'The Wire': Read THR's Original 2002 Review

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Dominic West in 'The Wire'

"'The Wire' presents characters largely devoid of conscience or compassion"

In 2002 HBO premiered David Simon’s 'The Wire.' The Baltimore-set crime drama ended up spanning five seasons, and to this day is considered by many to be one of the best television shows ever created. On May 30, 2002, The Hollywood Reporter published its review of the show's debut, with critic Barry Garron highlighting 'The Wire's' aggressive use of language and calling its violence so brutal that “viewers may be reluctant to return.” You can read the review in full below.

Cable’s (and particularly HBO’s) fascination with gritty crime drama continues with a 13-episode Baltimore-based series from former crime reporter David Simon and former detective Edward Burns. This is the same team that created HBO’s The Corner a couple years ago.

Like The Corner, this series paints a detailed and often depressing picture of life on the mean streets. But where The Corner searched the souls of its troubled characters to find an underlying humanity, The Wire presents characters largely devoid of conscience or compassion who are guided mainly by ambition or expedience. Despite solid acting and several interesting twists and turns, viewers may be understandably reluctant to return each week to the scene of these ugly crimes.

Read more From the Archives: Read THR's Classic TV Reviews

The story starts in a courtroom where, once again, a gang member beats a murder rap after a key witness is pressured into changing her testimony, a development obvious to everyone except the jury. Afterward, Detective James McNulty (Dominic West) tells the judge (Peter Gerety) that this is only the latest in a long list of cases in which gang members literally have gotten away with murder. The judge requests a special investigation. A special unit is assembled, mostly with the undesirable castoffs from other sections of the police department.

In this and succeeding episodes, the team’s herky-jerky police work unfolds against a backdrop if departmental politics and pressures that put preservation of the bureaucracy above protection of the public. At the same time, we get the perspective of the gang and its ruthless and violent leaders, a group so brutal they make Tony Soprano’s clan look like the Waltons.

The dialogue is awash in a sea of profanity which, although hard to follow at times, is presumably faithful to the notion that, for these characters, the shortest distance between a noun and a verb is a straight expletive. The story doesn’t require much in the way of nudity. As if to compensate, a strip club serves as the seat of the gang operations. After all, this isn’t television, it’s HBO.

Read more 'The Wire': Where Are They Now?

West’s McNulty is charismatic and heroic enough to hold viewers’ interest, but just barely. Also leading the forces of good is task force member Shakima Greggs (Sonja Sohn), a detective whose potential as a love interest is limited by her preference for other women. Director Clark Johnson sets a dark and dangerous tone in the opener, coaxing solid performances from the cast, many of whom are alumni of The Corner and HBO’s prison drama, Oz. Production design captures the look and feel of a lawless urban battleground and a police force mired in municipal bureaucracy. — Barry Garron

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