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The Wire

Blown Deadline Prod., 2002-08

60 minutes


David Simon

Reading Time:

3 minutes

📷 : Used with permission, HBO

The WireWade in the Water (SIHXMHIW8JFP2XQP)
00:00 / 04:17

The Wire


Image of show's tea brew

Movies and TV shows with a lot of dialog


Image of show's tea brew

Movies and TV shows with heavy subjects

Chris Chaisson


In the wake of the overwhelming popularity of The Queen’s Gambit, it is fitting to discuss the figurative portrayal of chess that is The Wire. A series that examines the drug trade in modern-day west Baltimore, The Wire centers around key dealers, corner boys, addicts, policemen and politicians that play roles in the city’s condition. The show’s ensemble cast, along with the “hyper-realism” described in the show’s pitch bible, paint the picture of fictional characters that represent very real people. Not just in Baltimore, but in any city with all the same moving parts. Despite the lack of classical training, many of the actors across the five-season series depict solid portrayals of characters across the spectrum. Most interestingly, British actors Dominic West (Chicago, 300) and Idris Elba deliver such strong performances that many fans of the show were unaware they hailed from across the pond.

Where does chess come into play? Well, the show centers around cause-and-effect. City politicians reallocate funding for the purpose of their own reelection. Policemen circumvent rules to bring media attention to cases they’re tackling. Dealers team up with one another to get rid of a problematic player. Every move influences the next move, but it’s all part of the same game of chess. However, this particular game never runs out of pieces and the king is never truly mated.

“Fighting the War on Drugs, one brutality case at a time.”

“Girl you can’t even call this **** a war...wars end.”

A frequent criticism of The Wire and shows like it is that they try to make “evil” characters redeemable. The dealers are not just dealers; some are violent sociopaths, or as one lawyer puts it, “[parasites] feeding off the despair of the drug trade.” However, they are also proud owners of pet fish or avid fans of basketball and boxing. Some TV audiences accustomed to archetypes castigate this type of character writing, believing that these figures should be portrayed as nothing but the worst. A counterargument is that humanizing characters like this is perfectly appropriate, as the most evil humans in the history of the world were indeed still human.

Identities are rarely if ever one-dimensional. Acknowledging the complexity of the characters and forgiving them for their crimes and misdeeds are matters of personal choice. This choice could very well factor into your decision to binge-watch the series—or not.

Another criticism thrown around about The Wire is that it “moves too slow.” This analysis is often lobbed at shows with a large ensemble cast and several storylines, but it’s not without merit. The perception that this particular series trudges along likely exists due to its multi-faceted subject matter. Examining education, politics, crime, law enforcement, print journalism and where these areas intersect takes time. Inevitably, these will include elements that are not guaranteed to be of interest to every viewer.

Nonetheless, the many moving parts of The Wire make for great setups, payoffs, and well-rounded characters. Back to our chess metaphor, a move early in the game (castling, trading queens, etc.) can reverberate throughout the next 50 or 60 moves. In The Wire, the significance of a brief interaction can resurface two full seasons later. Does that make it boring? Slow-moving? Possibly. But it certainly means every detail matters.

Though polar opposites in genre, The Wire may remind you a little of Game of Thrones. An abundance of characters, life-and-death stakes, and a far-reaching chain of cause-and-effect bring these two series together stylistically, despite one being pure fantasy. Sadly, there is a notable absence of fire-breathing dragons in west Baltimore, but an ensemble cast and the strategic moves of the main characters may be enough to draw you in.

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