My obsession with "The Wire" has run to the point of serious addiction - I literally cannot go a day without either mentioning "The Wire," and a significant, powerful quote from the show usually stays in my head for days. But there's absolutely no shame in that - after all, David Simon's magnum opus is a masterpiece, God's gift to the Earth, and without a doubt the greatest TV show of all time. In fact, I'm proud to repeat those words to any ear, no matter how unreceptive they are to the unwarranted raving about the show.
However much I may personally enjoy it, I'm not sure how compelling it is for people to hear a fanatic like myself just rave about "The Wire." Here, I will make my most personal, level-headed, and reasonable argument for why you should watch "The Wire," and why it is the best form of art to ever grace Television.
As the ardent fan I am, I regularly check posts in the Facebook group for "The Wire," and throughout the month of April, one of the members of the group started a bracket-style tournament where people in the group voted on their favorite characters. Eventually, the poll came down to two characters who happen to be my favorite on the show: Omar Little and Reginald "Bubbles" Cousins.
The member who started the tournament, Martin, released some personal stuff going on in his life. He had recently lost a job at a company he'd been with for 19 years. Not wishing to be beaten, however, he found another job within weeks and was soon to be taking a test to be a taxi driver. And in telling the group this, he shared a quote that captured what made "The Wire" such a great show for him.
"Great art should make you a better person, and damn it if 'The Wire' didn't do just that."
In thinking about this, I realize that that reason, for me too, is why I've elevated "The Wire" above every other TV show I've ever watched, why I revere it so. And this is something that is so hard to capture in words.
I can say this assuredly: "The Wire" taught me empathy. "The Wire" taught me compassion. I know that sounds generic, but let me show you what I mean.
The character that best taught these two valuable traits to me was Bubbles. When I read the approach that actor Andre Royo used to play Bubbles, a heroin addict and police informant, he said,
"I wanted Bubbles to be human first, addict second...I wasn't trying to play the addiction. I was trying to play the person."
And that, too, stayed with me. In February, I wrote an article about why that was - and that was because the character of Bubbles and Royo's approach to playing him taught me to at least try to stop putting people in boxes and treat people with a basic sense of respect.
And that's not just this one character - it's all of them. Even though Wee-Bey, for example, is responsible for many of the murders on the first season of the show, he's still a great, loving father to his son. Even though Thomas Carcetti, the Baltimore mayoral candidate, is a politician so narcissistic that he gets aroused by his reflection in the mirror, he also genuinely cares about fixing issues. He is constantly in a state of flux between his own self-ambition and doing what's right for his city, and many times he does right for one, but there are many other small moments where he does right by the other. Even though Avon Barksdale is a West Baltimore drug warlord, he still donates $15,000 to his former employee, Cutty, to open a gym.
It was in thinking about why I liked all these characters, even though their roles mark them by society and the media as outcasts. Most of us were taught by our parents to stay away from drug dealers and drug addicts, to slow down while driving or look the other way when we're around cops. "The Wire" showed me that these are just people, every one of whom is deeply flawed, but also deeply good despite whatever dysfunction they're surrounded by or even pervade. There are very few characters in "The Wire" that are purely good or purely bad - they're in the gray area, on that wire between the two. And what the show teaches us is that above all, these aren't people aren't their jobs or what they do in society. They're people.
But then again, the one who taught me most to reserve the fury of judgment is Bubbles. He is responsible, one night, for the death of a teenager named Sherrod, when the kid shoots up battery acid. He is tormented by so much shame that the next day, he turns himself into the Baltimore Police Department Homicide Unit for the murder, and when the two detectives, Landsman and Norris, leave the room, Bubbles tries to hang himself. Fortunately, the detectives catch him before it's too late, but Bubbles hits rock bottom at that moment: he's done something he can never, ever forgive himself for.
Throughout the next year, Bubbles goes to Narcotics Anonymous meetings with his Christian sponsor, Walon. He starts volunteering at a soup kitchen, and it's there where a reporter, Fletcher, is so fascinated by Bubbles's interpersonal skills that he wants to write a feature article on him. This article makes Bubbles uncomfortable because it captures everything: his strained relationship with his sister, Sherrod, but also the good - how he treats people at the meetings and the soup kitchens. This then leads Bubbles to open up about Sherrod to at the meetings, and where he says these words:
"Ain't no shame in holding on to grief, as long as you make room for other things too."
It's moments like these that pervade the show - that taught me to look for the good in people, and not to condemn or ignore the bad, but accept it. Because after all, they're people. Notice how I've used each of the characters' names, and that's something I've carried into my daily life - using people's names when addressing them. I always feel the need to address people by their names - because that helps me stop putting them in whatever box I previously put them in.
This past year, I've grown more at 21 than I thought I would have by 30. While I opened up about my own childhood and past trauma, many others have done the same to me. No, I did not handle them perfectly and wish I said some things differently, but "The Wire" taught me the power of just being there, just listening, and a lot of times, I don't have to say anything. I don't have to give advice. Minor characters associated with the churches, like Walon and the Deacon, who embody this empathy and lack of judgment, have given me hope and a model for what I eventually wish I can be as a Christian. That's someone who wants to help people get to where Reginald, or Bubbles, did, and help them break the power of shame.
I can say it now unabashedly: to me, "The Wire" is the best show of all time because it has definitively made me a better person. I think you should watch it because I'm confident it will do the same for you, too.