The Wire – the Dickensian aspects


The Wire complete
– all five seasons ( I purchased on a whim, and have been quite pleased)


I’ve been conducting my annual Wire review1, and am in the fifth season.

Is The Wire Dickensian? David Simon dislikes the comparison. In this recent Vice magazine interview he admits a similarity in the “scope of society through the classes” covered by The Wire and Charles Dickens, but says he feels his treatment of the theme has more in common with Tolstoy and Balzac.

The thing that made me laugh about it with Dickens was that Dickens is famous for being passionate about showing you the fault lines of industrial England and where money and power route themselves away from the poor. He would make the case for a much better social compact than existed in Victorian England, but then his verdict would always be: “But thank God a nice old uncle or this heroic lawyer is going to make things better.” In the end, the guy would punk out.

As such, throughout season five the term “Dickensian” is used in a mocking manner to pour scorn on the journalistic values of senior Baltimore Sun editor James Whiting. As Simon says in the same Vice interview: “There was a little bit of tongue-in-cheek satire on the show directed at people who were using Dickens to praise us.”

(Just to be clear: he’s using the word to mock not his critics – but his supporters! Sometimes Simon seems to embody an inversion of a well-known NME cliche: “I just do what I do, and if nobody else likes it, it’s a bonus.”)

Certainly there are points where The Wire parts ways with Dickens. Despite the links between the various strands of society shown on the programme – drug crews, docks, newspapers, police etc – it largely avoids the sort of outrageous coincidences that Dickens routinely relies on, and sentimentality – another Dickens staple – is in the main absent from The Wire, although it does creep in a bit towards the end, the death of Bodie (“You’re a soldier”) being the most glaring example.

(click to continue reading The Wire re-up: season five, episode eight – the Dickensian aspects | Media |


  1. there really hasn’t been any better television show []