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In Mourning for The Wire – the best TV drama ever?

Part One – The Wire – Better than The Sopranos?

Image of abandoned Wire soundstage by Hoodwatch (warning:clicking through may lead to spoilers)

I have now watched all 5 series of The Wire. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ve probably heard someone banging on about how great it is by now, and with good reason – it is, in my humble opinion, the best TV drama of all time.

When I was told about it last year by my friends Bernie and Cat, I was intrigued, and when Bernie declared that it was possibly better than The Sopranos, of which I was a huge fan from Day One, I knew I had to watch it and judge for myself.

So on their recommendation I purchased the first series and myself and my better half Mel have religiously watched the entire thing over the last 6 months or so – making sure to take our time and savour every episode and season, knowing that eventually it would all be over – and alas, that day has come.

Now in my opinion the first series of The Sopranos is close to perfection, with its scenario of a powerful matriarch, Tony’s mother, subtly undermining her own son’s efforts to run a major New Jersey crime family, based on creator David Chase’s own relationship with his mother. But later series, though still excellently written, acted and filmed, never quite lived up to its potential (partly due to the death of the actress who played the mother Livia Soprano, and thus removing the crux of the idea).

Too many opportunities for exciting conflict were dodged, seemingly in the name of being unpredictable, but in retrospect many of them seemed a cowardly way of extending the lives of the main characters. And that last episode whilst it wasn’t as awful as some made out – well it was more a whimpering dog going off to die under a car than an explosive finale.

But whilst it was obvious from the very start that The Sopranos had an original concept and style, on first viewing The Wire Episode 1, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was just another bland TV cop show. In fact if you tuned into a random episode of it on the FX channel, a tiny cable channel which hardly anyone watches that is the only UK channel to show the series so far, you’d be forgiven for asking ‘what’s the fuss all about?’

That’s because The Wire is all about the details and the subtleties that are only apparent to the most attentive viewers. So much so that creator David Simon explained to thingy on the Culture Show that his approach was “fuck the casual viewer”. I can’t remember another show where it was quite so vitally important to watch it with your full attention. The sheer breadth of characters over the course of the 5 series, most of whom reappear each series, led to a complexity rarely seen on TV. And though each season deals in part with different characters and topics, and not all of the five seasons were equally great, these were masterfully crafted plots that never gave you that ‘making it up as they go along’ feel of most TV dramas, or the ‘predictably formulaic’ nature of most cop shows. Far from it..

If you haven’t seen The Wire all 5 seasons are coming to BBC2 soon.

Next: What makes The Wire so frigging great anyway?
the sopranos, uncensored. from victor solomon on Vimeo.

every single curse, from every single episode of the sopranos, ever.

8 replies on “In Mourning for The Wire – the best TV drama ever?”

I would have to go with The Wire over the Sopranos, but it’s difficult to compare them directly. The benefit of watching all 5 seasons of The Wire over a short period of time is that it really allows you to see all that subtlety in one large dose. Most people wouldn’t have had that with the Sopranos unless they bought all x number of series’. An area in which the Sopranos was always superior to the wire was in the photography. Visually I always thought the story was told in a more elegant way. I don’t remember the same kind of flair in The Wire, although they must have had a much smaller budget. The actual narrative of the Sopranos became a little too meandering for me, especially when Tony started havign the really odd dreams. The Wire was much tighter. Toward the edn of the Sopranos it felt like I was watching a soap opera.


Having yet to see The Wire (my mate has been promising to lend me series 1 for the past 3 months – so far, nada) I can’t make much of a constructive argument here. Obviously.All I can say is that the excitement of watching this glorified cop show (that I haven’t so much as seen an ident of) is killing me. The Sopranos was, for me and most other discerning members of my age-group, the best TV drama ever, so if those same people are now saying The Wire is better, well, it must be pretty gripping.While I wasn’t always the most devout follower of The Sopranos (I certainly haven’t seen every episode from every series), by the final season – perhaps because I knew the end was nigh – I tuned in religiously every Sunday night. Hopefully The Wire can inspire the same ‘essential viewing’ status for me!


Everyhandthatledme – good point about the photography – The Sopranos definitely has the edge there. Visually, and perhaps in terms of plot structure also, it was more cinematic and much more sophisticated than The Wire. I know what you mean about the dream sequences and it turning into a bit of a soap opera too – but even at its worst The Sopranos was better TV than most. I just wish there’d been some proper gangster style storylines as the show went on instead of a lot of pussyfooting around and letting things fizzle out.Perhaps the comparison is unfair – I know I’ll always be a massive fan of both shows for different reasons.Nick, you know it makes sense. Next time we meet up I’ll lend you season 1. Have already got season 2 and 4 lent out to other folk!Vic, with all due respect you’re talking mince, although the Shield is also on my ‘must see’ list – along with The Corner which I’ve been told via Twitter is better than The Wire as well…


Sorry Vic, that was a bit harsh, no offence intended. The bit I was disagreeing with is that you say The Wire is mediocre – now there is a lot of mediocre TV out there and I think it’s unfair to say The Wire is amongst the likes of Emmerdale Farm, Last of the Summer Wine and Paris Hilton’s British Best Friend (though I am partial to the latter).I will have to check The Shield out though, thanks for the recommendation!


I remember when you first posted this thinking to myself “I won’t read it until I’ve watched The Wire.” Now that I have, then I agree. The Wire is the best series I’ve ever watched. Season 5 was the weakest, but it still shits on nigh on everything else on the box.


Finbarr, well remembered my man! It is truly awesome. On a completely different tip I have to recommend the remake of Battlestar Galactica if you have any epic quasi-religious sci-fi bones in your body it’s worth a look.. oh and Mad Men of course but you probably already know that..


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