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Buy from Amazon.com

HBO presents
The Wire: The Complete First Season (2002)

"I'll do what I can to help y'all. But, the game's out there, and it's play or get played. That simple."
- Omar (Michael K. Williams)

Review By: Kevin Clemons  
Published: October 11, 2004

Stars: Dominic West, Idris Elba, John Doman, Frankie R. Faison, Larry Gilliard Jr
Other Stars: Wood Harris, Deidore Lovejoy, Wendall Pierce, Lance Reddick, Andre Royd, Sonja Sohn
Director: various

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for violence, language, sexuality
Run Time: 12h:55m:41s
Release Date: October 12, 2004
UPC: 026359887321
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+A-B+ B

DVD Review

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, America all but gave up on the "war on drugs" and began to go after terrorist threats in an effort to avoid another tragedy. In other words, drugs are no longer a priority. Det. James McNulty (West) would disagree strongly, for he has dedicated his life to bringing down dealers in Baltimore's projects—his most recent bust has ended in a courtroom shocker and he is none to pleased. After all but telling the sitting judge that he was just a victim in his own courtroom, the judge begins to get every agency involved in bringing the drug ring down.

The only problem is that the criminals are just as smart, and their leader, Avon Barksdale (Harris), may be smarter than the officers assigned to bring him down. This is, in a nutshell, the story of the first season of The Wire, and to divulge more would be doing a disservice to a genuine American masterpiece. By following a trio of groups, all of which are dealing with the same case, and showing us the sides of the lawyers, the cops, and the criminals, the creators have crafted an intense and entertaining crime series.

By introducing so many characters in such rapid succession, the series demands constant attention from its viewers. It took several episodes before I found my footing, but once I had I was hooked. This is storytelling at its best, and it can easily be said that The Wire is a lot like a novel in that it unfolds at a relaxed pace with one revelation after another until a flurried climax. In fact, it is not an uncommon occurrence to see something brought up in one scene in an episode go unheard of for another three episodes. This is dramatic storytelling at its finest.

In the series pilot we are introduced to several of the characters and their place in the city of Baltimore. Very little excitement occurs in this episode, but series creator David Simon and director Clark Johnson have laid out a blueprint for the entire season, so when the next episode comes along we are ready for the meat of the story. The Wire also beautifully uses dialogue for storytelling, as several of the first episode's most important moments come simply in a conversation rather than a a set-piece of sensationalized entertainment.
By the time the case has been set into motion in the third episode, we meet the rest of the crew that we will follow through the first season. Not wanting the case to succeed, the higher-ups in the police department (assured of looking incompetent if Barksdale is put in jail on the second try) surround McNulty with a group of rookies and has-beens. Again, delving deeper into the story here would be giving too much away, further underscoring the novel like aspect of the series.

The writing here is the series' strongest asset. Simon and his staff have given their creation a hard edge while painting a world in which the criminals are just as ambiguous and volatile as those that are chasing them. In fact, everything about The Wire screams grittiness—the locations of West Baltimore are as bleak and worn down as the case and its combatants respectively.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Each episode of The Wire is presented in the same aspect ratio as its original broadcast, and this is a fine transfer. While not as eye-popping as some other HBO series on DVD, The Wire offers some vivid colors while also representing the worn down browns and grays of the streets of West Baltimore. Sharpness and detail are done nicely, giving the series a very film-like look. There were no noticeable signs of edge enhancement to speak of, and there are no signs of grain or print defects.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, French, spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix used for The Wire is average at best with much of the action relegated to the center channel. Dialogue is strong, though it does overpower the rest of the mix on occasion. The surround speakers are used sparingly for ambient sounds and music cues, while the left and right speakers are all but nonexistent. This is a good mix, just nothing special.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 7 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by David Simon, Clark Johnson, and George Pelacanos
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
6 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Three commentary tracks by writer/creator David Simon (on the pilot episode The Target), director Clark Johnson (The Detail), and Simon and writer George Pelecanos (Cleaning Up) are offered and they are each equally interesting. For the most part, they discuss the foundation of the story, how they slowly build from each previous episode, how each episode is put together by the writers. You won't walk away from these tracks with a vast knowledge of the series, but they do help to heighten interest.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

The Wire has been lost in the shuffle of other big name HBO series like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under but it is undoubtedly the best thing the network has ever offered. This is the reason to subscribe to HBO, and I am counting the days until the second season comes out on DVD. Highly recommended.


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