Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV
6 June 2022

Roddy Doyle: The Wire was not about thrills but humanity

The Irish novelist on David Simon’s landmark TV drama, republished for the show’s 20th anniversary.

By Roddy Doyle

I won’t mention Dickens or Shakespeare. I used to take part in those conversations. The Sopranos was Dickens and The Wire was Shakespeare – or the other way round. Dostoevsky was sometimes mentioned, and Zola. It was daft, really. The Wire is The Wire.

I’ve been watching it again and it is wonderful how quickly I’m drawn in, bang up against the characters. The accents have something to do with it. I have to concentrate, lean in to the screen, to catch the words, and I can see just how young those dangerous young men are – kids trying to talk like army veterans. There’s D’Angelo Barksdale (Larry Gilliard Jr), a drug dealer, looking so arrogant and frightened – and so, so young – boasting about something to his even younger troops, and I realise quite far in that it’s a murder he’s describing: he murdered a woman. That’s one of the outstanding things about The Wire, how meaning catches up as you watch.

People who have watched it will remember the scene where two cops, Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) and Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce), inspect and measure an apartment kitchen, deciding on the trajectory of a bullet that killed a young woman. The scene is extraordinary. It seems to go on for ever and it’s almost without dialogue: McNulty and Bunk just mutter, “Fuck . . . Fuck . . .” throughout. We’re watching intelligent men at work, men who are often stupid and brutish. But then there’s the realisation that the murder victim – in a case long neglected – is the very woman whose murder D’Angelo has already, almost casually, described, to kids who are charming and already lost.

What makes The Wire so good? I believe every word and gesture. I worry about the characters; I want them to turn around, change their minds. I’m a man when I’m watching The Wire, a father. I don’t want thrills. I want things to work out, decency to prevail. I know that it won’t, but the writing is so good, the characters are so – I can’t think of a better word – human, that I don’t give up on the possibility. 

This piece was originally published in 2016 as part of a series of writers on their favourite box sets.

[See also: Top Gun: Maverick and the politics of the action hero]

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
“I learn something new on every trip"
How data can help revive our high streets in the age of online shopping
Why digital inclusion is a vital piece of levelling up

Topics in this article: