Yes, I'm still new, but I can already see that devotees of The Wire are part of an intimate club. The Wire is a uniquely special show, so deliberate and intelligent that it's almost a literary experience. It starts slow, true. But as you keep watching, The Wire stops being a series of Law-and-Order story lines (notice it almost never ends in a "cliffhanger") and becomes a real, cold world populated with real, identifiable, troubled, layered people.
All great TV shows unite their viewers in a shared vocabulary -- "Let's hug it out, bitch" and "That's what she said" have become universal social signals. But The Wire created more than just catchphrases and character names; it established an entire language, a world that was complete and complex and fragile. The Wire is what J.R.R. Tolkien would've designed if he'd tackled the underworld of Baltimore instead of Middle Earth, if he'd replaced elves and dwarfs with the similarly foreign, mythologized creatures of drug dealers and cops and inner-city criminals.
And I'm only on the second season.
Speaking about The Wire to someone who hasn't seen The Wire is kind of like talking about your 21st birthday party with someone you who wasn't there -- you can tell an outsider how fun it was, but they'll never totally get how hilarious it was when you funneled moonshine on a trampoline. It's easy to gush about, but hard to explain.
Fortunately, a lot of talented people are trying: I found this great blog called "What's Alan Watching" that gives the first two seasons (so far) of The Wire an interesting treatment. The blogger writes a "Wire for Newbies" and a "Wire for Veterans" post about each episode -- the former without spoilers, the latter including broader character arcs and tie-ins to later seasons. Take away: it's such a good show this guy is watching it through TWICE.
I'll admit, The Wire didn't immediately enchant me. At first, it played slowly and I was bored with what I thought was a traditional cop show format. But I'll show you the scene that got me hooked. There is a much-lauded moment in the fourth episode of the first season where two police detectives silently solve a murder - or almost silently. I'll let Alan explain:
"'The Wire' had its own moments of gorgeous, precise employment of nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives. And nowhere is that more obvious than in the justly-celebrated scene where McNulty and Bunk go over the Diedre Kresson crime scene, uttering nothing but variations on the F-word.Don't believe me? You can watch the scene below. But be warned, the scene is great within the context of an even greater show.
"It's a goddamn symphony of profanity, is what that scene is, at once shockingly funny (as you realize just how many times the F-word is being uttered, to the exclusion of all else) and unexpectedly brilliant (as you realize that the two cops are quickly getting to the bottom of what happened here). It's almost a parody of the idea of doing a cop show on HBO, and yet it conveys so much about how smart Jimmy and The Bunk are -- and how well they work together -- that they can figure out so much about Kresson's murder and communicate it to each other using only that word."