YMMV: The Wire

  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Unsurprisingly for an HBO drama, the show is full of this:
    • Is Jimmy McNulty the Only Sane Man in a city full of police officers who have lost their way, or is he a dangerously unhinged Knight Templar with no regard for the law?
    • Is Stringer Bell a coldly pragmatic criminal mastermind who only cares about profit, or is he a Noble Demon who tries to bring some much-needed dignity and integrity into the criminal underworld that he was born into? In the end, did he meet a Karmic Death after telling one lie too many, or did he meet a tragic death after futilely trying to rise above his station in life?
    • Is Omar Little a bona fide modern-day Robin Hood (and the closest thing Baltimore has to a genuine hero) or is he just another crook who profits off of the drug trade and causes chaos for the simple thrill of it?
    • Tommy Carcetti. He's either a sellout, a narcissist who ultimately only cares about himself and his career, or a well-meaning politician who is forced to make compromises due to events beyond his control.
    • Baltimore, which is a character by itself. Is the town a forsaken post-industrial rotten apple that never found a new drive, or just a deeper of examination of ''the'' American City, and by extension America? The writers go beyond that and affirm that Baltimore represents any city of the Western civilization.
  • Anvilicious / Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped:
    • Bunny Colvin's "legal drug zone" and the results thereof, reducing violent crime by 14% only for the plan to be struck down and Colvin forced to resign due to a PR shitstorm, seems to be a commentary on how the War on Drugs is a complete failure... but doing anything to stop it is political suicide.
    • While they are well crafted into the general theme about dysfunction, the metaphors about The War on Terror in general and the then ongoing Iraqi War (season 3 was produced in 2004) in particular are not subtle by the standards of the The Wire. But then again, many would agree than Simon's vision was Vindicated by History, if not right from the beginning.
      Slim Charles: Don't matter who did what to who at this point. Fact is, we went to war, and now there ain't no going back. I mean, shit, it's what war is, you know? Once you in it, you in it. If it's a lie, then we fight on that lie. But we gotta fight.
  • Award Snub: The Wire didn't win a single Emmy and was nominated for only two (for writing). This despite routinely being the subject of gushing critical praise and more than once being declared the Best Show Ever.
    • Most fans suppose the reason for this is that the Emmy nominations are done on the strength of a single episode that the producers submit to the judges, and this show simply cannot be properly appreciated by any single episode, but only by looking at the story as a whole.
  • Better on DVD: It's an HBO drama, what would you expect? In fact it's almost incorrect to call this thing a TV show, DVD really serves it that much better.
    • Quite possibly a large part of the reason why the show didn't make a big impact during its initial run (despite being showered with critical and cult adoration from early on), finding greater success on DVD.
  • Big Lipped Alligator Moment: In the episode "The Wire," Avon and Stringer enter the Pit in slow motion and scored with music, a blatant violation of the show's rules about a lack of any artificial storytelling techniques except for the montages at the end of each season. Nothing like it ever happens anywhere else, making it even weirder on rewatch.
  • Broken Base: Season two and season five, which shifted the focus from the drug trade to different arenas in Baltimore. Season four, which added a focus on city schools, tends to be rather well liked.
    • Season two's focus on the Southeast Baltimore docks and the Sobotka family. A number of fans praise it for its unconventional focus on the decline of a profession while also giving an introduction to an overlooked profession, while other viewers dislike it because it takes attention away from the West Baltimore drug trade that the rest of the series revolves around.
      • Some are convinced that David Simon had shifted to the dock in response to criticism that the focus on urban black culture alienated white audiences. The ratings bump can be read either way.
      • The flipside argument for season 2's mostly white cast is that the show needed to show a predominantly white crime conspiracy at least once, as otherwise the show would have been interpreted as fundamentally about race instead of Simon's preferred focus on class. While the large number of middle-to-upper-class black characters on the side of law may be enough of an indicator that class is bigger than race, other seasons tend to show predominantly black criminal gangs.
    • Season five's focus on the press, slight shift from stark realism to dark humour, and some character personality changes, were also criticized by some in the base.
      • The Baltimore Sun storyline also garnered perhaps the most criticism the show ever got, with the characters accused of being unusually flat, and David Simon appearing to mostly use it as an excuse to air his dirty laundry about the issues he had while working at the paper (his Author Avatar Gus Haynes is a positively saintly bastion of virtue struggling against the corruption surrounding him).
