Dylan Matthews dug up Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times’ original review of The Wire. To say the least, it hasn’t aged well.
It’s all served up in dialogue heavy with police-speak and dealer-speak, sometimes unintelligibly so. The language is supposed to be realistic and maybe it is realistic, but it often feels self-conscious, like an overly thick Southern accent. That’s too bad, because when Mr. Simon and Edward Burns, who are credited with the writing of the first five episodes, pull back a bit, they sometimes achieve a rough eloquence.
”That’s what I don’t get about this drug thing,” McNulty tells D’Angelo in the second episode. ”Why can’t you sell the stuff and walk away? You know what I mean? Everything else in this country gets sold without people shooting each other.”
The real questions about ”The Wire,” though, involve not the style, but the audience’s level of tolerance. This is a series that requires commitment; it’s difficult to imagine a viewer dropping in for, say, Episode 3, then checking back again at Episode 8.
Yet ”The Wire” doesn’t have the pulsating, addictive urgency (or the obvious good guys and bad guys) of ”24,” which just completed a spectacular first season on Fox. It shows us a more realistic version of life, complete with down time, yack sessions, drunken story-swapping. Police officers (and drug dealers) are human!
I want to be fair here. First, there weren’t a lot of shows like The Wire in 2002 and so reviewers weren’t necessarily expecting the sort of long story The Wire was offering. On the other hand, The Sopranos had already pioneered this. Second, there’s probably a lot of regrettable reviews out there of art that was later widely acclaimed. Third, it does take a few episodes to really get into The Wire, although Genzlinger seems to have watched most of the first season here.
But still, to compare it unfavorably to 24. That is a very 2002 thing to do.