The best thing that ever flickered on a screen

wireboxThe Wire complete boxed set  is out this month. This is the best thing I’ve ever seen on TV. In fact, I can’t even think of a movie I like better.

NPR interviewed creator David Simon today for his selection of videos worth watching.  Snarky Steve Inskeep bellylaughed when Simon said he was concerned with middle management, but I don’t think Simon intended to be funny. That’s what makes The Wire, and even Homicide, so compelling: Simon’s concern with institutions and how individuals make moral and ethical choices as part of them. In The Wire he shows how everyone operates within an institution of some sort and how these institutions are similar and unchanging.

beautiful Omar

beautiful Omar: a strict moral code of his own

The series is great for many more reasons than this. But here’s an outline of the Baltimore institutions you get to inhabit during the five seasons of The Wire. The first season shows you the drug organization in a way you never thought of, plus a police department very reminiscent of Homicide, only more overtly political. The second season adds the labor unions at the port. The third brings in “real” politics with city hall — all the while, mind you, keeping up with plots and characters from the past season. The fourth shows you the institution of public schools, embroiled in politics for its money and making aching choices in the face of testing and curriculum bureaucracy.

on the corner

on the corner

in the hall

in the hall

The kids on the corner are now the children in the classroom, and they will break your heart. Just when you think it can’t get any more real, the fifth and final season brings in the Baltimore Sun, struggling with one of the issues that keeps me awake at night: if we don’t want to pay for professionals trained with journalistic ethics to collect our news, what will we get for information?

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