  • Commitment Anxiety: One of the reasons why the show wasn't more successful.
  • Complete Monster: Marlo Stanfield, the Big Bad in seasons 4 and 5, is introduced in season 3 as a ruthless, up-and-coming drug lord who forgoes a membership in a profitable coalition of drug lords who teamed up to increase their profit, end the violence between their factions, and deter police attention, and instead decides to wage war against the Barksdale organization after the gang's Number Two made the offer, interpreting his pragmatism as weakness. Marlo's crimes include ordering Junebug and his family killed because there was hearsay Junebug called Marlo a "dick-sucker"; ordering Snoop to kill his 14-year-old soldier, Michael on the suspicion he was a rat; and murdering his mentor, Proposition Joe, when he learns everything he could from him. The most horrifying reveal about Marlo is the discovery of his tombs, vacant houses where he stores the preserved bodies of people he ordered murdered. Over twenty people were found in the tombs, and not just rival criminals. One of his most pointlessly cruel acts was after he deliberately egged on a security guard in a convenience store by committing petty theft in front of him. Though the guard only responded by telling Marlo he had a family to support, and essentially asked for nothing more than to be treated like a human being, Marlo still ordered him killed for "talking back." In a crime series where even the most despicable criminals were humanized and sympathetic to some degree, Marlo Stanfield was just a power-hungry sociopath whose mere presence darkened an already pessimistic show known for its Grey and Gray Morality.
  • Creator's Pet: Gus Haynes, an obvious stand-in for David Simon whose Incorruptible Pure Pureness sticks out like a sore thumb.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: A bit of a subversion, but nonetheless present for some viewers. While the circumstances behind the Baltimore setting isn't entirely hopeless and tragic, the sheer number of well meaning characters struggling to get by getting chewed up and spit out, while the more conniving ones get by scott free with heinous crimes and corruption can leave even the most optimistic viewers crying out "enough already". It's easy to assume that this was a deliberate, calculated move on David Simon's part, just to paint the horrible reality behind "The War on Drugs" in all of its gruesome, hard-to-watch complexity, but it's still tough for any sensible viewer to take in large doses.
    • Simon has said he inserted quite a bit more humor into the show than was really warranted, just to keep it from being too depressing for anyone to watch.
  • Death of the Author: There have been some arguments that the creator's stated message and moral for the show is not the same as the message that many viewers infer. There was even a Harvard symposium that addressed this at one point. This is probably because the show's depiction of Baltimore's social structure is so realistic and detailed that it presents realities that are open to a wide variety of interpretations. It's fairly easy for a viewer to come to a different conclusion than David Simon's (mostly left-wing) views.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: Inevitable given the moral complexity of the show. The criminals are so nuanced and three-dimensional that it's easy to forget they can be very bad guys. The charismatic Stringer Bell, a man trapped between two worlds, is a main example. Being played by Idris Elba also helps.
  • Ensemble Darkhorse:
    • Omar Little. Even Barack Obama has called him his favorite character. Dennis Lehane revealed that he was given the duty of writing Omar's death scene specifically because none of the other writers wanted to be known as the guy who killed Omar.
    • Slim Charles is also very popular for a relatively minor character.
    • During a premier party for Season 5's debut, the loudest cheer for cast/character accrediting went to Michael B. Jordan/Wallace.
    • Pryzbylewski, for some.
    • Senator Clay Davis. In seasons 1 and 2 he's mostly a One-Scene Wonder any time he appears, in seasons 3 and 4 he's much more involved in some of the series' subplots and finally in season five he's a regular cast member appearing in most episodes and even having one mostly devoted to tying up his storyline.
    • Bodie too.
    • Felicia Pearson/Snoop. The opening scene of Season 4 when she bought a nailgun probably had something to do with that.
  • Evil Is Cool:
    • Prop. Joe, Avon and Stringer are highly competent, have more than a fair share of instrospective and quotable dialogue and benefit from superb and naturalistic acting, which turns them into magnetic characters without harming the realism, as they don't rely on over-the-top exploits, just their deep personality.
    • Omar is undoubtedly cool, but it's left up to the viewer to classify him as evil or not. Brother Mouzone, another smooth operator who doesn't target civilians is a similar case.
