Binge Guide

Everything You Need to Know Before You Binge-Watch The Wire

by and | June 12, 2014 | Comments

With the wealth of high-quality premium television currently available, journalists and fans alike have been quick to enter into discussions about “the best TV show ever.” One series that consistently makes the cut is HBO’s crime drama The Wire, even though it ended its run back in 2008. So what’s the big deal? We’re here to tell you.

The Wire

The Wire
What’s the premise? Broadly speaking, The Wire follows a ragtag task force assembled by the Baltimore Police Department to investigate a local drug kingpin suspected of multiple homicides. As the case expands, it illuminates the systemic malaise and corruption plaguing the city’s various public institutions.

What’s it like? Nothing in popular culture can match The Wire in terms of epic scope and lived-in authenticity, but if you were to take New Jack City (about the rise and fall of a drug kingpin) and Clockers (about the street kids who do the actual grinding) and mix them together with Nas’ Illmatic and a Frontline documentary about the war on drugs, you’d be on the right track.

Where can I see it? All five seasons are available to stream for members of Amazon Prime and to HBO subscribers on HBO GO.

How long will it take? The Wire takes five seasons and 60 episodes to tell its story, with each episode running close to an hour. If you possess zen-like self control, you can probably close out the series in a couple of months; if you find yourself burning through the episodes, though, it can be done in two to three weeks.

What do the critics think? When The Wire initially aired, there were a couple of critics who didn’t know what to make of it, so its first season is also its lowest-rated at 82 percent. Everyone was on board after that, though, so seasons two through five all earned 100 percent Tomatometers. Perhaps most accurately summing up the series, Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times wrote, “It is one of the most intimate and alarming depictions of urban America on television, and yet it’s an invigorating and even exhilarating experience, each season a new Harry Potter book for adults.”

Why should I watch this? Everyone has that friend who’s been saying for years, “Dude, you have got to watch The Wire.” You should take your friend’s advice, just to get him or her to shut up. But what you’ll quickly discover when you blast through a bunch of episodes — trust us, it’s that addictive — is that you’ve never quite seen anything like The Wire before. There are plenty of police procedurals in the world, and there are plenty of movies about inner-city life, but nothing before or since has captured the rhythms of a city — from the street corners to the interrogation rooms, from the docks to the halls of power — like The Wire does for Baltimore. And the reason is that every character — and we mean every character — is endowed with such care that everyone, from the big stars to the bit players, feels like a fully formed, gray-shaded human being. It’s difficult to single out one actor within this magnificent ensemble for inordinate praise — remember, The Wire gave Idris Elba, Amy Ryan, Aidan Gillen, and Michael B. Jordan their big breaks. But as Omar Little, Michael Kenneth Williams gives a once-in-a-lifetime performance; with his scarred face and his trademark whistle, he’s the boogeyman that even the toughest street guys see in their nightmares. He also possesses a razor-sharp wit, providing a succinct appraisal of Baltimore corruption with one of the series’ most memorable lines: “I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It’s all in the game though, right?”

What’s my next step? Series creator/writer David Simon formerly worked as a police reporter for The Baltimore Sun, where his experiences provided the material for his true-crime book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. If you’re not much for reading, though, you can always check out the acclaimed TV series adapted from the book, Homicide: Life on the Street. Prior to The Wire, HBO also adapted another of Simon’s books into a miniseries called The Corner, which also profiles the war on drugs in Baltimore. If you’re looking for another drama populated by thoughtfully fleshed out characters, Orange Is the New Black is all the rage right now, and if you’re a fan of The Wire‘s talented cast, you can see some of them in other HBO dramas like True Blood, Treme, and Boardwalk Empire. For something you can digest in one sitting, you might try films like American Gangster or the aforementioned Clockers and New Jack City.

Have you tuned into The Wire? Tell us why it is (or isn’t) one of the “best TV shows ever.”

Tag Cloud

Mary Tyler Moore Animation Reality Competition casting Pirates Freeform cats Mudbound diversity HBO Musicals Disney Channel teaser Writers Guild of America award winner Captain marvel Disney Shondaland Pop Lucasfilm GIFs TCM YouTube Red 21st Century Fox TNT TCA Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Polls and Games Cartoon Network CMT YA Sony Pictures Lionsgate USA Network true crime American Society of Cinematographers NYCC IFC Horror CNN Vudu FX DC Comics X-Men Reality transformers Amazon Trivia Mary poppins mutant Musical Set visit Music based on movie war RT21 streaming crime Brie Larson harry potter comiccon finale mockumentary dramedy Character Guide Netflix Martial Arts green book Song of Ice and Fire cults Sneak Peek Cannes ABC Family Marvel witnail BBC America AMC serial killer ABC Dark Horse Comics Thanksgiving New York Comic Con spider-man Tomatazos hist Columbia Pictures justice league GoT binge singing competition Awards Comic Book TBS Esquire MCU cinemax El Rey boxoffice Lifetime Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt DGA Nominations APB Quiz VH1 BBC Marathons sitcom 2017 Syfy Food Network Awards Tour Podcast talk show TV dc sports 45 social media comic 20th Century Fox Rocky San Diego Comic-Con composers Infographic psychological thriller Toys what to watch ITV romance adaptation Mystery spy thriller SDCC History DC Universe Acorn TV Universal Sundance Now Holidays PaleyFest Watching Series TLC The Witch FOX Trailer Bravo Britbox Oscars FXX Logo GLAAD 2019 crime drama Epix anthology Spike Tarantino Box Office Western Christmas Spectrum Originals TV Land ESPN Winners 2016 Red Carpet Pet Sematary E! Opinion aliens Nat Geo 007 2018 PBS Fox News Rock theme song richard e. Grant E3 Rom-Com Election Cosplay natural history Super Bowl biography DC streaming service Sci-Fi historical drama MTV Starz Kids & Family Calendar VICE National Geographic Rocketman anime Elton John RT History Masterpiece supernatural cooking Mindy Kaling Paramount ratings Apple TruTV nature Tumblr Ellie Kemper facebook Video Games Nickelodeon Anna Paquin Emmys MSNBC Fantasy crime thriller SXSW TIFF Country Stephen King Interview jamie lee curtis CW Seed Summer Trophy Talk science fiction Shudder President Certified Fresh See It Skip It 2015 space Superheroes Fall TV Premiere Dates Ovation Teen dragons Walt Disney Pictures Action Star Wars Photos unscripted Extras strong female leads DirecTV Best and Worst Drama dceu police drama politics cops IFC Films zombie vampires Biopics Showtime disaster Black Mirror thriller television docudrama WGN adventure OWN Comics on TV crossover Heroines psycho TCA 2017 technology travel Adult Swim Year in Review zombies Film Festival NBC Schedule Creative Arts Emmys LGBTQ political drama SundanceTV Comedy Central Amazon Prime zero dark thirty First Look elevated horror doctor who Superheroe Warner Bros. CBS All Access Countdown Mary Poppins Returns The CW Paramount Network Valentine's Day 24 frames Star Trek CBS Sundance robots The Arrangement period drama BET festivals USA A&E Pixar discovery Comedy golden globes Women's History Month Crackle blaxploitation Grammys YouTube Premium Winter TV Spring TV medical drama sequel Ghostbusters Hulu miniseries