An ode to The Wire

I miss this show. At the same time, I understand why David Simon et al drew the line at five seasons. It’s hard to maintain such a high standard over a prolonged period of time  – indeed I thought season 5 was probably the weakest season. That said, it was in my view no worse than the fifth best season of a television series ever shown. It’s hard for me to take other police shows seriously now.

One of the things that I do now is to spread the word about the masterpiece that is The Wire. I was first given season 1 on DVD in 2005, and was pretty much instantly hooked. (In its infinite wisdom, Television New Zealand has screened the show, usually around midnight. In any case, having commercial breaks in between would no doubt have driven me batty.) During the halycon days of seasons 3 and 4, a couple of North American colleagues and I would sometimes avidly discuss the show at our daily Faculty morning teas, leaving some of our other colleagues wondering why we were discussing West Baltimore versus East Baltimore, and just who Lester Freamon, Bunk, McNulty, Stringer Bell and Omar Little were. (Incidentally, I am often similarly lost at morning tea when the topic of conversation wanders into such private law gems as waiver of tort and principles of agency.)

Since then, several more of my colleagues have been persuaded to start watching (thank me later, HBO). My advice is usually to put the subtitles on – the New Zealand vernacular and accent have little in common with that of Baltimore.

Also, having met various academic colleagues at conferences and other events overseas, I am surprised how often The Wire arises in conversation. What accounts for this apparent popularity amongst the legal academy? Perhaps part of it can be put down to some of the classic depictions of law through the five seasons. The examples that come to mind are Omar’s courtroom confrontation with Maurice Levy, Kima and co satisfying the legal requirements for obtaining a wiretap, and the various depictions of police interrogation (the xerox-machine-as-polygraph incident, presumably a recreation of an incident David Simon described in Homicide, is a personal favourite). Quite apart from this, some of the themes – most obviously the futility of the war on drugs – have obvious connections to the law.

Actually, it seems to me that The Wire would be ripe for some law and literature-style scholarship. Is anyone aware of any?

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5 Responses

  1. Howard Wasserman says:

    I wrote something a few months ago on the show, saying I wish they had come back for a sixth season focused more on the judicial system, because they seemed to have been the one group that could have portrayed the judicial system on TV with even a modicum of accuracy. I have shown the Omar trial scene to my Evidence class; it has great examples of various modes of impeachment.

  2. John Ip says:

    Thanks Howard, although it appears that we may disagree over which season was the greatest. One of my colleagues who teaches evidence also uses the Omar/Levy exchange in class – I should go along once to gauge the class reaction.

  3. Bruce Boyden says:

    I haven’t seen The Wire — it’s on my “To Watch” list — but I’m a huge fan of Homicide, the TV series. I’m curious whether the character “Bunk,” whoever that is, is related to Junior Bunk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4k238Qy3wo (warning — massive spoiler at that link)

  4. Ralf Michaels says:

    Law and literature indeed.
    Imani Perry of the Center for African American Studies here at Princeton (and formerly a Professor at Rutgers Law) has a law-and-literature-style draft on the third season entitled “6 Boys: Who Learned on the Corner When Headstart Wasn’t Enough” for a special issue of a journal dedicated to the Wire.

  5. iba says:

    I am actually going to write a paper on The Wire for a Law and Literature academic course, focusing on the relationship between justice, authorities and the street. if you have any link or idea on the topic you would like to share with me, it’d be useful
    thank you!