I assumed The Wire fell into this same category.

I was wrong.

I’m not sure what compelled me to turn The Wire back on a few weeks later, but I did. I was not impressed by the ending of the first episode, however, by the end of episode two I was hooked. And over the next eight weeks, I watched all five seasons and loved every minute of it. By the time it was over, I agreed with what so many others had said before me, it was an amazing piece of art and arguably the best television show I have ever seen.

I wanted to write about it, but I didn’t know what to say. I mean, there has got to be a million articles about The Wireonline already, but what did it mean to me? What made it so good? I really couldn’t formulate that into words, so I needed time for the show to process and time to get my thoughts together. I plan on sharing those thoughts now, so if you haven’t watched The Wire yet, I’d recommend going and watching the show before reading below. It’s not a show you wanted spoiled for you.

I grew up in the 80’s/90’s, in the suburbs, and was raised by the television. Folks like to make jokes about D.A.R.E or the public service announcements made at the time, but those worked for me. I saw the world as it was portrayed on television at the time, as black and white. There was good and bad, and nothing in between.

I stayed naive to the world until I hit my late teen years, and I began working at a hospital. I very quickly discovered that just because people work in healthcare or public safety, it does not mean they care about people or even like their jobs. The idea of idolizing doctors, firefighters, and nurses came crashing down when I saw, firsthand, the debauchery that went on at the hospital I worked at.

9/11 happened, The War on Terror began and for the first time, I was able to see the lies and greed that guided much of what happens in this world. To say it was upsetting would be an understatement. This entire worldview that I had built up in my head came crashing down.

Things were not black and white; they weren’t even close to black and white. The good guys didn’t always win and neither did intelligence or logic. And… I couldn’t understand why not. I mean, didn’t these folks watch the same things I did? Didn’t they see how easy it was just to choose good over bad?

The Wire began airing a couple years after this, and I wish I had watched it then. It probably would have saved me another fifteen years of frustration in trying to figure out why simples solutions aren’t presented or executed in order to make the world a better place. I was young, opinionated, and thought I knew everything, and I knew I wasn’t near the smartest person in the world, so why weren’t the smart people fixing things?

And that is truly what The Wire is about.

The show could have been simple. It could have been about the Baltimore police department trying to clean up the streets. I mean, we have a lot of police procedurals that tell those stories and many of them are great, but The Wiretook it a step further. The Wire showed why the police fought the war the way they did, why the drug dealers did what they did, how the politicians affected the various stances, how the system eats up good people on both sides, how education and the media impact the community, and how the war on drugs was never going to be won.

The Wire doesn’t offer solutions, but instead, it offers a mirror to our society. It forces you to look closely at all the ugly and all the brokenness and ask yourself, “Is this what we want everywhere? Because this is where we are going?” It shows how despite the good battles being won, the lives being lost, and the politicians changing seats, the more things change, the more they stay the same, as McNulty’s final scene so brilliantly showed.
The Wire can be bleak, but it can also be hopeful. As the story of Bubs plays out over the series, you can’t help but root for this guy, caught on the wrong side of the drug war and lacking the ability or resource to free himself from his own demons. We see how kindness can make a difference, even in the worst of places, and how so much of what happens to us at times is just happenstance.

Time and time again, simple solutions are presented to fix issues in Baltimore, and they don’t work out. They don’t consider the people who need to be paid, or the people who are always scamming. They don’t accept the power that is clung to and the greed that is wrapped up in that. And then, as you watch this show, you take these ideas, and the way people respond, and you apply it to your own hometown or the company you work for and suddenly… the world begins to make sense. Nothing is black and white.

The Wire offers some comfort in seeing how simple solutions don’t work and how broken everything is. I don’t think I could watch a show like The Wire daily, because it would no doubt lead me to some major depression. I need a little Superman, sitcoms, and cozy TV shows to make me feel like the world isn’t totally screwed up. But it’s hard not to admire a show that does such an incredible job showing how we are all interconnected and how many outside forces acting in their own self-interest have screwed up the world.

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