Magazine article Canadian Dimension

The Death and Life of a Great American City

Magazine article Canadian Dimension

The Death and Life of a Great American City

Article excerpt

BY NOW everyone's sick to death of hearing critics talk about how HBO'S The Wire is surely the greatest T.V. show of all time. Such speculations are perhaps best left to other magazines--but progressive T.V. watchers who haven't watched this show are missing out.

The Wire begins as the story of the Baltimore Police--politicized, sometimes corrupt, always under-funded (it's not a "cop show")--specifically its narcotics and homicide investigations into the city's west-side gangs. The cast is rich in strong characters--and The Wire is ruthless and critical, yet sympathetic as these characters are compromised, corrupted, betrayed and let down by the civic and/or criminal institutions of which they're a part.

Still, the show's politics are refreshing--especially for a mainstream production. A homicide detective and her same-sex partner decide to adopt a child--and they just do it. We, the viewers, are for once not called upon to judge--they just do it. And no character in The Wire questions that addiction treatment and needle programs, not corner drug arrests, are the way to deal with the city's drug problem. Everybody knows it--and says it--even if no one's willing to shoulder the political costs of being the first to implement it.

The Wire is a very American show, which means that it is inevitably about race. The street gangs are predominantly African-American in membership, but so are the Baltimore Police, if not quite to the same extent--as are most of the local city councilors, senators, delegates and, until about halfway through the show's five seasons, the mayor. (In season three the city gets a White mayor, Thomas Carcetti, who ousts incumbent Clarence Royce--but only after splitting the African-American vote and surrounding himself with African-American advisors and local kingmakers.)

That's the difference between Baltimore and Hollywood. …

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