The Wire... what next?
March 10, 2008 11:19 AM   Subscribe

The Wire's finished (wipes tear)... what do I watch/read/listen to, now ?

So I'm looking for suggestions for television, films, books etc that have the same breath and depth that The Greatest Show On Television, Ever (TM) had. Also any music in the same vein that was used in the series would be good.

An obvious place to start is one of the several novels written by the show's main writers... but I'm wondering what else might be out there that I might miss otherwise.
posted by fearfulsymmetry to Media & Arts (35 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Have you checked out the other Baltimore series? Homocide: Life on the Streets? It's on Netflix.
posted by parmanparman at 11:22 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you like the kind of non fiction writing that Simon uses in 'Homicide: a year on the killing streets', you might like 'Doctor Dealer' by Mark Bowden. Great storytelling.
posted by NekulturnY at 11:28 AM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: I actually think you may be disappointed by the Homicide TV series after having seen The Wire -- as a network show it's comparitively watered down and the last seasons were often painful for this fan to watch. That said, there is some fantastic acting from Andre Braugher among others, especially in the earlier seasons. I always considered The Wire as Homicide done right, which is saying something for what was previously one of my favorite shows ever.

I can heartily recommend David Simon's book Homicide: Life on the Streets, however, even if he uses the word "bailiwick" about 2,000 times more than I think necessary.
posted by mikeg at 11:28 AM on March 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Well, The Night Gardener by George Pellcanos, one of the writers on the show, is phenomenal and got a lot of press. So there is a suggestion for one of the novels you mentioned.

Also, you could read Simon's book Homicide. And while the scope is not as grand wide as The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Street is a great show that focuses on the Baltimore homicide unit and is based on the book. You probably know about all this alreayd, but just in case, these are the most logical places to start.
posted by Falconetti at 11:28 AM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: Other writers who have worked on The Wire include Richard Price (whose Lush Life came out fairly recently) and Dennis Lehane.

And HBO did a miniseries based on The Corner, another Simon/Burns book.
posted by box at 11:32 AM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: I've also heard good recent press about George Pelecanos's DC-based crime novels. Pelecanos is the writer of what many Wire fans consider the most emotionally-charged episodes. Here's a link to an interview with him, plus some additional questions that didn't make the cut.
posted by mikeg at 11:33 AM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: If you're interested in non-fiction, Sudhir Venkatesh's two books provide a great portrait of what happens in the inner city of Chicago. Gang Leader for a Day is more gang/drug oriented and written for a wider audience, but I personally liked Off the Books more.

Homicide is good, but not in the same class as The Wire.

The good news about the end of The Wire (if there is any) is that David Simon has at least two new projects in the works: Operation Kill, a shorter series for HBA about the Iraq war and an upcoming project on musicians in New Orleans.
posted by eisenkr at 11:41 AM on March 10, 2008

Seconding The Corner. Not great telly, but works very well as a companion piece to The Wire.

Also, you might want to check out Oz - if I remember rightly, it has quite a bit in common with The Wire, thematically if not stylistically.
posted by jack_mo at 11:54 AM on March 10, 2008

For people who want good t.v. with fantastic writing and emphasis on character development, I recommend Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars.
posted by sneakin at 11:57 AM on March 10, 2008

Also, sorry to piggyback on the question, but can any Homicide: Life on the Street fans suggest a particularly good series of the show, or should I just start at the beginning and press on?
posted by jack_mo at 11:57 AM on March 10, 2008

I loved The Corner. You should check it out if only because half the cast of the wire is in it. Fair warning, it is even more bleak and depressing than the Wire.

I don't know how it will be to watch these other two shows only after seeing the Wire. I see the Wire as a perfect combination of everything that worked in Homicide and the Corner.

