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You Should Be Watching: 'The Wire'

If you seek first-rate crime drama exploring the illicit drug world, journey to Baltimore to listen in on "The Wire." With a deep cast of talented actors, intelligent writing, and brilliant directing, "The Wire" offers five gripping seasons.

Title: "The Wire"

Year it began: 2002

Where it can be seen: HBO, Amazon Prime, DirecTV

Who’s in it: Dominic West, Idris Elba, Lance Reddick, Sonja Sohn, Michael K. Williams, Wood Harris, Andre Royo, John Doman, Larry Gilliard, Jr, Clarke Peters.

Typical episode length: 57 minutes

Number of episodes to date: 60

Brief plot description: Centered on a long-term police operation compiling evidence against a heroin business, the show explores the complex individuals and institutions connected to Baltimore’s drug trade.

Why it’s worth watching: Created by celebrated police reporter David Simon, "The Wire" is a seminal law enforcement series whose gritty realism and ambitious agenda altered television.

While "The Wire" ultimately aligns viewers with law enforcement, it boldly displays the complicated humanity of all its characters. The show’s unglamorous police officers are hamstrung by a clumsy bureaucracy situated in a broadly corrupt political world. West anchors the show with his dogged but tortured Detective Jimmy McNulty, an earnest and passionate alcoholic who struggles against a system that seems designed to keep him from doing his job.

Other standout police include Reddick’s Lieutenant Cedric Daniels, a decent man navigating a dysfunctional system to keep their surveillance going; Sohn’s Kima Greggs, an ethical and fiercely devoted detective; Peters’ dapper Lester Freamon, a cynical veteran rediscovering his investigative skills; and Doman’s Major Rawls, a loathsome figure whose career reveals corruption at every level of police command.

"The Wire" offers an equally rich but troubling vision of Baltimore’s drug world. Harris powerfully portrays the intelligently paranoid kingpin Avon Barksdale, whose complex operations are co-managed by his educated and ambitious right-hand man, Elba’s “Stringer” Bell. Royo’s “Bubbles” provides a tragically endearing portrait of the junkies upon whom drug sales depend, while Williams’ stick-up man Omar Little brings style and passion to a drug world type.

The show brilliantly devotes ample time to the deeper social and institutional contexts of urban crime. One season focuses on the education system that fails so many youth, for example, while another explores the ugliness of a political system every bit as corrupt as the drug world it both profits from and condemns.

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