Essays: David Hepworth |
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David Hepworth

Writing about The Wire

Published in the March 2008 edition of that excellent magazine The Word, David Hepworth’s article about the American TV series The Wire is the best thing I have yet seen on that important subject. The news about The Wire has spread too slowly in Britain, where the show is apparently considered, by the channel controllers, as a hot potato, perhaps because of its race issues. I first became aware of the show on one of my working visits to Australia in 2007. I saw only a single episode, but was immediately hooked: an appropriate word for a story that has narcotics coming out of its ears. Back in Britain I bought boxes of the first three seasons. Consuming them all in less than a week of nights, I came to the conclusion that the startling developments in American television that began on the networks (Hill St Blues, NYPD Blue), and picked up speed on HBO (The Sopranos), had now reached a stage, in The Wire, where it was no longer even faintly possible to take an entirely pessimistic view of American cultural imperialism. At the very least, when faced with the adventures of McNulty and his fellow soldiers in the lethal war-zone of inner Baltimore, it was necessary to admit that the total American effort was proving all over again that one of the secrets of its power was an ability to  generate its own antibodies. But I’m glad to say that David Hepworth not only saw all that, he saw more, and his article does an exemplary job of setting a work of art in the context of its social implications. That was a task that I set for myself when I was a TV critic long ago, but I doubt if I ever carried it out as well as this. Other critics in more exalted outlets could profit from trying to figure out just how Hepworth managed to get so much said in a short space. I suppose the sheer quality of his subject matter helped. I reviewed a lot of good things in my time, and tried to say how much they mattered, but I very seldom encountered anything with quite the density, force and manifold brilliance of The Wire. The first episodes of Hill Street Blues arrived in Britain at just about the time I was packing up. When I was doing my stint, the most pitilessly realistic policier series coming out of America was Kojak. The medium moves on, taking us with it. This link to Hepworth’s piece, as he has preserved it on his blog, shows what he can do, although he might try to remember David Ogilvy’s classic dictum that nobody willingly reads anything printed in white on a black background.

Read David Hepworth's article “The Wire: can a TV show really change the way you think?”