Season 4 was the last great season of HBO’s The Wire, widely considered the greatest TV show EVER. Created by David Simon and Ed Burns the series used Baltimore as a metaphor for the problems facing urban America. Each season had a theme, and in Season 4 that was education. It might be the best of all the seasons.
The main story was about four high school boys Michael, Namond, Randy and Dukie. They all go to middle school together where former cop Prez - Pryzbylewski is a brand new teacher. The ridiculousness of the situation is shown during the professional development meeting with the teachers before the year starts. The presenter talks about how teacher’s always need to be positive. Half the teachers are on their phones and eventually some get sick of the presentation and start complaining about how unrealistic it is compared to what educators face in a typical urban school. When class starts most of his kids are below grade level and can’t handle the curriculum. He asks the older teachers what’s the point of teaching kids things they can’t handle and he’s told he has to because the federal tests are coming up and the school could be taken over if they don’t pass it. It’s a numbers game for the government which doesn’t care about how the kids are doing, and that trickles down into the schools. Prez's time in a traditional classroom setting is compared to Bunny Colvin, an ex-police officer who sets up an alternative school for troubled kids. The program actually looks like it might work, but again runs into the administration that is not interested in anything but the numbers. The show poses the question whether the system works for children. Whether in a traditional or an alternative setting can kids get an effective education in an urban environment?
There are other important themes going on as well. The police are using wire taps to go after the new drug lord in the city Marlo Stansfield. As usual, it’s the low level cops that are trying to do their job, while facing opposition from the higher ups and the system. This was part of the long running theme that the war on drugs was all smoke and mirrors. All politicians and the police higher ups cared about was statistics to show that they were doing something, while doing nothing. They wanted arrest numbers for example, even though that had no impact on the problem.
Another storyline is Baltimore politics. First, there’s the dirty game of politics for the mayor, and then when the underdog Tommy Carcetti wins and promises reforms. He runs into the all the institutional powers in the city from the ministers, to the police, to others. Again, the question is raised of whether politicians actually care about the city or just power.
What made The Wire success wasn’t just the stories which broke down major issues in American society it was the amazing characters. There are so many it would take forever to break them all down, but just take Omar. A gay gangster who robbed drug dealers. In episode 3 it shows him waking up with his lover, finding there’s no cereal, so he goes down to the corner store to buy some. As he walks down the street all the corner boys selling dope yell out his name and run off. When he stops to smoke a cigarette people are so afraid of him that they throw their drugs out the window to him. He is a totally unique character you never saw in any other show.
The overall message of the show during every season, but most poignantly made in season 4 was that system is failing America, and that is especially true in the country’s cities, and with the poor and minorities. The Wire delivered this message again and again, and not in a preachy way either, but in the most intriguing and entertaining way possible. It made you think like no other show ever seen.