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Way down in the hole

Posted By Ian Jones On Sunday, February 22, 2009 @ 8:59 pm In blog | Comments Disabled

One of the greatest shows in the history of television is about to be repeated.

FX is showing The Wire from the very beginning, starting from Monday (23rd). I would say it’s the best American television series ever, were it not for HBO stablemates Curb Your Enthusiasm and Band Of Brothers. And The West Wing. And most probably some other HBO effort I’ve never seen or which has yet to be dreamed up.

I know it’s been festooned with “best ever” labels for years, usually from broadsheet commentators and magazine think-pieces (and Radio Times). I know it exudes a reverence that is off-putting. And I know there must be some valid reason for the fact it was never shown on a terrestrial channel in this country; the language, probably.

Yet I’d recommend anybody who’s never seen it and who cares about television and likes to get sucked into programmes to the extent that they spend their whole day at work waiting for the evening so they can get back home and watch the next episode to give it a try.

I’ve just finished the first series on DVD, and am cursing myself for not having made the effort to watch it sooner. On a superficial level, it’s a drama set in Baltimore about the parallel worlds of police officers and drug dealers. But it’s way more than that. It’s terrifying and moving and dazzling and foul-mouthed and funny and astonishingly imaginative and desperately sad. And it treats you, the viewer, with such immense respect and dignity you kind of feel humbled spending time in its presence.

Don’t, however, watch the first episode straight away. Record it, then watch it just before you see the second one next Monday. Because the first episode is a struggle, and, to be honest, a bit of a mess. You need to see the second hot on its heels, or else you’ll lose interest. There’s a precise moment in the second episode, involving a load of falling television sets, where everything suddenly clicks. And if not then, a conversation about the game of chess in the third episode.

And if you’re still not hooked, a scene in the fourth that lasts three and a half minutes and consists wholly of the same word being repeated over and over is the clincher.

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