June 2 marks 20 years since HBO’s legendary crime drama The Wire first aired. And while it’s now thought of as an all-time classic, that wasn’t always evident to audiences early on. To honor its 20 years as a TV staple, let’s talk about how the program evolved and why it remains such an influential work today.
These are the 20 reasons the show is relevant in 2022.
1. Policing As a Broken Institution
The show was one of the first post-9/11 properties to depict police as imperfect individuals rather than flawless heroes, and law enforcement as a thoroughly flawed institution. The motivations of the police officers in The Wire are often immoral and the discussion of how to fix policing in America is one that we are still having two decades later.
2. Its Attention to Dialect
There has been a lot of criticism through the years about the usage of racial slurs and curse words in the show, but there’s not enough credit given to the accurate way that The Wire demonstrates how language is tied to social class. Not many shows in TV history have tried harder to accurately depict the dialect that each character uses depending on their placement in the social hierarchy.
3. Many Big Actors Got Their Start Here
Michael B. Jordan and Idris Elba are just two of the most famous names that got their big break on The Wire. The acting is criminally underrated on this show, and it says something about their performances that these stars went on to create so much other great work after it went off the air.
4. It Made Other Golden Age Shows Possible
The Sopranos was the first show that proved the validity of the Golden Age of Television, but The Wire was nearly as instrumental. With so many fascinating characters, so much attention to detail, and a creative vision that was unmatched at the time, many shows that came after it should be thankful for the groundwork laid by The Wire. Everything from Breaking Bad to Line of Duty and more benefited from The Wire’s critical success.
5. It Put Black Actors in the Spotlight
Anytime you can get a diverse set of actors on the air, it’s a huge boon for the television industry at large. The Wire had a predominantly Black cast, reflecting the city and culture it was set in. And at a time when the large majority of shows were white, this show indicated that it was time for a change. It’s a problem that still haunts the entertainment industry today, though, unfortunately.
6. Omar Little is a Legendary Character
Of all of the great characters in The Wire, Omar Little is the one who left the most indelible mark on the audience. The late Michael K. Williams played Omar to perfection, making him one of the all-time great anti-heroes. People still enjoy debating the merits of Omar’s decision-making and motivations today.
7. The Show is Very Literary
The Wire was one of the first programs on television that wanted to build a greater world filled with morally ambiguous characters, almost making the viewing experience similar to reading a dense novel. This is something that many dramas have attempted to emulate in the years since, with varied levels of success.
8. We Own This City Carries On Its Legacy
The Wire is the type of show that left people wanting more due to its multi-layered storytelling and creators David Simon and George Pelecanos have finally delivered on that desire with We Own This City. Using some of the same actors as in the parent show, we thought that the miniseries delivered a pretty decent dessert for fans clamoring to return to Baltimore. Though not set in Baltimore, other Simon shows like Show Me a Hero and The Deuce keep the narrative lessons of The Wire alive as well.
9. The Show Demonstrated That Emmy’s Aren’t All That Important
Despite now being regarded as one of the defining dramas of its generation, The Wire never took home an Emmy trophy during its run. This opens up a whole discussion on the merits of television award shows and whether the people who vote on these honors are truly recognizing the breadth of talent in the TV industry.
10. Its Depiction of the Education System
The Wire was incredible at depicting every corner of modern American society, but the most important discussion they had was on the impact political rot has on the education system. The fourth season of the show hones in on four young men who have no choice but to try and endure the misery that is the Baltimore public school system, and it serves just as great a purpose for viewers today.
11. It’s President Obama’s Favorite Show
The President of the United States isn’t any more of an authority of television greatness than any of us, but Barack Obama tagging The Wire as his favorite show is certainly a sign of relevance. It shows everyone how much of an impact the small screen has on pop culture that the leader of the free world is watching what’s on just like everyone else is.
12. Snoop and Nail Guns
The fourth season of The Wire is usually considered the best, and it begins with this iconic three minutes in which Snoop (Felicia Pearson) buys a nail gun from a local hardware store. The interaction between the sales associate and Snoop takes a hilarious turn for the audience when the former finally realizes why the power tool is being bought (Note: it’s not for weekend carpentry). This show always did an amazing job of involving some dark humor to add levity to the situation.
13 – Fake News
The final season of the show focuses on the way that reporters manipulate what gets put into the mainstream news. This is still a very important topic of discussion in 2022, especially as citizens start to consume their news in different ways than when this show aired (Twitter, Facebook, other social media).
14 – Bubbles Gives Perspective on Homeless People
One of the best characters in the show is Bubbles (Andre Royo), a homeless man whose life goes sideways due to a mix of poor decision-making and sad circumstances out of his control. With homelessness such a problem in the real world, Bubbles reminds viewers not to judge people who look like him on their own streets. You never know why someone is in a bad situation.
15 – The Show Has Great Duos
Some of the best shows in history are known for their great character duos, and The Wire definitely fits in that category. Two of the best partner pairings in the show are Jimmy McNulty/Bunk Moreland (Dominic West/Wendell Pierce), and Carver/Herc (Seth Gilliam/Domenick Lombardozzi). These duos are dynamic every time they appear on screen together. That’s not even to mention the turbulent pairing of Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) and Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris).
16 – Many Walking Dead Actors Are in the Show
If you are a fan of The Walking Dead, you were probably thrilled to see several alumni of The Wire appear in the zombie series in the past decade. Chad L. Coleman, Seth Gilliam, and Lawrence Gilliard Jr. are just three of the biggest names who appeared on both shows.
17 – The Show’s Iconic F-Word Scene
One of the best five minutes in television history is when McNulty and Bunk investigate a murder scene for five minutes communicating with each other solely through the use of the word “fuck.” Viewers and critics alike are still analyzing what it meant and how other shows can replicate The Wire’s brilliant use of dialogue.
18 – The Chess Analogy
Another classic scene that is still talked about today is when D’Angelo Barksdale (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) teaches several others how to play chess. The catch is that the game is analogized alongside the social structure of Baltimore, giving the audience a whole new way to think about how people are often just pawns in the grand scheme of the city they live in.
19 – It Shows Everyone’s Perspective
Unlike almost every other great show in history, The Wire separates itself by showing the perspective of every type of person in society. The creators aren’t focused on just giving the good guys or the bad guys equal shine, but to demonstrate that everyone plays a role in the city they live in, and the lines of morality are often more blurred than we think.
20 – It Hasn’t Been Replicated
People can’t get over this show because it’s still unlike anything ever put on TV. There’s other great cop dramas, and there’s several shows focusing on drugs and crime in the inner-city, but nothing replicates the way The Wire tells its story. Everyone is interconnected, every person affects another person indirectly. If you blink, you might miss something. That’s okay, then it just means it’s time for another rewatch.