The Wire- 100 Greatest Quotes

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In TJ's most recent essay Popular Entertainment Gets Brainier, he talks about the importance of HBO in trendsetting a new type of television that emphasizes quality, nuance and depth. TJ talks about The Wire, and I agree with many that it's one of the great TV shows of all time (perhaps the greatest). Not only is it intelligent, courageous, complex and gritty- it's bloody entertaining to boot!! Here's a ten minute clip of some of the most memorable lines in the series. If you have yet to watch The Wire, you might not want to watch this piece. Or maybe not. Perhaps this will be the perfect teaser of the show, starting your ride down those five great seasons. For those who have watched The Wire, it's a sumptuous, if at times heartbreaking, trip down memory lane.


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  • Comment Link Scott Payne Thursday, 28 October 2010 20:50 posted by Scott Payne

    You know, The Wire is undoubtedly a great show. I've gotten through the first three seasons and I'm duly impressed.

    But there is just something about the "greatest show ever!!!!111!!1!!1" meme that gets my hackles up, even though it might be true. One of the folks I've been watching The Wire with insists on comparing any and every show to The Wire, as if you can compare, say, Lost to The Wire and get a useful outcome. Or Flight of the Concords to The Wire. These are just different shows and they do need to be examined in different ways, I think.

    So perhaps The Wire is the greatest drama ever to hit television? It is certainly one of the more real shows ever to hit television, in a very uncompromising way.

    But this gets to the brunt of my uneasiness. The Wire phenomenon is almost entirely posthumous. When it was on the air, The Wire got basically no recognition. It was too busy being eclipsed by The Sorpranos.

    So fans of The Wire tend to have this persecution complex that they use as a means of demonstrating their own inherent superiority over all other viewing audiences because they ~know~ good television when they see it, unlike all the other unwashed masses.

    The little fact that most of them discovered the show after it had finished taping is a reality that rarely gets acknowledged. But I guess that has little to do with the show itself and more to do with how we watch/perceive the show now.

  • Comment Link Scott Payne Thursday, 28 October 2010 20:54 posted by Scott Payne

    Sorry, that second to last paragraph should note that I've heard it theorized that The Wire's uncompromising nature was part of what lead to its lack of recognition.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Friday, 29 October 2010 02:05 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    I don't see the "posthumous argument" as carrying much weight. Many people discovered Nietzsche (for example) seventy or eighty years later, and this takes nothing away from the excellence of his body of work, the very real connection that philosophers and others had to it when they discovered it, or they're promotion of that work when they did. I'm not sure why it's relevant when people discovered a work.

    I personally feel no connection to a "persecution complex", nor have I felt this in others who I know love the show. It might be out there somewhere, but I've just never personally seen it. I only started watching the show after several people who's opinion I respect recommended it. Classic word of mouth. Before that the box it was in looked pretty average to me, and I just passed it by in the sea of choices.

    I'm surprised to hear you knock the possibility of someone 'knowing' whether or not what they see is good television. Feels like some dangerous relativist territory there. And why can't we compare shows to one another? We just need parameters or value categories- like depth, originality, authenticity, impact, quality of writing etc.- and then we can proceed from there. Although I'd agree that cross genre comparing- like comedies as you mention- is more difficult, it's still possible. Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis might be in very different genres, but we can easily recognize greatness in both cases.

    I personally loved The Wire because of its honest realism, the complexity and nuance with which it portrayed and examined a slice of contemporary American society (with extensions/ramifications far beyond the local setting), and the unflinching way it explodes many of the simplistic narratives in American (political) culture at large. I would suspect that much of the love for the show is an expression of a thirst for this kind of realism, authenticity and quality. It certainly is for me anyway.

    Thanks for opening up a discussion on the ultimate value of The Wire Scott. I'd be keen to hear what others think on The Wire, or any of the other issues brought up here in this thread about it.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Friday, 29 October 2010 17:22 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Had a couple of other thoughts to add to this one. I had a bartender (whose opinion I respect) tell me the other day that he thought The Wire was the closest thing we had to high literature on film. I've heard TJ say that The Wire arguably moves from entertainment into the realm of art. So perhaps this is a category/perspective we can apply when cross comparing television shows. And has the The Wire set the highest bar in this regard? What else is in this category?

    These kinds of sentiments about the show might also explain people's boisterous support for it, which brings me to perhaps your central point Scott. Maybe your important message is for fans of The Wire to take the love-rhetoric down a notch or two!! There's nothing like over-hype to make an eventual viewing of something underwhelming anyway, so perhaps we're hitting a tipping point where Wire love will create a backlash. That'd be a shame. So perhaps my next pitch about The Wire should move from 'greatest show ever' to something like, 'it's a crime-drama set in Baltimore. Pretty cool, check it out'. And then let the show speak for itself.

