The Pop Culture Staying Power of “The Wire”

The other day as I was browsing around the web I found 3 different new posts on "The Wire" and heard a reference to it on "30 Rock".  It ts the best TV show I've ever seen but I am still surprised at what a grip it has on our pop cluture 4 years after it went off the air.I guess the audience and interest keeps growing as HBO On Demand, HBO Go, and Netflix allow viewers to see it for the first time at their own pace, or revisit the series and remember how good it is. So… here's my guesses as to why "The Wire" keeps on livin'!

Why Is It Still So Popular?

There are many reasons the show has such staying power. Below I will list a few.

It Is the Best TV Drama of the Last 25 Years

Vulture recently did a competition that set up 16 of the best dramas of the last 25 years and through one off battles, determined which show was the best. The Wire won beating out the Soprano's (another HBO show) in the end. Here's an interesting snippet on why the show won:

It’s one of the most intelligent, moving, and politically astute dramas ever aired on American TV, and a rare series that truly deserves the adjective novelistic. And as mentioned higher up, it’s more consistently excellent than The Sopranos, owing partly to the more inherently unstable, experimental nature of what Chase and company were doing, mixing dramatic and comedic and high art and pop culture like mad scientists laboring to make miracles while knowing that the result might fizzle or detonate.
This is the most important piece of its staying power… that it is frakin' awesome!

Omar Little – "You Come At the King, You Best Not Miss"

In a show full of iconic characters, Omar is the king. He's a lyrical Robin Hood ready to stand up for his own code on the way to a shootout at the OK Corral. His screen presence is electrifying and and the situations he gets himself into always seem to be in a gray area where he's somehow on the right side of things. Omar even gets a presidential endorsement as the best character on the show. 
The clip below is one of the most memorable from the show. 
Omar isn't the only great character. There's Stringer Bell, Bunk, Slim, Lester, Avon, Kima, Snoop, McNutty….

The Unique Filming Style

I came across a few pieces that talked extensively about the unique visual and story style of the show. This adds to the aura of the show because you feel like you are watching something that is "better" than television normall is for reasons you don't understand. Here's a great video that gets into those details.

The Literary Quality of the Stories

Slate has a great piece on why the show is so great and how "literary" the stories can be. I love the Dicken's comparison as it does feel like you've experienced a big, important story. 

Several critics have commented on The Wire's "literary" quality. In particular, The Wire has echoes of the Victorian social panorama of Charles Dickens (who gets a mention this season, as an obscene anatomical reference). The drama repeatedly cuts from the top of Baltimore's social structure to its bottom, from political fund-raisers in the white suburbs to the subterranean squat of a homeless junkie. As with Dickens, the excitement builds as the densely woven plot unfolds in addicting installments. The deeper connection to Dickens' London is the program's animating fury at the way a society robs children of their childhood. In our civilized age, we do not send 12-year-olds to work in blacking factories as the Victorians did. Today's David Copperfield is instead warehoused at a dysfunctional school until he's ready to sling drugs on the corner, where his odds of survival are even slimmer.


Pop Culture References

Over the last few years there has been a slew of references to the show in movies, TV shows, songs, and all over the internet. Here's some examples.

The TV Show "30 Rock"

In an April 2012 episode Liz Lemon said (corrreted from Tracey), "Po-Po popped Dookie down by the vacants." It was totally out of the blue! Poor Dookie!

The Movie "Salmon Fishing in Yemen"

The show reference that caught me the most by surprise and made me laugh the hardest was in "Salmon Fishing in Yemen". Kristin Scott-Thomas plays the wise cracking Press Secretary of the Prime Minisitor of the United Kingdom. She has a son who looks to be a bit of a trouble maker and one morning when he is heading off to school with this hoodie on, she says (I'm paraphrasing as I don't remember the exact dialog), "I'm not one of your bitches from a Baltimore low rise. I'm your f‑‑‑ing mother."

The Movie "Cedar Rapids"

This is the most obvious of all the references, as an actor actually in "The Wire" (Isaih Witlock who played Clay Davis on the show) plays a character that loves "The Wire". Here's a scene where he breaks out his Omar imitation. Indeed!
If you haven't seen "Cedar Rapids" you may like it. I really enjoyed it.

The TV Show "Community"

The actor who played Omar, Michael K. Williams, had a recurring role on the show and delivered this line when he was playing a teacher, "A man has got to have a code."
Here's the video:

Rap Lyrics Galore

There are too many rap songs with Wire related lyrics to list them all here. Lil Wayne has a great example with this from "Nightmares of the Bottom":
These bitches think they fly, like tinkerbell
But they all on my wire like Stringer Bell

The Constant Twitter References

If you're on Twitter, you see "The Wire" references. You just can't avoide them. Check out the stream here.

How It All Started

Here's the opening scene of the first episode of the show. Its a great look at how the show is different from anything else I've seen. Comedy, tragedy, an interesting realism, and the hard drug life of Baltimore.