The Complete Fourth Season
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All photos © HBO
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ay what you will about HBO, but the premium channel is far from surrendering its title as the best cable network on television, and it only has David Simon to thank for that. As the creator of the groundbreaking sociopolitical drama, “The Wire,” Simon has delivered an experience unlike any other (even if most people don’t know about it) – and one that will surely leave its mark on American television history long after it’s gone.
Okay, so maybe HBO has a few other people to thank other than Simon (like, say, Mark Wahlberg, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, or even Larry David), but the fact of the matter remains that, despite never registering as a bonafide hit, “The Wire” is one of few original series that continues to prevent Showtime from out-HBO-ing HBO.
Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) may be in prison, and Stringer Bell (Irdis Elba) dead, but the drug game is still very much alive in Baltimore, and it has a new king in Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector). With Det. James McNulty (Dominic West) accepting a job as a regular beat cop, and the Major Crimes detail now defunct, the rest of McNulty’s former partners – Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce), Shakima Greggs (Sonja Sohn), Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters), Herc (Domenick Lombardozzi) and Carver (Seth Gilliam) – are left fighting the good fight by whatever means possible. Meanwhile, Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski (Jim True-Frost), a former detail member who's now teaching at the local school, attempts a completely different gameplay: forget about the current generation of thugs and focus on the kids who haven’t yet been introduced to a life of crime.
And so begins the fourth season’s biggest story arc, as we’re introduced to four students who are directly affected by the city’s poor school system and crime-ridden streets: Michael Lee (Tristan Wilds), the son of a drug addict mother; Randy Wagstaff (Maestro Harrell), an entrepreneurial orphan; Namond Brice (Julito McCullum), the son of former Barksdale solider Wee-Bey (Hassan Johnson); and Duquan “Dukie” Weems (Jermaine Hawkins), the group’s odd-man-out.
Meanwhile, as the impending mayoral election between incumbent Mayor Royce (Glynn Turman) and councilmember Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) heats up, so does the race for the job of police commissioner. Ervin Burrell (Frankie Faison) would love to believe that he’s still the man for the job, but as a sudden increase in missing persons cases begins to stack up, the mayor looks elsewhere, and finds two very capable candidates in Deputy Commissioner Rawls (John Doman) and Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick), who’s just been promoted to lieutenant.
That’s not all, either: Bodie (J.D. Williams), one of the only members of the Barksdale empire not in jail, is now forced to work as a freelancer for Marlo; fan favorite Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) continues to do his Robin Hood thing; Bunny Colvin (Robert Wisdom) leads an experimental program at the junior high school; recently released Barksdale soldier Cutty (Chad Coleman) opens up a boxing gym for the city’s youngsters; Bubbles (Andre Royo) attempts to go straight (again); and Sen. Clay Davis (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) proves why he’s one of the show’s biggest villains. Oh yeah, and the guy can say “Shiiiiiit” like no one else.
You’ve probably heard it before, but it never hurts to say it again: “The Wire” is the best show on television. So why is it criminally ignored by Emmy Award voters each year? Quite simply, because it’s so good at what it does, many forget it’s even a piece of fiction. Portraying the crime and politics of a troubled American city (and who’s more troubled than Baltimore?), “The Wire” is the closest thing to television artistry that you’ll ever find. The storylines never linger, the performances are all strong, and the material actually challenges the viewer to think about what they’re watching. It’s not very often that a show fires on all cylinders and succeeds, but that’s why “The Wire” is a contemporary masterpiece. It’s not because a bunch of pretentious TV critics say so – it’s because it’s true.
Special Features: For an HBO release, the four-disc box set features a healthy collection of bonus material, including six cast/crew audio commentaries and two behind-the-scenes featurettes (“It’s All Connected” and “The Game Is Real”) previously made available via the premium channel’s OnDemand service. The commentary tracks, which appear on the following episodes – on “Boys of Summer” (disc 1), “Refugees” (disc 2), “Margin of Error” (disc 2), “A New Day” (disc 3), “That’s Got His Own” (disc 4), and “Final Grades” (disc 4) – are pretty hit-and-miss, but the one featuring the show’s four youngsters is definitely worth a listen. It’s unfortunate, then, that HBO decided to go cheap on the packaging materials this time around – opting for digipacks with a flimsy cardboard cover over the much cooler (and more durable) “Sopranos”-like cigar boxes.