David Simon’s landmark television series The Wire is widely regarded as one of the best shows of all time. With each season investigating a different aspect of the city of Baltimore, The Wire is a text as dense and arresting as any novel, with layers upon layers of deep characterization, symbolic meaning, and emotional appeal.
The cast of characters is wide and portrayed with startling precision: actors like Idris Elba, Wood Harris, Sonja Sohn, and Dominic West give standout performances. It is often said that The Wire is a show about institutional problems, but David Simon has also explicitly tied this theme with another—that of humanism. In an interview with Reason magazine, Simon said, “[The Wire is] cynical about institutions, and about their capacity for serving the needs of the individual. But in its treatment of the actual characters, be they longshoremen or mid-level drug dealers or police detectives, I don't think it's cynical at all. I think there's a great deal of humanist affection.”
By showing the reciprocal bonds that unite all people—drug dealers, dockworkers, politicians and police, teachers, students, lawyers and journalists—The Wire is the ultimate humanist novel. It portrays a sometimes bleak, sometimes gratifying world of individuals struggling to survive in spite of the institutions they operate within. Faith, race, class, and gender are trenchantly analyzed, stereotypes and misapprehensions are defied, and the overall humanity of every character is ultimately affirmed. Is The Wire the best humanist television series? In the words of the show’s cunning, cocksure thief Omar: “Indeed.”