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Read our coverage of The Wire
- season one | season two.
September 2006 SITE MAP   SEARCH

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

RATING: 10/10
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.

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