I bought the complete series for The Wire on DVD. It was one of the few physical possessions that I obtained in the U.S. for myself that made the trek back to Gabon. (Contrast to Season 3 of Burn Notice which I ripped to my personal laptop and left the DVDs behind in the States.) Prior to this purchase, I had seen Season 1 and agreed with those who had recommended it that it is one of the best television shows ever made. It has a slow-cooked feel as it gradually unfolds, moving the story forward inch by inch, layering in the detail and keeping so many characters involved. It's almost designed to be a mini-series, at least Season 1 is, and perhaps subsequent seasons can be viewed as mini-series sequels. And yet it unfolds and takes you in one episode at a time like chapters of a novel. It's the type of television that can only exist on cable, and perhaps only on HBO where entire shows and seasons can be mapped and filmed prior to airing.
I am only about halfway through season 3, so it is also the halfway mark of the series as a whole. I have decided to stop listening to the commentary tracks from already-viewed episodes as it seems they are dropping in more spoilers than I care for, which is understandable, though they are series-level spoilers, not simply episode- or season-level spoilers. I'd like to savor each episode and season and eventually the series as a whole for for its craftsmanship, but I also want to burn through the entire series as quickly as possible to find out what happens. There will be subsequent viewings, then commentary tracks, then a half-assed plan to listen to French audio with English sub-titles. (Hey, whatever gets me to learn.)
In a sense, this is a cop show, as they play a central role in Season 1, and are still hold a plurality of screen time in subsequent seasons. However, the show in the eyes of the creator is about the American city, specifically Baltimore, but really any city and its machinations will do as each season of The Wire focuses on a different facet of city life (or so Wikipedia tells me since I haven't seen any of Seasons 4 and 5). The police serve as an excellent central figure since they are involved with investigating the seedy under-belly of each facet of the city seen in each season. The characters feel as real as can be, with their various wants and desires along with their flaws. There may be protagonists and antagonists in this show, but there are certainly no white knights or heroes. The quality of the acting is also superb, perhaps aided by the casting of non-big name actors, which lends them the anonymity needed to convince the audience they are the character and not merely an actor playing a character. The actor portraying the character Bubbles, the crack-addicted CI, is so into this role that he looks like he developed a crack habit for the role.
This is quality television consolidated into it's truest form, a 13.3" laptop screen. This will be fun.