  • Comment Link Matt Lewis Saturday, 30 October 2010 23:35 posted by Matt Lewis

    Scott echoes a sentiment I share. I also watched 3 seasons of the show, and I enjoyed what I watched. But I couldn't figure out what kool-aid people were drinking when it was being described as one of the best shows ever. I experienced the zeal, and the disdain, of fans when suggesting it wasn't quite all that. Ultimately I feel it's still just entertainment, and entertainment that does not speak to me on an emotional or experiential level.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Sunday, 31 October 2010 21:21 posted by TJ Dawe

    Objective seeming phrases like "the greatest TV show there's ever been" become problematic in terms of that fact that anyone's experience of any form of art gets into the subjective, and if someone isn't emotionally touched by a show, then that's that.

    But I do think the Wire is remarkable and groundbreaking in the scope and complexity of its analysis of social problems - more so than any other TV show I can think of. It's grounded in tremendous research, the co-creators being a former crime reporter in Baltimore and a former Baltimore homicide cop.

    Because it's an HBO show, it isn't obligated to tie everything up neatly. Co-creator David Simon wrote 122 episodes for Homicide: Life on the Street for NBC in the 90s, and said in an interview that if he'd ever write an episode that didn't end in an uplifting, emotionally gratifying way, the notes from the network would always be "where are the life-affirming moments? how can our viewers hope!". The Wire gets to tell the truth, and lets us look at how deeply entrenched social problems are. It doesn't comfort, it raises questions, and very important ones at that.

    The characters completely affected me in an emotional way too. I'll try to say this without spoiling anything, but in Season Four, four new characters come into the show - all adolescent schoolboys, and their fates take them in various directions. Some of which bring a tear to my eye just thinking about it now. But you don't connect with the characters in a given show in general, so it goes....

    by the way, worship of The Wire is very enjoyably spoofed in this entry of Stuff White People Like:

  • Comment Link Andrew Monday, 01 November 2010 17:51 posted by Andrew

    Really Matt? the Wire failed to stir you at all at an emotional level? Not even once?

    I find that hard to believe. However, if that be the case, then that's the case. And while I take the point that The Wire is entertaining, to make a statement as absurd as "it's just entertainment" is akin to describing A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens as 'just literature'.

    No doubt that art - and the Wire is art - is a subjective experience. And if one does not relate to the art, then again, one doesn't relate, but the narrative that holds the whole thing together is far more than simple art or entertainment. It is speaking to the most profound and immediate social, political, and economic issues facing a great number of American (and Canadian) cities at the moment.

    Is there one Greatest book ever written, or song sung, or picture painted? Maybe not. Yet, there is great literature and music and art that propels itself outside of the bounds of subjective experience and speaks to the world in which we inhabit, the times we live in, and the lives we struggle with.

    The Wire is one such show.

  • Comment Link Matt Lewis Wednesday, 03 November 2010 00:44 posted by Matt Lewis

    @ Andrew

    Of course The Wire did stir me, but not in the same fashion that some other show, movie, or book might. For example, Mad Men I find much more compelling. Although it's again set in an environment I know very little about, the stunted emotional development of the characters speaks to me on a personal level.

    I appreciate that The Wire is (probably) everything you believe it to be. I might get around to watching the 4th and 5th season, but I can't promise anything.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Wednesday, 03 November 2010 17:06 posted by TJ Dawe

    Mad Men is an excellent show. Different in its scope and aim than The Wire, but a very good example of the deeper and more intelligent direction television (a certain segment of it, anyway) has taken in the last decade.

    Love of Mad Men is also enjoyably lampooned in Stuff White People Like:

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Saturday, 06 November 2010 19:32 posted by TJ Dawe

    Here's a quote from a Facebook discussion by Daniel Mate:

    The Wire's ambition and achievement, in my view, goes far beyond. That's not a knock on the Sopranos. But The Wire is like Dostoevsky for television. It looks at the modern urban dilemma from myriad points of view and does justice to all of them. It grants full and complex humanity (including qualities of intelligence, humor, fortitude, frailty, fear, and more) to its African-American characters, which no network show has ever done comparably. And its plotting is simply remarkable. There is nothing extraneous in the entire series, whereas The Sopranos is filled with flab.

  • Comment Link Matt Lewis Tuesday, 09 November 2010 01:04 posted by Matt Lewis

    Read this piece in today's Globe and Mail where The Wire is directly referenced. In a discussion, Spider Robinson suggests trying out a 'Hamsterdam' style approach to the drug problems of the DTES.

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