When faced with a dilemma, the original bad-ass-cop-with-nothing-to-lose Jack Bauer rushes out of the office, picks up his gun, along with what he now knows will be the first in a long line of black coffees, and proceeds to punish the evil-doers of the world single-handedly. Working within the same (albeit much less ridiculous) crime genre, the struggle for justice in The Wire does not quite work this way.
Creator David Simon’s drama addresses the USA’s approach towards the War on Drugs, a problem that All-American Hero Jack solves his own damn self on Day 10 of 24. Simon employs the streets of Baltimore as a staging for a variety of social experiments that not only reveal the inadequacy of the current governmental solutions, but also reflect the struggle involved in effectively fighting the battle. Without breaching Wire fans’ sacred, spoiler-avoiding code of conduct, the third season’s “Hamsterdam” is an idea brought about by America’s paper-bag drinkers. Designated areas around the city offer amnesty to drug dealers, just as the police save time by turning a blind eye to people drinking alcohol from paper bags on the streets. Simon uses The Wire to explore familiar discussions surrounding drugs, whilst offering a broad criticism of America’s democracy, determinedly referencing everything from Bush’s War on Terror to the flawed school system.
On the police side, the show follows a set of idealistic characters whose unconventional techniques for taking on the drug dealers are repeatedly hindered by departmental politics and hierarchical structures within the system. As the show continues, the creators expand their canvass to look at the higher powers that stifle such progress, such as city politicians, state’s attorneys and even the Mayor. The desire to create a better Baltimore is in opposition to the current social state, and it is only with the furtherance of these justice-seeking characters (“good poh-leece”) that the battle can be won. Before he was running, Obama’s political idealism is used as a reference point, as another sign for the creators’ hope in an altered future. The new American president has even said it’s his favourite TV show.
On the drugs side, the show presents a near-identical structure of power, complete with a king, bishops and expendable pawns. In one of The Wire’s defining lines, Bubbles (the show’s sympathetic addict) tells McNulty (a lowly police detective) that there’s a “thin line between heaven and here”. Characters on opposing sides of the war frequently chat, spout the same moral values and even bump into each other in the cinema (which can’t help but put a smile on the audience’s face).
You can’t sell ideas like ‘great writing’, ‘novelistic social commentary’ and ‘perfect characterisation’ in an article, particularly to those who watch Lost, so just watch it and, with so many shades of grey to choose from, you don’t have to pick a side.