Way Down in the Hole

My husband and I have been together for over seven years–for the majority of that time he has been pleading with me to watch his favorite television series of all time–The Wire.  This past year I relented and after the first few episodes I was ready to count it as one of my all time favorite shows as well.  What kept me from watching all those years?  It seemed too dark, too gritty, too raw, too real.  Living in studio apartments I had seen snippets of the show simply by occupying the same space as Jim while he was watching it.  I didn’t think I would enjoy the harrowing stories revolving around drugs, unions, politics, schools, and media in the city of Baltimore.

I was wrong.  Not about the roughness, The Wire is all of those things I was worried it would be: dark, gritty, raw, real, but there are surprising moments of levity, empathy, and humanity as well.  The situations are compelling, the characters are damaged and heavily flawed, and once you allow yourself into the world that David Simon has created it is impossible to look away.

The two main reasons I recommend this series to everyone I know, regardless of the type of shows they usually watch, are the writing and the acting.

The writing on The Wire is phenomenal.  Every episode is layered and complex and immerses the viewer in the show’s setting.  The writing staff for each season was headed by creator David Simon, himself a writer for the Baltimore Sun for 13 years, several nonfiction books about inner-city Baltimore, and the television series Homicide: Life on the Street.  In addition to Simon, the novelists Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos also penned many of the episodes.  The rest of the staff would be fleshed out with writers who worked in journalism and nonfiction writing, as well as experienced television writers.

On to the actors.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I may have given The Wire a chance in order to observe the gorgeousness of Idris Elba (if you are a fan of Mr. Elba’s as well, the library owns the BBC show Luther — also fantastic) and I was amazed by his performance as Stringer Bell and the depth and gravitas he brought to that character.

It would take far too much time to discuss the remaining stand-out performances over the course of the series, lets just say the list would be very long.  However, everyone who loves The Wire has a favorite character and for me that would be Bubbles, a police informant and heroin addict played by Andre Royo.  Bubbles is a constant throughout all five seasons and I was so emotionally invested in his character that I found myself rooting for him and his struggle with sobriety at random moments during the day while we were working our way through the series.

I also love Omar (played by the amazing Michael K. Williams), a gay stick-up man who robs drug dealers, but…so does everyone. 🙂

If this post piques your interest and you start watching this incredible show, enjoy!  If you find yourself waiting for the next season to be checked back in at OWL, here are some suggested books in a similar vein to the show:

Dennis Lehane brought his prowess as a crime writer to seasons 3, 4 & 5 of The Wire.  Lehane’s Kenzie & Gennaro novels follow private investigators Patrick and Angie through some dire cases in the city of Boston.  Titles from the series that can be found here at the OWL are Prayers for Rain, Sacred and Moonlight Mile.

George Pelecanos was a fixture on The Wire’s writing staff for the entirety of the series.  As a novelist, the recurring setting for his work is Washington, DC– several of his stand-alone titles in the OWL’s collection are Drama City, The Night Gardener, The Turnaround and The Way Home.

Laura Lippman never wrote for The Wire, but her crime novels are set in Baltimore and there is a tremendous amount of crossover appeal between her work and the show.  Some suggested titles are What the Dead Know, Another Thing to Fall and Life Sentences.

Happy Reading (and Viewing)!

~Patricia is a part-time librarian at the OWL.

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