The Wire is set on the streets of Baltimore. Telling the stories of the police and the criminals they are trying to catch.
The following may contain very mild spoilers, although it tries to avoid doing so. The "The Ending" section will mention if a show had a resolution or a cliffhanger (but no description of what happens).
2002 - 2004, 2006, 2008
Length: 60 hour long (55 - 60 min) episodes, 5 seasons of 10 - 13 episodes each.
Ending: Resolution, but leaves you yearning for more.
Think: A police procedural in the truest sense of the phrase (not just a murder of the week, show) but with a shared focus on the criminals.
Creator: David Simon.
Season 1 (2002)
Against the Baltimore Police Department's best wishes Detective Jimmy McNulty gets permission to target the Barksdale Gang who control the distribution of drugs in West Baltimore and to chase the gang leaders and not just arrest street dealers and users. Given limited resources and the dregs of the department they get to know the dealers and hierarchy of the gang.
Season 2 (2003)
Investigations into deaths of a group of women being illegal trafficked in a shipping container draws Baltimore dock workers deeper and deeper into criminal activities.
Season 3 (2004)
Investigations return to the Barksdale organisation, Major Colvin tries a radical plan to reduce crime in West Baltimore and the candidates in the upcoming mayoral election become important players in the story.
Season 4 (2006)
The drug business in West Baltimore is up for grabs, and the education system in Baltimore comes into focus. More on Mayoral politics and some police stuff, too.
Season 5 (2008)
The press is added to The Wire's look at the corrupt and failing systems in Baltimore.
Each season is self-contained, wrapping up (to a degree) its story lines, but each season builds on the last. Each season introduces another facet to the picture of West Baltimore: drugs, the docks, politics, education and the press and how they feed on and feed into each other to cause the problems endemic in the series. It can be difficult to get into each new season with the changes - especially season 2 - but it pays off in the end.
The Wire can be difficult to get into as it doesn't spoon feed the viewer, it doesn't stop to explain and it doesn't hold back on the street language. Each season is really one big story, and just as with The Wire that means it works better in marathon watchings than being watched weekly.
The writing, acting and direction are all of the highest quality.
It's pretty bleak, almost no one gets a happy endings, ever and there's no hope of improvement for the city, it's people or most of its characters. But to be fair it's trying to be pretty realistic.
Like The West Wing it wraps the story up but leaves you still wanting more. The makers couldn't see anywhere else to go, but it really seemed to looking to add the courts, but obviously it didn't happen and wasn't the plan.
Watch it if...
You're after a police procedural that's actually about police procedures and not just the usual "murder of the week" solved at the end of the episode. And if you don't care that nothing is actually solved.