- Format: DVD
- Run Time: 23
- Region: 1
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
- Studio: HBO Home Video
- DVD Release Date: November 29, 2011
- Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
- Director: Agnieszka Holland, Alex Zakrzewski, Anthony Hemingway, Brad Anderson, Christine Moore
- Cast: Dominic West, John Doman, Deirdre Lovejoy, Wendell Pierce, Lance Reddick
- Genre: TV Series
- Release Date: 2002
After one episode of The Wire you'll be hooked. After three, you'll be astonished by the precision of its storytelling. After viewing all 13 episodes of the HBO series' remarkable first season, you'll be cheering a bona-fide American masterpiece. Series creator David Simon was a veteran crime reporter from The Baltimore Sun who cowrote the book that inspired TV's Homicide, and cowriter Ed Burns was a Baltimore cop, lending impeccable street-cred to an inner-city Baltimore saga (and companion piece to The Corner) that Simon aptly describes as "a visual novel" and "a treatise on institutions and individuals" as opposed to a conventional good-vs.-evil police procedural. Owing a creative debt to the novels of Richard Price (especially Clockers), the series opens as maverick Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West, in a star-making role) is tapping into a vast network of drugs and death around southwest Baltimore's deteriorating housing projects. With a mandate to get results ASAP, a haphazard team is assembled to join McNulty's increasingly complex investigation, built upon countless hours of electronic surveillance.
The show's split-perspective plotting is so richly layered, so breathtakingly authentic and based on finely drawn characters brought to life by a perfect ensemble cast, that it defies concise description. Simon, Burns, and their cowriters control every intricate aspect of the unfolding epic; directors are top-drawer (including Clark Johnson, helmer of The Shield's finest episodes), but they are servants to the story, resulting in a TV series like no other: unpredictable, complicated, and demanding the viewer's rapt attention, The Wire is "an angry show" (in Simon's words) that refuses to comfort with easy answers to deep-rooted societal problems. Moral gray zones proliferate in a universe where ruthless killers have a logical code, and where the cops are just as ambiguous as their targets. That ambiguity extends to the ending as well; season 1 leaves several issues unresolved, leaving you begging for the even more impressive developments that await in season 2. --Jeff Shannon
The Wire: The Complete Second Season
It hardly seems possible, but The Wire's second season is even better than the first. The "visual novel" concept of this masterful HBO series is taken even further in a rich, labyrinthine plot revolving around the longshoremen of Baltimore's struggling cargo docks, where corruption, smuggling, and murder draw the attention of detective McNulty (Dominic West). What follows is a series of events which at first seem unrelated (including 13 bodies found in a cargo container), and then the ongoing effort to topple the drug empire of "Stringer" Bell (Idris Elba) and the imprisoned Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris), whose business is suffering from short supply, high demand, and disruption of distribution. The dutiful diligence of a Marine Police Patrol Officer and the moral outrage of the longshoremen's union leader are also factored into the suspicious goings-on at the loading docks, and what unfolds in these 12 episodes is an American crime epic easily on par with the Godfather saga. Yes, it's that good.
Detailed synopsis is pointless; The Wire must be seen, heard, and absorbed to fully appreciate the way in which over 40 characters are flawlessly incorporated into a sprawling but tightly disciplined plot that deals, in the larger sense, with the deindustrialization of America and the struggle of longshoremen in a changing economical climate. Offering a privileged and occasionally frightening glimpse of the inner workings of shipping ports and cargo transports, The Wire is also a detailed exposé of organized crime and blue-collar corruption, and an authentic, well-informed study of political maneuvering among police and city officials. There's not a single false note to be found in the cast, direction, or writing of this phenomenal series, hailed by many critics as "the best show on television." With all due respect to HBO's other excellent series, The Wire tops them all. --Jeff Shannon
The Wire: The Complete Third Season
With volatile issues of Baltimore city political reform as its narrative focus, the third season of The Wire superbly maintains the series' astonishingly consistent status as the greatest "novel for television" ever created. While the Baltimore police department's wire-tapping investigations continue to monitor the intricate and now legitimately fronted drug ring of Russell "Stringer" Bell (Idris Elba, smooth as ever), detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) continues his loutish ways, navigating through a series of shallow sexual conquests while doing some of the best cop-work of his career. Stringer's ex-convict partner Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) is back in the picture and bent on eliminating a drug-dealing competitor named Marlo (Jamie Hector), and Baltimore P.D. Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin (Robert Wisdom) tries his own defiantly independent brand of street justice by essentially legalizing drugs in "Hamsterdam," where isolated sections of the city are established as open drug-dealing zones, utterly without the knowledge or approval of Colvin's superiors. As city councilman Tommy Carcetti (Aiden Gillen) plots his own ruthlessly ambitious strategy for the mayor's seat, Baltimore officials, McNulty's wire unit, and the entire Baltimore P.D. stand poised for the inevitable fallout from street-level and executive-level manipulations of power.