Homicide: Life on the Streets was the best cop show until the Wire came around. Sure, it's not as gritty or epic as The Wire was, but it is phenomenal TV no matter what.
posted by willie11 at 12:03 PM on March 10, 2008

jack_mo: Yes, check out the Subway episode from 1997. It will be everything you need to know about the show.
posted by willie11 at 12:06 PM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: Our Friends in the North.
posted by fire&wings at 12:07 PM on March 10, 2008

Also, sorry to piggyback on the question, but can any Homicide: Life on the Street fans suggest a particularly good series of the show, or should I just start at the beginning and press on?

The First 4 seasons are good. Once they start mentioning drug kingpin Luther Mahoney, turn it off.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:11 PM on March 10, 2008

I always think of The Shield as having as much ambition as The Wire, but in a different, more conventional direction. I'd say it lacks the subtlety of The Wire, but is more visceral. Oddly, I recognise The Wire as the superior of the two, but I enjoy The Shield more.
posted by liquidindian at 12:26 PM on March 10, 2008

Thanks for the tips, willie11 and Brandon Blatcher.

Another thing just struck me: a very, very, very dedicated fan of The Wire might feel duty bound to watch, er, the last few decades of American telly plus a few British and Canadian shows. Why? The appearance of Detective John Munch in the last series places The Wire inside a fictional universe contained inside the mind of Tommy Westphall, the autistic boy from St. Elsewhere.

Here is a graphical representation of the 280 shows that can be said to exist inside Westphall's mind.
posted by jack_mo at 12:29 PM on March 10, 2008 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I haven't see it yet, but I've heard good things about State of Play, a BBC mini-series that's being adapted into a feature film with Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, and Helen Mirren.
posted by kalimotxero at 12:43 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

This may seem like a strange suggestion, but I've recently started watching "Upstairs, Downstairs" and I like it for a lot of the same reasons I liked "The Wire". I'm 3 and a half seasons into it (total of 5 seasons). The scope isn't the same, but there are some similarities in subject matter and depth of coverage.

Most of the drama has to do with class issues and the ways we're all connected and all trying to deal with the system. In this case, it's the aristocracy, the servant class, the middle class, commoners and how they all kind of fight against and embrace the system, and the consequences for all. The tone is not as bitter as "The Wire" but I still get that same feeling that the system and the institutions that support it are oppressive, overwhelming and no one can really escape. Everyone has to make compromises and no one really wins, and the show deals with a lot of issues. It does not shy away. I think it's really deep and hard-hitting. Also, I hear that it stays good through all five seasons.
posted by Danila at 12:48 PM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: Not many shows are as good as the Wire, but I think Band of brothers, Decalogue, Traffick (BBC tv), and the singing detective make the list. Other television shows for you: The 6 wives of Henry the VIII, Rome, Prime suspect, I. Claudius, The office (english version), Six feet under, Monarch of the glen, Pride and prejudice, Sopranos, new Battlestar Galactica, Curb your enthusiasm, Extras.... Enjoy.
posted by xammerboy at 12:57 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll disagree about the 'Homicide' episode to watch. What made the show great were the interrogation sessions in 'the box,' particularly with Andre Braugher leading. 'Three Men and Adena' wrapped the first season, and had a heartbreaking performance by Moses Gunn, with one of the best monologues I've ever heard. To understand the background, though, I'd say get the first season.

It is true the quality went down as the seasons went on, but the first few seasons are immense. The lack of ratings takes on a racial tinge which I prefer not to chew on.

It did not have the sort of fx 'Shield'-type anti-hero throughline which is fascinating but, to me, destructive to the spirit. It was more like 'DaVinci's Inquest,' which was good but hard to find; pragmatic rather than cruel.
posted by dragonsi55 at 1:04 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Shield. It's not the same as the Wire, not as deep, but there are some amazing episodes, especially the seasons with Glen Close and Forest Whitaker.
posted by hazyspring at 2:01 PM on March 10, 2008

