Just this minute watched episode 1.13 of The Wire. Yes, I am very behind on this one, and yes, I've been meaning to get to it for ages. And oh god yes, it's as good as everyone has made out.
Jimmy McNulty is working in Baltimore Homicide, and is aggrieved that anyone he catches gets off, and that none of his colleagues or anyone in the DEA even knows the name Avon Barksdale - the man running all the drugs. So Jimmy kvecthes to his mate who is a judge, and the judge sets up a special operation tailing Barksdale. But this only pisses everyone in the two departments off, so McNulty's unit is mostly a bunch of lazy, sweary no-hopers, the deadwood everyone else has been looking to get shot of for years.
Or so it seems at first...
It starts slow and for the first three episodes I just thought it was a perfectly competent cop show. Being HBO, there's sporadic nudity, violence and swearing. I know one chap who was turned off the whole thing by a scene in episode one where some cops are stupid and crude.
But firstly, it's clouding up the moralities, so there's nothing so simple as good guys and bad guys. Every one of the huge cast is morally conflicted and there's all kinds of stupidity on show due to short tempers or not giving a stuff.
Secondly, in episode four the real genius kicks in. We get scenes playing off - without spelling out explicitly - stuff we've already seen. And we're often privy to stuff that particular characters don't know: what really happened or how close they came to a lead. And yet at the same time the show holds stuff back from us, so something said earlier on in the series gets shown to be macho bluster in the last episode.
From episode four it is utterly compelling, and when they start bumping off regular characters, you genuinely have no idea where it's going to go. And I have years of this stuff still to get to - hooray!
But Charlie Brooker enthuses much better than I (and has all sorts of stuff about why it feels like a novel and has such an authentic feel):