Of course, this is just the tip of a very large iceberg, as The Wire continues its labyrinthine yet tightly controlled chronicle of over 50 characters, major and minor, who are all flawlessly woven into the fabric of these 12 remarkable episodes. For season 3, series creator David Simon continued to recruit a top-drawer lineup of reputable writers (including novelists Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, and George Pelecanos) and directors (including Ernest Dickerson, Tim Van Patten, and Agnieszka Holland), and by the time a major character is killed in the season's penultimate episode (arguably the series' finest yet), it's clear that The Wire has earned its crown as the most ambitious and intelligent crime drama in the history of American television. DVD extras are excellent, as usual, including five illuminating episode commentaries (an absolute must for devoted fans of the series), a Q&A session with cast & crew moderated by renowned TV critic and author Ken Tucker, and a classroom conversation with Simon that delves deeper into the creative process of the series. Having deservedly earned its renewal for a fourth season (out of a projected five, according to Simon), The Wire delivers surprises aplenty (keep a close watch for startling revelations) while proving, yet again, that cable-TV is the place to be for anyone seeking respite from the relative mediocrity of mainstream network programming. --Jeff Shannon
The Wire: The Complete Fourth Season
Even if you missed the first three seasons (the character guides and thorough episode recaps on HBO's website are recommended), and with only one season left, it's not too late to get in under The Wire. In fact, season 4 is an accessible introduction for those who know The Wire only by its street cred as arguably the very best show on television. For them especially, this season will be, as befitting its theme, a real education. Without resorting to melodramatics that other ratings-challenged series employ to gain that frustratingly elusive audience, The Wire shakes things up this season in a way that is true to the series and its characters. A major character, Dominic West's McNulty, plays a minor role as a contented street cop and family man, while a former supporting player, Jim True-Frost's Roland Pryzbylewski, goes to the head of the class as a new eighth grade teacher at beleaguered Edward Tilghman Middle School. It may take a couple of episodes to orient yourself to the Baltimore backrooms, squad rooms, classrooms, and street corners where The Wire's intense dramas play out, and new viewers may miss something in character nuance, but they will easily grasp the big picture. A politically motivated shake-up sends Major Crimes detectives Freamon (Clarke Peters) and Greggs (Sonja Sohn) to Homicide. The gloves come off in the mayoral race between black incumbent Clarence Royce (Glynn Turman) and idealistic white challenger Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen). Gang leader Marlo (Jamie Hector) quietly and deliberately becomes the city's new drug kingpin, managing to subvert all surveillance efforts. Meanwhile, while "Prez" tries to reach his students, four highly at-risk kids will be drawn into the drug trade.
Mere synopsis does not do The Wire justice. The series deftly juggles its myriad storylines and characters, all of whom make an impression, from Marlo's cold-blooded enforcers, Snoop (Felicia Pearson) and Chris (Gbenga Akinnagbe), to boxing instructor "Cutty" (Chad L. Coleman), determined to keep his young charges off the corners. There is not a false note in the performances or the writing. Richard Price (Clockers) and Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) again contributed episodes. That this series has only been nominated for only one Emmy (for writing) is a travesty. As engrossing as the finest novels and in a class by itself, this isn't television; it's The Wire. --Donald Liebenson
The Wire: The Complete Fifth Season
A barroom toast to Det. Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), a one-man good cop/bad cop, offered in The Wire's final episode could very well serve as this series' epitaph: "When you were good, you were the best we had." Season five bears witness to this. The 10 riveting, wrenching episodes focus on yet another beleaguered Baltimore institution, The Baltimore Sun daily newspaper, whose staff, much like the police, is forced to do more with less. One editor (Clark Johnson) struggles to maintain the paper's journalistic standards in the face of declining ad revenues, employee buyouts and bureau closures. An ambitious reporter (Tom McCarthy) undermines him by taking a page out of the Stephen Glass/Jayson Blair playbook, manufacturing sensational quotes, and eventually, whole stories, while bean-counter management encourages its rising star and keeps its eye on the (Pulitzer) prize. Meanwhile, on the streets, the year-long investigation of rising drug lord Marlo Sansfield (Jamie Hector) and the 22 bodies found in "the vacants" has been discontinued and police morale is at an all-time low (the money promised to the department has been diverted to the schools). McNulty manufactures a serial killer case that will have far-reaching repercussions in the mayor's office, where Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) is mounting a run for governor a mere two years into his term. "I wonder what it would be like to work at a real police station," McNulty rages at one point. The Wire, as ever, is all about real. It's a gritty and unflinching look at life in one of roughest districts of a "broke-ass city." There is street justice for some characters, and street injustice for others. Some meet sad, sudden, or shocking ends that defy TV convention. Referring to Marlo, McNulty declares early on, "He does not get to win; we get to win." The hard-earned victories are mostly small, or come with a price. Not that The Wire does not offer glimmers of hope. Bubbles (Andre Royo) struggles to maintain his sobriety (Steve Earle portrays the leader of his 12-step program and also does the theme song honors this season), and the final episode features a cameo by Jim True-Frost as the once overwhelmed teacher, "Prez," who now seems to have the hang of the job. The ratings-strapped and criminally Emmy-snubbed The Wire has always been a critic's darling with a passionate fan base. To the show's credit, it did not make itself more accessible in its final season (consequently, its send-off did not receive near the fanfare of The Sopranos or Sex and the City). That should not dissuade newcomers to the show. It is heavy lifting, and if you're just joining The Wire, a visit to the show's official website for orientation is recommended. But buy it, watch it, and be patient. It's so worth it. From the masterful storytelling to the peerless ensemble, it just doesn't get any better than The Wire. But that's not exactly news. --Donald Liebenson