THE WIRE on Blu-ray Makes for Compelling, Depressing Binge-Watching

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The Wire Complete Series Blu-ray HBO Critical Blast

HBO's police procedural, THE WIRE, is a wholly engrossing departure from the norm. There are no mysteries to be solved here -- the viewer is let in on the criminal activities as well as the police activities, so the 'whodunnit' aspect isn't there.

What is there, however, is a continually disillusionment of the justice business -- which, we learn, is truly a business, and is run like one, often to the frustration of the people who really do want to catch the bad guys and put them away. Detective McNulty (Dominic West) is one of them, who pokes his nose into cases that aren't his, pursuing a goal of taking down the drug ring run by the untouchable Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) and Stringer Bell (Idris Elba). But to the department, justice is a numbers game, with a focus on shuffling statistics to make it appear that crime is being dealt with by turning bigger crimes into smaller ones. And the most depressing thing of all, after binge-watching five seasons, is to discover that none of the criminals were ever truly dealt with. In fact, it seems the best way to deal with a criminal is to leave him be, as he will eventually become a victim of the other criminals.

As for the heroes, to call them 'flawed' would be an understatement. McNulty and his partner, Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce) are both alcoholics and philanderers. Partners Hauk and Carver (Domenick Lombardozzi, Seth Gilliam) help themselves to pinches of drug money when they make busts. And even their paragon of police work, Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) is quick to assist in season five with the falsification of evidence to create the illusion of a serial killer in Baltimore just to get an infusion of cash into the department to fund his real case -- running a wiretap on drug dealer, Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector).

Don't misunderstand me. THE WIRE is truly mesmerizing television, and there are people to root for. Like Major Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick, FRINGE), or struggling junkie and sometimes snitch Bubbles (Andre Royo, HAND OF GoD). In fact, you'll frequently find yourself rooting for those on the wrong side of the law, like Omar Little (Michael Kenneth Williams, GHOSTBUSTERS) who robs drug dealers at gunpoint, or D'Angelo Barksdale (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) who just wants to serve his time and start a new life.

New characters are introduced throughout the series, like councilman Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) who aspires to be mayor on a law-and-order platform, only to end up having to make compromises when confronted with the financial realities of running the city of Baltimore. Or the disgraced West Side police Major Colvin (Robert Wisdom) who brings his drug arrest numbers down -- by setting up zones where drug sales are not so much legalized as they are "officially ignored."

Whether the characters are police or dealers, politicians or newsmen, no one here is serving in a fill-in capacity. Everyone is realized in-depth and has their own compelling story going on. It feels real--perhaps because much of it was real, having been based on actual Baltimore gangsters (most notably Avon Barksdale). The show delves into the culture of the neighborhoods, where children less than 10 are working corners, where mothers groom their sons to become "soldiers" on the streets running drugs for this one or that one, either because they're junkies themselves or because they have a lavish lifestyle to support.

It's truly difficult to sum up THE WIRE other than to say that it's television you won't be able to stop watching once you've begun. This complete series on Blu-ray comes in a handsome and sturdy compact slipcase, with bonus features including clips of backstory that further inform the characters you've come to know through the series (such as the first meeting between Jimmy McNulty and Bunk Moreland). But the topics aren't for the faint of heart -- drugs, human trafficking, and the ultimate failure of justice to do more than make a dent in the little guys while the ultimate kingpins remain untouched may depress you; but at the same time, it just feels true to life.

5.0 / 5.0