Review: The Wire 5×1

The Wire, Season 5

In the US: Sundays, 9pm, HBO
In the UK: FX at some point. Hopefully

Characters re-cast: 0
Major characters gotten rid of: Unknown. Some still MIA
Major new characters: Dozens
Format change percentage: 75%

There was a criminal injustice committed last year. In March’s list of the 50 greatest TV dramas ever, The Wire wasn’t even mentioned. It came nowhere. Something called The Sopranos (sp?) came in at number one. What’s up there?

There are many theories as to why this should have happened. Some say it’s because The Wire is set in a poor city in the US – Baltimore – rather than something a bit more visually arresting and familiar like New York or Los Angeles. Some argue that it’s because the cast is mostly black and filled with unfamiliar faces. Some believe the level of patience required to follow it, picking up small details and touches of character that become important only after episodes or even seasons have gone by, is too much for the average viewer. Others yet claim it’s the fact it’s on a channel like HBO or FX in the UK that reduces the audience to negligible numbers.

Yet, as I’ve been bleating on at you for ages, The Wire is one of the finest TV programmes ever made. A devastatingly realistic look at policing, the underclass, politics, institutions and why meaningful change is almost impossible, it’s back for its last ever season.

Yes, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth at the end of its run, because it doesn’t look like the show’s creators have reduced the show’s quality one iota.

As usual, The Wire is taking its time starting up. Following on a year after the events of last season, predictably for The Wire, much has changed but little is different. People have new jobs and the drug dealers are having to adapt as property developers start encroaching on their territories. But politicians are still bickering, causing the people at the sharp end to suffer; police and criminals alike are giving in to their vices, despite their best attempts to reform; and another institution – the media – is exposed as being flawed and culpable in preserving the current state of affairs.

Also, as usual, you have to pay attention. Seriously, drift off for just a couple of seconds and you’ll be reaching for the rewind button because this is one densely packed m*th*rf*ck*r (to get all Wire-ese on you). Blink, and you might just miss the significance of someone’s appearance – the writers aren’t going to insult you by leadening the script with unnatural dialogue, just to explain things to you that the characters should already know.

Regular viewers will be glad to hear that all their favourites are back in action this season, with some faces you might even recall from season two; a few, such as Omar, have yet to put in appearance, but you know it’s just a matter of time and good writing before they re-appear. And the humour’s still there, including a ‘lie detector’ scene you know that some cop somewhere in Baltimore pulled in real life.

There’s a whole bunch of new faces to become acquainted with, too, as The Baltimore Sun becomes the setting for a good portion of the action. Ironically, given that Wire creator David Simon worked at The Sun for years before becoming a TV writer, this is the only part of the show that feels unrealistic: Simon’s depiction feels more like a paper of the late 80s and early 90s, rather than one of the 00s. Maybe some papers are having a hard time catching up with this Internet thing, but the idea of rolling deadlines and multi-platform doesn’t appear to have hit this version of The Sun yet, and while everyone’s bleating about lack of copy and have deadlines, copy-editors are pointlessly taking time out to explain to dumb-ass reporters the different meanings of the word ‘evacuate’, rather than correcting it themselves. Maybe then – not now.

Nevertheless, this is as real as TV gets and you’d be a fool not to at least try it. If you’re a new viewer, it shouldn’t be that hard to join in with the action, thanks to the changes that we’re all having to be re-acquainted with, although I can think of better times to join (season one).

Regular viewers: rejoice – the best is back. Here’s a YouTube trailer.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.