If you’ve seen The Wire, you’ll know that it’s one of the best TV dramas ever made, and if you haven’t seen it, then you’ve probably got friends who’ve told you the same thing.
Over five seasons, creators David Simon and Ed Burns took what looked like a high quality but pretty standard cop show, and transformed it into a searing examination of modern America in decline.
Its five seasons examined the city of Baltimore from many angles - the cops’ attempts to fight crime, and the criminals themselves; the politicians making decisions, the media who report on it all, and the schools, where all of this behaviour is conditioned into us.
The Wire works best as a piece, but the different angles allow viewers to pick and choose their favourites, which comes down to personal taste. Some seasons are more emotional, others more exciting, others more methodical.
Taking all these qualities into account, however, some seasons of The Wire shine brighter than others. It’s worth pointing out that every single season is great in its own way - but even with a show as all round superb as this one, not all seasons are created equally.
5. Season Five
Season five lets itself down in two major ways: the serial killer, and the journalists. The former is just a tad too farfetched for the firmly realist show: McNulty and Freamon concoct a homeless murderer to generate money and resources from the police, then syphon this off for their drug investigation.
It has a story purpose and the media critique is sharp, but it stretches the limits of credulity, and it’s just out of place in The Wire.
The newspaper plot, meanwhile, is simply not that interesting. David Simon worked on the Baltimore Sun before transitioning to TV, and elements of this storyline are clearly in there to settle scores. The characters take up a lot of screen time, and none of them manage to connect.
Elsewhere, McNulty spends most of the season simply being unpleasant - he’s always had an edge, of course, but here he’s just a jerk.
Season five of The Wire remains leagues above most TV, but it’s a sharp drop off from what came before it. With only 10 episodes to play with, it’s surprising how much of the season lacks a sense of urgency.