The Wire is the greatest television drama of all time ever. Everyone says that because it's true.
I prefer drama that is complex, truthful, emotional, treats me like an adult and says something about the world, so this is perfect for me. It is never preachy and always entertaining. If 'entertaining' is the right word. Sure it's often funny but it's also often scary as well. Not fake horror scares but the fear you get when characters you have got to know and care about are put into danger.
Co-creator David Simon wrote the source book for Homicide - Life on the Streets, which also held the "best TV drama of all time" title until The Sopranos and Six Feet Under came along to fight amongst themselves for it. He became an Emmy winning screenwriter on the show and interestingly, the other writers on The Wire come from books too. Which was more than a little annoying as it destroyed my "novelists make crap screenwriters theory" and I really, really liked that theory.
Just when I thought the series couldn't possibly get any better it did. In season four the interweaving storylines seem a bit more assured and the pace feels faster. The series has relatively low ratings on HBO but it was commissioned for a fifth and final season as soon as the network saw the first episode, or perhaps saw the universal media acclaim that derived from that first episode.
The show isn't for everyone, just as ordinary television is called chewing gum for the eyes, The Wire is a five course meal requiring the savouring of every last morsel and that takes a bit more effort. I never watch it live but tape it as there's so much going on, and I don't want to miss a word.
The series starts off with four kids just being kids and then you see the pressures on them to leave school and become involved in illegal drug-dealing. We also see the cops, teachers and the boxing coach who try and prevent that happening to them. Everything is politics, not just with the council and the mayoral elections, but with the school, the police and, of course, on the street. The drug dealers run businesses like any other business but when they fire people it's a little more permanent.
You don't have to have seen the previous series' to enjoy this. The two articles below give a background to the show and explain things much better than I can.
The Wire, season 4 FX, Tuesday 13 February, 10:00pm (repeated Monday 00:20am plus on FX+2 time shift)