One of the bad things about not having premium cable is that I have no access to all the fantastic shows on HBO. All I ever hear about is how good these cable shows are, but I have no opportunity to see them.
Until they come out on DVD.
I just finished the first season of HBO's The Wire, a gritty and unvarnished look at the drug-infested world of Baltimore as seen through they eyes of both the cops and the criminals.
What makes the show so unique and ultimately so damn good is the omnipotent access. We don't simply see the bad guys do bad things, we spend time with them throughout their lives. We see these genuinely bad men sit down to supper with their families, change diapers, take care of aging parents, fall in love and through it all they transcend the villainous cliches into which they've been written by hundreds of inferior but influential cops and robbers shows and become something rarely seen anymore--authentic human beings. The cops are no less human--heroic, devoted, cowardly, uncaring, hardened, misguided, corrupt, sometimes even criminal themselves.
This is a superbly written show, though not in the way that one would praise Aaron's Sorkin's work on The West Wing as superb. This isn't about dialogue (though it does breathtakingly capture the language of the street and Baltimore's--read: America's--class system, to say nothing of cop-speak), it's about characterization. The characters are extraordinarily distinct and fleshed out personalities, full of quirks and nuance that really set them apart from each other and lead to some truly hilarious and tragic moments. That the show arcs chronologically across an entire season (now many more than that) in one sustained and never protracted story is extraordinary. Because of this fact, there is time to watch and recognize the exact moments when the plot and people's lives turn--sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst.
Beginning with a single murder and ending with a gargantuan criminal investigation involving all the resources at modern crime-fighting's disposal, The Wire perfectly captures a world where your preconceptions are challenged at every turn, and where sometimes you need more than a badge to tell a good guy from a bad guy.
The Wire. Tap in.