People, I love you, but you have got to stop comparing everything on TV to The Wire.
Here are some things otherwise wonderful people say every day:
“Breaking Bad was good, but I still think The Wire was better.”
“Homeland definitely isn’t as good as The Wire.”
“True Detective is so good, it might be better than The Wire…. actually, no, I still think The Wire was better.”
#1: When was the last time you watched The Wire?
Unless you are a habitual re-watcher like me, it’s probably been years since you’ve seen an episode. Let me enlighten you: some things about it hold up well, and some things don’t. (Chess monologue, anyone? Really, you’re going to go fight me over the chess monologue?)
#2: Do you remember what television was like in 2002?
The reason that people are still talking about The Sopranos isn’t that it’s remained the best show that’s ever been on TV. “Best Show Ever” isn’t like your high school track record, which stays up on the gym wall forever. (Yours, okay. Not mine.) The Sopranos was groundbreaking in its time for elevating the hour-long drama to the cinematic quality we expect today. However, being the first to do something means that everyone who comes after you has the chance to do it better.
#3: Television evolves and builds on itself.
To me, creative mediums are like giant snowballs. Each generation adds to what the previous generation added to the previous generation’s work, and so on. That’s why I think it sucks when people say things like, “Music was so much better in the ’60s.” NOTHING was better in the ’60s. People were making fruit salads with MAYONNAISE. Thank God we’ve evolved.
Likewise, TV has evolved since The Wire and built upon what it achieved. Homeland found a more compelling way to incorporate surveillance footage in a narrative. Breaking Bad oozed with empathy for its young drug dealer. House of Cards made the lives of journalists and politicians a hell of a lot more interesting.
And that’s not to say that The Wire failed in any way, or that it isn’t an extraordinary work. I don’t know of an equally acclaimed series that’s employed such a diverse cast in so many varied roles. Granted, that’s partially due to the nature of the show.
#4: The Wire was a very specific type of show.
I loved it, but let’s be real: at the end of the day, The Wire was a cop drama. It was an excellent one, but still, there are limitations on what that type of show can be, or at least what this one chose to be. For example, it had like thirty thousand characters and story lines going on and spent a restricted amount of time on each of them. Remember that season when we barely saw McNutty?
Current TV dramas tend to spend more time with fewer characters, and have at least one tremendously praised episode where they lose all characters but two, like Mad Men‘s “The Suitcase” or Breaking Bad‘s “Fly.” It’s a stylistic choice, but it also builds on The Wire‘s excellent characterization, those slow scenes where characters were waiting in cars and on street corners and ended up revealing themselves. The Wire couldn’t have an episode like “Fly,” because The Wire didn’t exist yet as a foundation for that kind of writing.
#5: It wasn’t even that pretty.
Current TV leans towards visually striking, as more and more renowned film directors and cinematographers gravitate towards the medium. Not that it wasn’t well-shot, but The Wire leaned more towards a documentary style that didn’t aim to call attention to itself. Compared to True Detective‘s sweeping shots of the bayou and six-minute tracking shot, it was fairly reined in.
#6: I mean, what’s the point of comparing things, anyway?
Here’s where we reach the sticky part in all of this: “good” or “best” is going to mean something different to everyone when it comes to TV. Hell, a lot of America likes Two and a Half Men. I don’t get it, but I will nod politely when someone’s father tells me he likes it.
In general, however, I don’t think that comparing The Wire to a critically-acclaimed drama that’s currently on TV is comparing apples to apples. It’s not apples to oranges, either. It’s more like comparing your much-loved, worn-in sneakers to a newer pair, one with a slightly updated design and improved arch support. What’s the point of ignoring the fact that we’re moving forward?
Besides, Game of Thrones is way better, anyway.