A "wire" is police shorthand for a wiretap a way to observe and record people without their knowledge. Soon you realize this is also a metaphor for the show itself you as the viewer are getting a chance to be a hidden observer into the workings of a modern American city at all its levels, from the streets to the corridors of power. It's really like a televised novel - a realistic, complex exploration of the characters and the world they inhabit. As episodes build the hidden web of interdependence between the people and institutions from the lowest to the highest levels in the city of Baltimore is vividly brought to life. And as in life, the quick conclusion you make after seeing the surface of a person or institution is often revealed to be a completely different truth when you start peeling back the layers.
The people who write the Wire seem to be determined to pull no punches. Realistic violence, sex, and language are a main theme of this show and will no doubt turn off some potential viewers. But the beauty of The Wire is that all of these things are put in context due to the length (five seasons) of the series, and they are never gratuitous. Actions both large and small are shown to have consequences - sometimes far down the line, sometimes far beyond what was intended.
For me one of the most outstanding aspects of this series has to do with race. The Wire manages to make race both the focal point and just a starting point for the story at the same time. Although racial realities are never avoided and hang as an omnipresent backdrop just as they do in real life, as the series progresses the hugely diverse cast proceeds to lay glorious waste to many of the stale, narrow stereotypes Hollywood has been selling us for all these years. For this alone The Wire is far ahead of its time.
Nothing this epic or comprehensive could have been so amazingly well done with out superb efforts from everyone involved, and they are more than up to the task. Every member of the cast seems destined to play their role - McNulty, Bunk, Lester, Greggs, Omar, Prez, Bunny, Stringer, Avon, Bubbles, Bodie - there are too many great performances to pick a favorite. Superb writing, terrific direction, real sets, everything top notch. Despite being little-seen by mainstream TV audiences and being nearly ignored by the Emmys, this series will one day get the credit it deserves as a towering achievement and a true ground breaker.