I’m an idiot because, though I’ve had HBO since the mid-1990s, I’ve never watched an episode of “The Wire.” And that’s only part of it. Not only did I ignore the show’s entire five-season run on HBO (which, remember, I was paying for), but I also got each season on DVD from the cable channel’s publicity department. And guess what? I didn’t watch those either. One of the most acclaimed shows ever, just sitting on my shelf.


 

 

I’m an idiot.

That’s not breaking news, but let me explain why I’m an idiot in this particular instance.

I’m an idiot because, though I’ve had HBO since the mid-1990s, I’ve never watched an episode of “The Wire.” And that’s only part of it. Not only did I ignore the show’s entire five-season run on HBO (which, remember, I was paying for), but I also got each season on DVD from the cable channel’s publicity department. And guess what? I didn’t watch those either. One of the most acclaimed shows ever, just sitting on my shelf.

Finally, when I received my review copy of the final season, I wised up and fired up the DVD player. It was about time.

If you’ve watched “The Wire,” you know how dumb I was to ignore a show that is — no kidding — one of the best dramas in TV history. If you haven’t seen “The Wire,” allow me to elaborate, so you don’t have to make the same mistake I did. Watch it now — rent it, buy it, see it. If you complain (and rightly so) that 99 percent of TV is soulless, brainless drivel, here’s that single percent that isn’t. Don’t ignore it.

“The Wire” is the creation of former Baltimore crime reporter David Simon, who wrote the book that inspired “Homicide: Life on the Street.” Like that excellent NBC show, “The Wire” follows the cops of Baltimore. In this case, though, the focus is squarely on the so-called drug war, and the inescapable conclusion that it is unwinnable. Part of the reason is financial, part is political and part is just because some people are always going to want drugs. “The Wire,” to its credit, covers the battle on all these fronts. Sure, the focus is on the cops — especially Dominic West’s troubled but dedicated McNulty — but plenty of attention is also paid to politicians, dealers, junkies, killers, victims and bystanders — innocent and otherwise. I won’t mislead you — it’s a complicated show, and it took me a few episodes adjust to its rhythms. Once I did, though, I was hooked. By the end of the season, I couldn’t feed those DVDs into my player fast enough.

Being an idiot (as I think I mentioned earlier), I of course watched the last season first. That was mostly because a major plot thread involved Simon’s old newspaper The Baltimore Sun and how budget cuts hurt its news-gathering mission. (Previous seasons have focused on other Baltimore institutions, including the docks, the schools and city hall.) The newspaper scenes, though compelling, weren’t the best part of the show. “The Wire” really soars when it focuses on the day-to-day drudgery of crime, crime-fighting and the bureaucracy that drives them both. Police work isn’t always thrilling (I don’t think the cops fire a shot the entire season) and the drug trade isn’t always gritty (the chiefs meet in a hotel conference room) but they’re both fascinating to watch.

“The Wire” is like a novel, full of dozens of characters more complex than anyone else on TV.
It’s not a show I can sum up here in a few paragraphs. All I can do is warn you not to make the same mistake I did. Don’t, in other words, be an idiot. Watch this show.

Coming next week: I’m an idiot, Part Two — Why did I ignore “Mad Men”?

Will Pfeifer writes about new DVDs on Tuesdays and older ones on Fridays. Contact him at wpfeifer@rrstar.com or 815-987-1244. Read his Movie Man blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/movie man/.

See clips from ‘The Wire’ online at rrstar.com. Click on “Videos.”

Some DVDs out Tuesday ...
“AKA Tommy Chong”
“Chicago 10”
“Entourage: The Complete Fourth Season”
“Heroes: Season 2”
“Postal”
“Redbelt”
“What Happens in Vegas”
“Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?”

And CDs…
The Game, “L.A.X.”
Slipknot, “All Hope Is Gone”
The Verve, “Forth”
Matthew Sweet, “Sunshine Lies”
Motorhead, “Motorizer:
David Nail, “I’m About To Come Alive”
Sources: dvdtalk.com, tophitsonline.com