    • Among the major players, Marlo is probably the one who avoids the trope, as he's very cold, aloof and unsophisticated. But even Stanfield is given a shining moment when he single-handedly bests two corner punks in the finale.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: We get a lot of looks into the culture of the Baltimore P.D., including some of its more violent tendencies—and then, early in Carcetti's tenure as Mayor, there's an incident where the police culture is brought into question after a minister gets the wrong end of it and the suggestion that a civilian review board be established be brought up and politicking between the State's Attorney and police about what to do. Fast forward to 2015: the death of Freddie Gray brings that selfsame culture of the BPD to national attention, and the result is protests across Baltimore City (and even Baltimore County) and riots in West Baltimore; proposals for stronger civilian review of police brutality; the State's Attorney filing charges of murdernote  against one of the cops responsible and serious manslaughter charges against the rest; and the federal Department of Justice starting a "pattern and practice" inquiry into the BPD at the Mayor's request. Oh, and Martin O'Malley (of whom Carcetti is generally seen as being something of a No Celebrities Were Harmed version)—he was running for President on the left wing of the Democratic Party at the time. The incident drew attention to O'Malley's role in creating the BPD's culture during his tenure as Mayor (particularly his acceptance of the systems that encouraged stats-juking), shifting him from being a long-shot candidate to no-shot.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Rawls is very angry in the first episodes because the Deputy is "busting his balls" over some case he has no clue about. Once the viewer learns how overbearing Rawls is, it's funny and gratifying to hear that for once, someone is sweating Rawls and giving him a hard time.
    • Lester Freamon, likely the best detective of the story, is dismissed as a hump or a cuddly house cat in the first episodes. Little do they know he's natural police.
    • McNulty picking up the waitress in season 2, after Dominic West got a whole show about his character cheating on his wife with a waitress, The Affair. And he clashes once again with John Doman, who is his father-in-law. Just think about a family reunion with Rawls and McNulty.
    • After playing a perpetual screw-up cop here, Jim True-Frost would play the straightest of straight-arrow cops Eliot Ness in Boardwalk Empire.
    • We finally get to see Avon and Wallace together in the Rocky spin-off film Creed.
  • Ho Yay:
    • Herc and some gangsters are messing around with the Make-a-Face program at the station, making their ideal girl. Carver then walks out and the camera subtly highlights the similarity. Not to mention Herc and Carver reuniting in season two.
      Carver (from off-camera): Don't you be grabbin' my dick, faggot!
    • When Carver is promoted in the finale, his family is nowhere to be seen. Herc is there instead, quick to congratulate and embrace him first.
    • In episode 5 when McNulty gets so excited that Prez has solved the phone number code that he grabs Prez and kisses him on the mouth.
    • If it weren't for Herc and Carver, Bunk might just be the patron saint of Ho Yay.
    Bunk: Fuck Norris. You're my real partner Lester. My life partner. (*Norris laughs)
    Lester (*starts to walk away): Don't tease, bitch.
    Bunk (*to Norris): Look at that bow-legged motherfucker. I made him walk like that.
    • And Avon and Stringer have a Heterosexual Life-Partners dynamic in the first season, which gets strained in the second when Avon is in prison and Stringer figuratively gets into bed with Prop Joe without telling Avon, which is treated like Stringer having an affair behind Avon's back. In the third season, they play traditional gender roles; Stringer is the distant "husband" who arrives suitcase in hand, late and tired after a day's work, while Avon is the "housewife" who stays at home taking care of it and of the internal problems.
  • Hype Backlash: Inevitable given its extensive praise as '"The greatest show ever" and the fact that it most definitely is not for everyone
  • It Gets Better: Newcomers will be likely overwhelmed by the staggering number of characters and the molasses slow exposition that unfolds during the first season. The exact point when new viewers' opinion of the show crosses over from "above-average cop drama" to "GREATEST SHOW EVAH!!!" varies - from a few episodes to the entire first season.
  • Magnificent Bastard:
    • Stringer, Proposition Joe, and McNulty attempt it at various times, with various levels of success.
    • Clay Davis is more successful than all of them, carrying out his corrupt schemes and getting away with them scot-free.
    • He's lower-key than the other examples, but Freamon quietly maneuvers with the best of them, usually right under everyone else's noses.
    • The biggest in the series, however, is probably the Greek. In spite of all the shit he's involved in, the cops can only connect him with a nickname. Of course, he's not even Greek.
