Okay so The Wire. I find it hard to roll with pretty much any TV, let alone TV dramas, these days. Even the HBO stuff- A lot of it leaves me cold. But I just finished downloading and watching season four of The Wire, which we kind of paced, although the season isn't done yet. I've never seen season two. I imagine it's good, but there's been a huge leap in quality.
Complaints about this show: They're not good at using music, except as a background element. The opening credit sequences, where each season a different cover of the same song plays, is always awful- A bad song and bad cover versions. If memory serves, every season so far has also ended with a montage sent to music as a way to tie up loose ends while accelerating through time. These parts are always kind of awkward and that has something to do with music as well.
Anyway, people have compared the way the show works to novels, hinting at quality beyond TV. A lot of the writers are prose writers. David Simon's a former journalist, George Pelecanos writes crime novels. I'm pretty much convinced The Wire is better than their books, especially once you start to take all of the show as one work that grows in scope with each new season. It's just so hugely structurally complicated, at this point there's probably as many characters as The Simpsons or Gravity's Rainbow. I get lost as to character names. It's just so huge. It has to be, each expansion of the cast into new territory starts to seem integral to what it's doing.
What it's doing is huge, genuinely important seeming stuff, about basically the deterioration of inner cities, a liberal view of how society fails through a combination of bureacracy, politics, pettiness, and people's brutality. I really can't imagine it working as a book and still capturing the basic human nuances- The simple ease of acting at sketching characters.
At the same time, it works on the same basic visceral entertainment level of any cop show, although one that seems to wear its dark sense of humor more on its sleeve. And it encompasses the criminals on the other side, selling drugs, which gives greater humanity and sociological insight, at the same time giving you different people to root for and against.
The level of structural complexity is probably what makes it seem not fun at all, even though it's actually what makes it so entertaining- There's so many people to care about and they're all thwarting each other. It's drama and... yeah, ridiculously complex. It really does feel like the best TV show, even though it might not be my favorite, due to a handful of biases.