Ten things I’ve learned from watching “The Wire”

The Wire

Josh Bowman writes about many of the lessons he has learned from watching David Simon’s masterpiece, The Wire.

Note: I know the show is long done, but I recently re-watched the series, and I’ve been thinking about how great it is. So here are my thoughts.

  1. Institutions like the police department, prison system, schools, government, and media will never work properly because people are not robots. For every police officer/politician/jail guard/teacher/reporter who spends time in their community, cares about their work, and acts in a legal and responsible manner, there is another who is corrupt, or prone to anger, or lazy.
  2. When you use terms like “systemic racism”, you are not just talking about one group of people being unfairly targeted by the police (although that is part of it). You are referring to a system that subtly but actively oppresses a group of people through a cycle of poverty, drug trafficking, arrests, disenfranchisement, a lack of opportunities, a lack of available healthy food options, broken schools, and group homes. Everything is tied together, everything works in a system that is nearly impossible to escape.
  3. Drinking and driving is a horrible idea.
  4. There are urban centres all over the world just like Baltimore repeating the same cyclical stories of crime, poverty, drug use, and corruption. There are ways to address the root causes, but there is no political will to do so.
  5. Character development is critical. The Wire is amazing because of Bunk, McNulty, Omar, Stringer Bell, Bubbles, Kima, Valchek, and all of the other nuanced characters it introduced. It really is one of the greatest shows on television. I really like it, you guys.
  6. Drug dealing is seen as glamorous, despite the inherent risks and danger involved, the low salaries, and the high rate of incarceration. If you haven’t seen Steven Levitt’s Ted Talk on the economics of crack dealing, watch it.
  7. One good way to avoid bad habits is to stay away from friends who enable those bad habits. I’m looking at you, Jimmy.
  8. People will surprise you. A hump who sits at his desk painting model furniture all day might be the best police officer on the force. A former cold-blooded gangster might turn his life around and help kids.
  9. Indeed. Sheeeeeeeeet. What the fuck did I do? Ain’t nothin’ like a catchphrase.
  10. The Wire worked because David Simon was thorough, passionate, and committed to it working. He had a vision that he executed brilliantly. More people might know about Two and a Half Men, but more people care about The Wire.

—Photo tulanesally/Flikr

About Josh Bowman

Josh Bowman is a professional fundraiser, story-teller, comedian, and blogger. He has worked and consulted in Vancouver, New York, and now Toronto for almost a decade. Josh improvises around Toronto, including regular shows with Opening Night Theatre, and also blogs for the Huffington Post. You can email Josh here.. If you want to know more about Josh, check this post and this post out first.


  1. Adsum Ozar says:

    After watching The Wire, most cop/lawyer/politician shows on tv just seem so dishonest and cartoonish now. The attention to all the different parts of the “working machine”, and the detail in character development was awesome. I’m afraid there won’t be another show like it ever again.

  2. I learned EVERY other TV show I’ve ever seen is rubbish!! 🙂

  3. Such dynamic characters. We find ourselves rooting for Omar, a crass, brutal street thug who personifies a modern-day urban Robin Hood, and what’s more, the character is gay which just makes him more interesting and unique. Bunk Moreland embodies the struggle of men in his personal failings, womanizing, drinking excessively, but he walks this line between decent and self-destructive with his work ethic and devotion to family. Even the bit players are great in their roles. The casting of this show perhaps outshines the writing, which is brilliant on its own. The peak of this show was Season 3, the Stringer Bell / Avon Barksdale split. The season 4 gave us some great performances from the kids and I nearly lost my mind when I randomly saw the actor who played Bodie pop up recently on a Fed Ex commercial. How can he not find a job? Totally agree the Wire is the best show I have ever watched and I’ve enjoyed the likes of Dexter, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and currently Boardwalk Empire. A close 2nd for me on television, is Louie.

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