    • Valchek deserves some credit for being the last man standing. He's not "one of the natives" and never moves a finger to improve the city, but he's very good at playing politics and no matter what he does or how much of a jerkass he is, he always gets away with it and winds up rising in the ranks.
  • Magnum Opus: A quite popular choice for the single greatest television series ever made. Alan Sepinwall has remarked that when people tell him they're about to watch it for the first time, it's in a tone more suited to a religious awakening because its reputation is just that intimidating. It's such a Tough Act to Follow that every other single work made by David Simon can't really stand the comparison despite their inquestionable quality and authorial uniqueness.
  • Memetic Badass: Omar and Brother Mouzone, in-universe.
    • It doesn't help that Mouzone perfectly fits the description of the suspect accused of killing Notorious BIG.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • "Where's (insert name of thing here) at?"
    • "Omar coming!"
    • "It's all in the game."
    • "Sheeeeeeeeeeeit." There have been posters made parodying the famous Obama Hope poster, with Davis replacing Obama and the word SHIT replacing HOPE.
    • Basically, any and all of the Catch Phrases listed above.
    • "Got that WMD!"
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • For Stringer: What he does to Wallace. And if that doesn't convince you, arranging D'Angelo's death. Dee was one of the only completely likeable members of the Barksdale gang and was on the way up education-wise at The Cut. Then Stringer has him killed and makes it look like a suicide just because he's afraid of Dee ratting to lower his sentence, and he does so without Manipulative Bastard Avon's consent. Not to mention the fact that before and after the hit he spends a lot of the time fucking D'Angelo's girlfriend, and even has the balls to pick up and hold D'Angelo's infant son while he's plotting to have his dad murdered. Holy shit.
    • Carcetti goes from being a decent candidate with ambition not only for high office but also to make a difference, to leading an administration perhaps more morally bankrupt than the one that preceded him. His corruption is complete when he refuses to ask for money from the Republican governor to save the city's education system as this will hurt him politically when he runs against the governor, abandoning the city he promised to save.
      • AND THEN, after justifying the above decision by saying he can help the schools from a better position, when he begins his race for governor, he promises half of any new school funds created in the state to be sent to Prince George's County just to avoid a primary challenge.
    • Marlo was never very far from it to begin with, but all of his early killing were at least related to The Game. Then, in season 4, he deliberately shoplifts a $.25 lollipop while making eye contact with the security guard just to tweak him. When the man confronts him outside the store and basically asks to be treated like a human being, Marlo blows him off. And then has him murdered.
      Marlo: You want it to be one way, but it's the other way.
  • Offending the Creator's Own: Simon, who is Jewish himself, caught a lot of flak for creating such a stereotypically villainous Jewish character as Maurice Levy.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Michael B. Jordan has become easily the most successful of the show's younger actors, making it pretty fun to see him so young here.
  • The Scrappy:
    • Kenard. Probably the only justified example of one.
    • Ziggy
    • Templeton
    • Herc
  • Strawman Has a Point: Baltimore Sun Managing Editor Thomas Klebanow tells Gus Haynes he doesn't like his profanity. We're supposed to see Klebanow as the bad guy because of the cuts to personnel that have been occurring (and he was based on a real person that David Simon reportedly hated), but he's correct that professional settings call for a certain decorum, and as the boss he is perfectly within his rights to request that and expect his instructions to be obeyed.
  • Viewer Gender Confusion: Unless you know that Felicia Pearson is Snoop (the credits don't connect characters to actors), it can take viewers a long time to realize that Snoop is a girl.
    • Well, there's also a brief shot where you see her picture on the unit's case board. It lists her full name as Felicia Pearson.
  • What an Idiot:
    • Stupid, stupid Ziggy.
    • Prez as a teacher falls for every trick in the book when he first starts out (although anybody who's had a new teacher in school knows that this is Truth in Television).
    • McNulty's Jamison's fueled season five gambit, which he realizes is unbelievably stupid when he finally explains it out loud.
    • Lex effectively signs his own death warrant when he shoots Fruit. This is actually Lampshaded with Bodie telling Lex that since Fruit is Stanfields man, he should really let his beef with Fruit go.
  • The Woobie: Poor, poor Bubbles. Wallace, Randy, and Dukie, none of whom get the rare happy ending afforded to Bubbles. Ziggy and Frank Sobotka also have sympathetic qualities.