The Wire: Not The Greatest TV Show Ever

11/09/2009 at 1:51 pm 10 comments

STUFF I LIKE #2: The Wire

If you’re not already aware, cult television show The Wire is finally on Australian screens. Fans of the show are plentiful, but it’s unsurprising that it has taken so long to find a willing broadcaster, given the generally tepid nature of our viewing habits. It doesn’t help that the show offers an uncompromisingly brutal view of police and politics on the streets of Baltimore, and Australian TV networks are not renowned for risky programming.

But this you already know. The Wire is a revelation of complexity and intelligent drama. After five seasons, there are countless articles, blogs and interviews where the writer cites the almost universal consensus that it is “the greatest TV show ever made”. It’s usually put in quotation marks, although no-one ever references who actually said it first. I’ve heard it in conversation at parties though, and from film students, people on the bus – you get the idea.

I baulk at this claim. ‘Greatest show ever’ is at the very least a superlative remark devoid of any critical value – at its worst the kind of thing that reduces critical commentary to the mundane, and gives viewers an entitlement to a lazy appreciation of what does make this show so great. I think anyone who calls themself critical is doing a disservice to the practice by offering such a banal phrase to their readership.

What measures do we use to decide such a thing? Because it is a great show. It’s got humour, interesting characters, fantastic dialogue, social insight, breadth and clarity. So do plenty of other cop shows The Shield, or Hill St Blues, or um… Blue Heelers. But it also deals with the criminal world (like The Sopranos) offering a distinctly ambiguous moral compass. My point is that the show is raising the bar – yes, but to cry out “greatest show ever” should take into account other factors. Such as influence, longevity, and (regrettably) commercial success. TV is after all a commercial medium – so it would be unwise to measure a show’s ‘greatness’ on quality alone. While it gains points for risk – The Wire‘s predecessor Homicide: Life on The Street broke the mould for cop shows long before. It’s worth noting that Homicide was based on a book by Wire creator David Simon – bleak, character driven and a lot less slick than the more recent Baltimore creation, particularly the early episodes are like watching arthouse cinema.

So it’s a tricky business to nominate the greatest show ever made. For my money, in terms of changing the face of TV – The Wire certainly fits the bill, has some way to go. Influence comes over time – and it’s important to recognise that this tipping point for complex viewing comes standing on the shoulders of a range of other terrific dramas. It remains to be seen exactly how big of a watershed we’re looking at.

On the other hand – greatest show ever? Try The Simpsons for commercial, critical success, influence and outright longevity. More episodes,more characters and more cultural currency than any show I’ve seen. But that’s just my opinion of course…

Any thoughts on this? What’s your greatest show of all time?

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Entry filed under: Criticism FAIL, Film REVIEW, Stuff I Like. Tags: , , , , , .

Anyone But Soderbergh Might Make This Work Fairfax Fails The Arts Again

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Marcus  |  29/09/2009 at 10:44 pm

    Greatest. Show. Ever. As they say on the internets? I’m not in a postion to judge. But it’s certainly the most impressed i’ve been by a TV series in very very very long time.

    Reply
  • 2. anvildrops  |  30/09/2009 at 10:55 am

    or as P T Barnum may have said: “The Greatest Show on Earth!”

    if you haven’t already you should checkout Deadwood – does for the myth of the the western frontier what the Wire does for modern day Eastern Seaboard tourism.

    Reply
  • 3. Anieli  |  18/10/2009 at 12:23 pm

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    Reply
    • 4. anvildrops  |  19/10/2009 at 12:39 am

      i have no idea what you are talking about. but this is the best comment i have ever come home drunk to read after a comedy festival

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      Reply
  • 5. John  |  29/11/2009 at 1:01 am

    Well said!. Also as an avid the wire lover you can tell the show is not perfect. i would like to exaggerate but that would be spoiling :P. seeing the show with the idea that it’s the greatest show ever is indeed wrong but that goes for any other show as well. The wire is best viewed with “hard eyes”

    Reply
  • 6. Dirk Funk  |  22/03/2010 at 4:02 pm

    The Simpsons? Just hang yourself and be done with it. No animated show ever deserves to be called “great,” especially one that at this point has more bad seasons than good ones.

    Reply
  • 7. anvildrops  |  22/03/2010 at 4:28 pm

    and yet, it single handedly transformed the way we view television, spawning imitators and opening up a whole new genre while maintaining the traditions of the old.

    Reply
  • […] posts on District 9, The Wire and Survivor will be classified as #1, 2 & 3 – although the order is arbitrary, so now we […]

    Reply
  • 9. khuong  |  16/04/2010 at 2:59 am

    Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!
    And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! 🙂

    Reply
  • 10. Bogan Jerkosovic  |  19/10/2010 at 3:14 pm

    It’s not Treme, that’s for sure. Treme is booooo-ring, though the violinist may be the cutest girl on television ever.

    Deadwood and Carnivale were INFURIATING. The characters kept getting in the way of the plot. If real people told stories that way, their grandchildren would strangle them.

    Ghost in the Shell TV series did something like The Wire by having one complete story arc per season, and I think it was good. However they only had two seasons not five, and I guess only nerds will like GITS since the Japanese are clumsy oafs when it comes to any kind of liberal arts.

    My So-called Life might be the best television show ever, but only the first 2/3 of it were good, while The Wire’s quality is consistent. For example, I would love it if someone could turn down the volume of the incidental music on Tangle. It’s ridiculously loud, and actually does ruin the show which would otherwise have many honest Deer Hunter moments, but if the volume were fixed it wouldn’t be CONSISTENT so I suppose we’re trapped by our own pretention on that one.

    I would say the Americans would be glad to have The Wire representing them since it’s not predictable hammy proletarian yank melodrama, parochial escapism, or comedy with obnoxious self-involved asshole characters. It doesn’t feel like a standard cranked-out airwave-filling piece of garbage that has a “creator” but no writer, like every other show from the States. The only thing a bit tired about it is the obligatory lesbian couple—seems every show made in the last decade needs to have one. It’s nice to make everyone feel welcome, but are they going to put one Australian on every American TV show so that aussies feel welcome? I think they’re not, so to me it’s starting to seem forced, though maybe the idea is to offend the hicks right out the gate so there’s no question of pandering to them and avoid producers demanding exposition and voiceovers to help idiots who can’t follow the story catch up. If that was the point I guess it was a good move. but otherwise I just feel like if they really in their hearts accepted homosexual relationships as normal, they wouldn’t be pushing and pushing the point so relentlessly and rigidly! It strains credibility and doesn’t match experience, like a sitcom where no one’s divorced and no one has a single mom. These LA people seem so cheap and ham-fisted when they are trying to be political.

    Pillars of the Earth is just meh, but it’s worth downloading, if you do that. Alison Pill and Hayley Atwell are actually serious about their jobs, which is comforting and re-centering since the American media seems full of intimidatingly brilliant young personalities doing mountains of coke and slowly turning into coarse impatient assholes. It is not the greatest show ever made, but if all yank shows were at least that good I wouldn’t regret losing so many actors to LA. …though I think Pillars of the Earth is shot in hungary or something so maybe LA really is completely evil.

    Reply

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