The Wire is quickly becoming the subject of college courses around the country. This is only appropriate, for what I consider to be the 21st-century equivalent of Honoré de Balzac’s masterpiece.
Right now, I’m in the middle of season 3. (OK, I’m a few years late. But, please, no laughing out there. Friends, especially YM, have been pushing me to view the series for years but I don’t get HBO and it took my going on sabbatical to find the time to watch it.) And I think it’s brilliant. It’s well written and beautifully crafted, from the opening credits through the story-line, and it’s as good a realist representation of the fall of U.S. society as I’ve ever seen (comparable, in this sense, to The Sopranos, although much wider in scope).
Much has already been written about The Wire, some of it even perceptive and thought-provoking (I especially recommend the essays by Helena Sheehan and Sheamous Sweeney, Julius Caesar Scaliger, and Erick Beck).
I just want to add one comment: David Simon has done an amazing job narrativizing the ravages of capitalism without depicting capital itself. Or perhaps better: capital is the abstract, ghostly presence of much of what transpires in the worlds of politics, drugs, policing, and international trade (through season 3). The capitalists themselves exist mostly just off-screen (except, perhaps, for short appearances by “The Greek”) but the logic of capital (its calculative rationality and homogenizing economistic project) can be felt throughout the various spheres of economic and social life that characterize life in Baltimore.
In this, The Wire is better than most of the publications of academic economists, sociologists, or cultural studies scholars in documenting and elaborating a critique of the world in which we live—and therefore exactly what should be studied in a college curriculum.