Part One – The Wire – Better than The Sopranos?
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?
every single curse, from every single episode of the sopranos, ever.