-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
Read our coverage of The Wire
- season one |
The Wire: |
cast: Dominic West, Idris Elba, John Doman, Frankie Faison, and Aiden Gillen
creator: David Simon
720 minutes (nr) 2004
HBO NTSC DVD Region 1 retail
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Two years after it first appeared on US television, HBO finally get a wriggle on and
decide to release series three of its inspired cop series
The Wire on DVD. One
of the less discussed realities of American TV is that writers and producers have an
almost infinite amount of time to get their first series planned out and written, but
then only a few months for the second, should it get picked up. This is why the second
series of many US dramas shows a marked dip in quality as the writers are left tidying
up the remaining plotlines of the first series. This was true of The Sopranos and
true of Battlestar
Galactica, and it was also noticeably true of The Wire whose format of
one case per season meant that the writing of series two was a question of juggling the
remaining plotlines of the first series with the unrelated case of smuggling and theft
from the ports. However, with series one and two put to bed, the writers were able to
work on a blank canvas for series three, and have managed to produce what can arguably
be called one of the best seasons of TV ever produced.
With drug kingpin Avon Barksdale safely locked away in prison, his partner Stringer Bell
has been able to broker a truce between Baltimore's drug lords, allowing them to share
the same product. As we join the series, Bell has tried to shape the informal meetings
between gang leaders into something approaching a business meeting resulting in the hilarious
sight of a gangster thumbing through a rulebook for debate societies. The dealers have also
shifted their communication network over to pre-pay mobile phones, making it all but impossible
for the police to listen in one them. That is until the girlfriend of the guy in charge of
buying the phones gets bored driving around and corners start getting cut, giving the detail
a way back into the Bell empire.
As this goes on, a local police commander gets more and more
fed up with the police's failure to put a dent in the drug trade and the weekly grilling the
commanders get from their bosses and he decided to take the law into his own hands by setting
up 'safe zones' where drug dealers can ply their trade without fear of police harassment as
long as they stay away from populated neighbourhoods. This new policy, quickly named 'Hamsterdam'
by the dealers leads to spectacular falls in crime rates but the politicians are still in the
dark about the change in policy. Meanwhile, the series also follows a new politician striving
to become the mayor of Baltimore despite being white and an old gangster's struggles to stay
on the straight and narrow, and all that's without mentioning the traditionally complicated
personal lives of the Baltimore police and what will Avon Barksdale make of the changes to
the drug trade that have occurred on Bell's watch?
As with series one and two, the writing on display here is unimpeachable. The dialogue is
superb, the characterisation is deep and luxurious and the plotting is simply superb as
different plot lines interweave and support each other without ever overstaying their welcome.
The acting by this ensemble cast is also truly top drawer but one should really single out
Idris Elba as Stringer Bell who gives a low-key performance managing to combine frustration,
menace and professional aspiration without ever lapsing into easy clich�s or mood-swings.
Michael K. Williams' gay robber Omar is still a thing of beauty even if I now struggle to
see Williams without thinking of his turn as a cop in R. Kelly's grotesquely absurd Trapped
In The Closet series. No midgets here though... just great acting.
Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of this series of The Wire is its
politicisation. Indeed, while the first series pulled no punches when it came to portraying
politicians as corrupt; the critiques never went particularly deep and generally served as
little more than atmospheric enhancement. However, in 'Hamsterdam', the writers of The
Wire have a creation that takes aim squarely at American drug policy and sets to work
breaking through the rhetoric and the posturing to tackle real social issues in an intelligent
manner. Indeed, while Hamsterdam's advantages are evident, the costs are also laid out quite
clearly and a trip through Hamsterdam at night in one episode proves to be utterly hellish
as every single one of man's darkest desires is catered to openly in grimy burnt out buildings.
Practically flawless in its intent and execution, The Wire continues to show why
it is considered by many to be the best cop show on TV. However, a word of warning to all
you region two DVD player owners, this is only available as a region one import at the
moment with a UK release date yet to appear. Let us simply hope that it doesn't follow
in the footsteps of The Shield in not getting a UK DVD release past series two.