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The Wire’ returns for its final season

T. Edward Andrews | Thursday, January 17, 2008

Time Magazine, Entertainment Weekly and the Chicago Tribune have all called it “the best show on television” and yet as HBO’s “The Wire” enters its fifth and final season, the show still lacks a large mainstream following. Despite its criminal under-appreciation by the masses, “The Wire” promises to return to its roots as one of the hardest hitting, most innovative and best dramas in the history of television.

Set on the mean streets of Baltimore, Md., “The Wire” depicts a grim picture of urban life in inner city America, following the ravaging effects of the drug trade and the accompanying violence and crime it stains the streets with.

In its first season, “The Wire” concerned itself primarily with the criminal empire of Avon Barksdale (Wood Harries) and Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) and detective work done by Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), Lieutenant Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick), Detective Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) and others to bring down that empire. The show derives its name from a wiretap the police set up in order to build a case against Barksdale’s crew. However, in subsequent seasons the show expanded from its original status as a cops-and-robbers drama to an inner city magnum opus sprawling across all facets of urban life in Baltimore, including the politics of police work, the politics of education and the politics of politics.

The best part of “The Wire” is that the show doesn’t try to push a message about morality – it just portrays real life through fiction and shows things the way they are on the drug- and crime-ravaged streets of urban America. The show portrays the horrors and hardships of drug abuse, wanton violence and killings related to the drug trade in colors as bleak and unrelenting as the cement jungle landscape the show sets itself on.

“The Wire” wouldn’t be the show it is without its stable of characters, which span from cops to criminals and from high-class politicos to homeless people. A talented and versatile cast of no-name character actors have assumed their roles with poise and a gritty sense of reality. Like the best forms of fiction, “The Wire” doesn’t have any cut-and-dried cookie cutter character molds. Instead, the people populating the world of “The Wire” sound and act like real human beings, with all their flaws, imperfections and seemingly contradictory natures. “The Wire’s” key theme is that nothing is set in black and white – the show creates several penumbral areas of gray.

For example, one of the main characters, Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) is a stubborn, persistent hound of a cop and is very good at what he does, but he’s also an inveterate drunk and his home life is consumed by failed marriage and his love of liquor and lascivious conduct.

Nefarious stick-up artist Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) has become a fan favorite as the roughest, toughest gunslinger on the streets. He also happens to be gay, and by doing so, “The Wire” challenges conventional norms of masculinity and homosexuality.

Politician and Mayor Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) made a lot of campaign promises to cleanse the streets of crime and work to protect the children, but as he takes the job the exigencies of the office and his own political goals cause him to alter his original aims.

Series creator David Simon’s commitment to continued excellence has paid off through “The Wire’s” first four seasons. Now as he draws several of his ongoing storylines to their final close and adds a few new wrinkles to the mix, it’s a good bet he’ll close out the series with the same level of excellence with which he started it.