If you google around for critical analysis of The Wire, what you’ll get is less “critical” or “analysis” than it is loyal rhapsodizing. To legitimise their affection, the writers tend to employ lots of words and phrases longer than are usually found in reviews of television shows. “Socio-economic”, “interconnectivity”, or “repressive political mandates” are among the crowd favourites. Many of these pieces state with varying levels of agreement that The Wire is literally The Best Show Ever—a title it still holds over a decade after the first episode aired. Articles trade in talk of exceptional nuance, deftly dealt interrogations of power structures and how unquantifiably badass Omar is (so, so badass).
And look, I totally get it. Even in this golden age of television, we’re so starved of authentic portrayals of non-white, cishet, middleclass folk that when you have a show whose “protagonist is the city of Baltimore”, features a predominantly black cast, and doesn’t demonise or oversimplify the issues it engages with, you just wanna hug the screen (and/or screenwriters) and say thank you thank you so much please never leave me. But hugs limit your perception. Certain head tilts are generally necessary to maintain that mad-satisfying embrace. And what The Wire does get stuck into: oh boy, can it be excellent. Then—because we can’t have nice things slash of course it does—comes this article by Sophie Jones. Not only does it resist the rapture; the piece calls to attention a sustained failure that demands you move the beloved show onto that “liking stuff that is problematic” shelf.
Put bluntly, the way The Wire fails pretty spectacularly is in its unwillingness to treat women as actual people. It consistently resists considering our issues as real, systemic problems that limit how female folk are able to navigate the world. Maybe you already noticed, but I did not, even after multiple rewatchings because the rest was so distractingly rad. This, in retrospect, makes it worse because the writers clearly can navigate some pretty tricky territory when they wanna. For a show that deconstructs race, class, the education system, journalism, and politics like a boss, the invisibility of lady issues feels wilful. Apparently our city of Baltimore—the protagonist—is actually a dude.