The Wire is a drama that offers multiple meanings and arguments. It will be, in the strictest sense, a police procedural set in the drug culture of an American rust-belt city, a cops-and-players story that exists within the same vernacular as the other television fare.
But as with the best HBO series, The Wire will be far more than a cop show, and to the extent that it breaks new ground, it will do so because of larger, universal themes that have more to do with the human condition, the nature of the American city and, indeed, the national culture. The Sopranos becomes art when it stands as more than a mob story, but as a treatise on the American family. Oz is at its best when it rises beyond the framework of a prison story and finds commonalities between that environment and our own, external world. So, too, should The Wire be judged not merely as a descendant of Homicide or NYBD Blue, but as a vehicle for making statements about the American city and even the American experiment.
The grand theme here is nothing less than a national existentialism: It is a police story set amid the dysfunction and indifference of an urban department – one that has failed to come to terms with the permanent nature of urban drug culture, one in which thinking cops, and thinking street players, must make their way independent of simple explanations.