I'm watching State of Play right now. It's only six hours but my GOD it is good.
posted by The Bellman at 2:36 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I actually just wrote something about this for work, it's a list of Wire type books from the obvious to the not so much so. It technically doesn't go up until tomorrow, but you can read it here.
posted by drezdn at 2:51 PM on March 10, 2008

Deadwood. Season 2 of Deadwood is better than all 5 of the Wire combined imo.
posted by dobbs at 3:27 PM on March 10, 2008

Oh, and I tried to watch Homicide for the first time last week. I watched the first three episodes of season one and gave up. Superbly boring. I'll say the same for The Shield, though again I only watched the first few eps of season one. The lead actor is atrocious.
posted by dobbs at 3:29 PM on March 10, 2008

Nthing The Corner, though also the comment that it's bleaker than The Wire. I think it also sort of manages to finish on a slightly more positive note than you might expect.

Apart from that, I have to say, and despite how much really good TV I feel I watch, there's just nothing else that can take that spot from The Wire.

Maybe the Adam Curtis documentaries, telling some of the same truths about the world as David Simon. The Trap for instance, which looks at how game theory and thus our target oriented work/lifestyles are responsible for a lot of the problems The Wire highlights - the demise of the working class, people being worth less and so forth.

I used to watch Homicide, but got very, very bored with it some way in. It didn't do enough of the broad look at life, and ended up feeling more like another NYPD type show.

Oh, I've only seen season 1, but Deadwood I would recommend. It's not The Wire though... Goddamnit!
posted by opsin at 4:20 PM on March 10, 2008

The West Wing.
posted by neuron at 5:35 PM on March 10, 2008

Nthing state of play.

If you like the bleak-display-of-corruption-in-the-real-world though you MUST watch Between The Lines. It is the British version of the Wire: and while not quite as good, it has its own spectacular nexus of the real grit, real-life cynicism/romance, good intentions and systems gone bad and character develoment you are referring to.

"For three seasons, Tony Clark, Harry Naylor and Maureen O'Connell investigated corruption in the police force and beyond it. For the first two years they worked within the Complaints Investigation Bureau but in the final they were forced into the private sector. How that happened, we'll come to later. It was a superb programme combining intrigue, moral dilemmas and uncomfortable insights into the realpolitik underpinning the establishments we were supposed to trust. The regular characters were memorably played by a group of very talented actors, the programme's production values were always high and the whole series was guided by the strong vision of it creator J C Wilsher and executive producer Tony Garnett."

Not on, but it is on sale on

A description including spoilers

The episode Big Boys rules still amazes me: the cop-turned spymaster Deakin is one of the more memorable characters on the small screen.
posted by lalochezia at 6:24 PM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: Stop.

Go pick up a copy of Richard Price's 1992 novel Clockers. Someone mentioned him above (he started writing for The Wire after the 2nd season), but that book is cited very specifically by David Simon as influential in creating the show's worldview. It's an amazing, gripping, gritty novel - very, very Wire-like, with an ensemble cast of fascinating characters and lots of sociological detail about inner-city life, police work and drug-dealing. In an understandable coincidence, the National Book Critics Circle just finished a week-long retrospective about it; here's fellow writer George Pelecanos on why Clockers is such a great book:

I had read some of Richard Price’s stuff before and liked it a lot. But I was unprepared for what I got with Clockers. It was really unlike anything else I’d read. The main difference is its understanding of the sociological aspect of crime. It had never been so explicitly a part of the crime novel as it was in Clockers. You knew that this guy went out there and did a tremendous amount of research, and it wasn’t book research. It was street time. And he understood how everything worked. It was novelistic journalism, without getting on a soapbox and saying, “Society has wronged these kids and that’s why they’re out there.” You got it without that, because of the depth of the reportage...

David [Simon] and I have talked about this many times--we think that Clockers is The Grapes of Wrath of our generation. And I really feel that way. I think it’s as important a book. I was first on board [on The Wire] for a couple of years, and David said to me, do you think we can get Price? Because we both look up to him, specifically because of that book. The Corner and The Wire wouldn’t have happened without Clockers.

