Way down in the hole

Sunday, February 22, 2009 by

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.


10 Responses to “Way down in the hole”

  1. TJ Worthington on February 23rd, 2009 9:09 am

    Every single word of this article is right on ‘the money’. So much so that Freamon is about to suggest ‘following’ it.

  2. Ian B on February 25th, 2009 12:48 am

    I just read this today and missed the first episode. Will the 2nd episode make sense if I watch it on monday without having seen the first one or will it be worth waiting for episode one to be shown again at some point?

    Also do you not think the Sopranos is worth a mention in your list of greatest ever tv shows?

  3. Ian Jones on February 25th, 2009 4:36 pm

    I’d say it’s worth tuning in even if you’ve missed episode 1. There’ll be a synopsis of what you’ve missed online somewhere. I never really got into the Sopranos; I think I found it hard to care about any of the characters.

  4. Graham Kibble-White on February 28th, 2009 8:10 pm

    Good news! BBC2 is going to start screening The Wire in about a month’s time.

  5. Bob Loblaw on March 4th, 2009 3:42 pm

    Really? First I’ve heard about that

  6. Andrew Henderson on March 16th, 2009 10:02 am

    Hmm… I watched the first episode of this show aaages ago, and didn’t bother watching any more, but after reading this I might give it another chance and push on.

  7. Jack Kibble-White on April 5th, 2009 10:38 am

    Well, having studiously set the timer for each of the first five episodes last week, I was able to broker a deal with my better half to watch at least the first two eps, and we ended up watching all five. She loved it – as for me, I think it’s very watchable, and good enough to keep me coming back for more, but it has yet to really take flight into a thing of greatness in my eyes. Ian is right to single out the chess scene and the falling TVs as particularly good though.

  8. Ian Jones on April 5th, 2009 7:51 pm

    Glad you’re enjoying it. Things really step up in episodes 6 and 7. Have you started singing the theme tune to yourself yet?

  9. Jack Kibble-White on April 6th, 2009 2:36 pm

    Ahh – we always fast forward through the theme tune.

  10. Ian Jones on April 6th, 2009 8:48 pm

    For shame! I reckon it’s crucial in setting the mood of the whole thing.