Why “The Wire” will remain relevant:
I’m not talking about the fact that the show ended in a way that could later produce a movie or a sixth season (not necessarily a good idea, but that’s not the point). The Wire will remain relevant because each episode was so enormously dense. One of the staples of the show was that nothing substantial happened for 80% of each season, and then in the last two episodes all hell would break loose. Well, in that first 80% there were so many references to Baltimore, to crime and drug policy topics, and to historical facts long forgotten by anyone else that unless you were taking notes, you’d completely miss a significant portion of the show’s intricacies.
For example, a few years ago I took a class with Professor Mark Kleiman at UCLA, where we learned about a number of policy ideas that were eventually paralleled by Bunny Colvin on the show. Kleiman, who grew up in Baltimore, once happened to mention that there was a ‘daily number’ racket run through the local paper. A mobster whose name I have long forgotten would publish the daily number, which people all over the city would bet on. If they got the number right, they’d be paid out by their bookies, and if not, the mobster would get a nice little kickback from the bookies.
In an offhand remark that I can barely remember, the architect of the ‘daily number’ racket was mentioned during an episode in Season 3. The point of the conversation was that there was a way to make money in Baltimore without getting caught (a favorite point of Prop Joe). This is one of the few Baltimore references that I actually picked up on and I can imagine that there were countless others that simply fell on deaf ears. As I was writing this piece, I tried to google the reference but its so obscure that I couldn’t find it.
The point of this all is simply to say that The Wire will remain relevant because on the first watch, you can only pick up so much beyond the plot. There were so many things in Season 5 that were foreshadowed (Kenard) or returned to (the detective who tried to throw himself down the stairs in Season 1) that without a second watch, there’s hardly a way to grasp the show’s true depth. A second or third watch will reveal those intricacies as well as the vast number of Baltimore references that undoubtedly permeate the dialogue. As far as I can tell, there’s not good way to figure out the name of that numbers racket mobster without either looking up my old professor, or re-watching the relevant episodes. So when a TV show becomes a valuable repository for a city’s history, one can only hope that the show will remain a valuable and respected resource for years to come.