And here's fellow Wire-ite Dennis Lehane on the book, which he calls "one of the few Great American Novels in the North American canon."

Honestly, it's one of the best fiction books I've ever read. Price's Freedomland treads similar ground but falls apart in the last half; I can't recommend it nearly as highly.

I never bothered to watch the Spike Lee version of Clockers because the book was just so fucking great in my head (I later found out that Price didn't much like what Spike Lee did with it - after Scorcese and De Niro dropped out to do Casino). But seriously - *nothing* anyone will recommend in this thread will give you the Wire feeling you'll get from reading Clockers.
posted by mediareport at 6:37 PM on March 10, 2008 [7 favorites]

West Wing, the.
posted by oxford blue at 2:09 AM on March 11, 2008

Nthing the recommendation of Clockers. Really wonderful book.

And someone earlier mentioned the West Wing. After watching Carcetti, the West Wing will be a show you will come to loathe deeply as being a complete fantasy. Terribly entertaining but with about as much of a hold on reality as Star Wars.

I'm surprised no one else has mentioned this film yet, but I would highly recommend an early 90's movie to you. Fresh which feels like it could have been an episode set in Season 4: it's the story of a brilliant 12 year old in Scarsdale who works for a couple of dealers while trying to stay in school, trying to make a connection with a deeply broken father who can view life only as a chess game, and trying to stay under the radar. And then everything falls apart. For me, it's hard to describe the movie without spoiling some great surprises and twists so I'll leave the description basic. And the ending is one of the most quietly emotional moments I've ever seen in cinema.

I've never seen Simon & Co claim this movie as an influence but I can't see how it wasn't one. The cinematography, the quietness at times, the use of great child actors in a natural language, and even the use of chess to describe "the game", was wonderful in this movie and the Wire ended up with a very similar look and feel. The Season 1 chess references could have almost have been lifted from this movie.
posted by pandaharma at 2:19 AM on March 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Some great stuff here...

Just stumbled on this article which has literary suggestions to follow on from The Wire... it mentions many of the books mentioned above.

And of, what I've already seen, nthing The Corner, State of Play and especially Our Friends In The North. The latter is probably the best British television program I've ever watched, and you'd have to go to something like The Singing Detective to match it... I now remember the final sequence gave me similar feelings to when each series of The Wire finished.

I'd also recommend Holding On, esp for those that liked State of Play and The Street which had a similar multiple stories vibe (though it lost it in the second series imho)

And I suppose the ur-texts for all this are Bonfire Of The Vanities and Bleak House... the fairly recent BBC television adaptation was excellent
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:36 PM on March 11, 2008

I second the recommendation for Simon's book The Corner.
posted by stratastar at 12:09 PM on March 15, 2008

As you say, obvious choice, but Lush Life got a good review in The Economist this week.
posted by tomw at 4:07 AM on March 25, 2008

Just bopping over from the podcast. For something that is not up to The Wire's high standards, but which may still give you a crime drama fix, you might look into the Canadian TV show Intelligence. It definitely lacks the Wire's scathing political commentary, but it does have some pretty complex plotting and some good acting (with a cast including Matt Frewer, TV's Max Headroom). It's also kind of funny to watch as a Canadian analogue to the Wire - the criminals depicted smuggle weed instead of heroin, and are generally polite to one another even as they get into gangland wars and so on. I'm not sure whether it's available on DVD but it can be found floating around the usual places online.

As for the other suggestions, The Corner is incredibly good as an appendix to The Wire and I agree with the assessments above. I've watched a bit of Oz, and it seems pretty inconsistent to me; I'm sure it was revolutionary in its day but I don't think it's aged all that well. It is kind of fun to watch just to see the astounding number of Wire cast members who were also in it, though. I enjoy The Shield, though it's kind of a guilty pleasure. And I can't stand The West Wing.
posted by whir at 12:48 AM on March 27, 2008

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