I finished watching the last season of The Wire over the weekend. Quick observations before I provide some links to academics and sociologists commenting on the show, one that several critics have deemed “the best TV show ever.”
1. The City of Baltimore is truly part of the story. Unlike many shows that use a “bland big city” for the background, this show digs deeper into the place.
2. Multi-faceted view of the situation and complicated stories. Each season attempts a slightly different angle including children and the media (seasons 4 and 5). There are consistent characters through all the seasons but each season keeps adding a little more as a new perspective is developed. Not a fast-moving show.
3. Some fascinating characters. Jimmy McNulty – a detective that perhaps only loves his cases. Stringer Bell – a gang leader who is also taking business classes at night to improve his skills. Officer Daniels (who moves up the ranks during the show) unwilling to “juke the stats” to please his bosses. Many more to name.
4. The police are just as deep into the drugs and violence as the gangs. From consistent violence to “Hamsterdam” to cover-ups to “juking the stats” to impressive detective work, the police are not simply geniuses or people who can shoot better. In fact, the police rarely shoot – a problem with many cop shows since most real-life police rarely or never fire a gun in the line of duty.
4a. The politicians are similarly involved. The goal: get as much positive credit for change while minimizing negatives that happen when you are in charge.
5. Somewhat hopeless ending – new people on both sides, the gangs and police, come in, take the place of those before, and similar battles are fought. Some of the kids get out and many do not. A good number of the police are ruined. The politicians try to use whatever they can to get ahead. Money and power are what people want and just their means of pursuing them are different.
6. Sociologically, a lot of the show seemed similar to Sudhir Venkatesh’s books on life on the South side of Chicago: American Project, Off the Books, Gang Leader for a Day.
Some commentary from other sociologists:
4. Slate.com writing about academic courses on the TV show, including noted sociologist William Julius Wilson teaching such a course at Harvard.
5. Two sociologists comment in Dissent in 2008 (and participate in a broader discussion) and then expand on their thoughts in City and Community.
I’m sure there is more out there. It is rare to find any media creation that receives praise from so many in providing a realistic portrayal of city life.