Although we critics spend a lot of time decrying Hollywood’s tendency to greenlight scripts based on easy comparisons (‘It’s like Twilight crossed with The A-Team wearing a pair of overalls’”), there’s no one that likes that kind of shorthand more than a critic. It’s as easy for us to review a show by comparing it to another one as it is for Hollywood to market a movie the same way (It’s like The Hangover with Mexican dwarf brides!).
And so, it seems, every cop show that’s been reviewed since the greatest cop show of all time left the air has been compared — favorably or unfavorably — to “The Wire.” We here at Pajiba are as guilty of it as anyone — in fact, of the five shows below, we made at least one comparison to “The Wire” in our reviews of four of them, and three of those were written by me (the other one only avoided that comparison because we have not officially reviewed it). But the David Simon show does provide a good baseline. If a show can be mentioned in the same breath as “The Wire” without being followed by a crazed guffaw, then maybe that cop show is worth your time.
The five shows below have all been compared by others to “The Wire,” and in my opinion, deservedly so. Nothing will likely match the quality of that Simon’s show anytime soon, of course, but others have at least embraced the spirit. The five shows below are all good to great; “The Shadow Line” is probably the best one overall, but “Southland” is easily my favorite among them to watch. “Brick City,” by the by, is on Netflix Streaming right now and is well worth your time (it’s only five episodes long, to boot).
So I give you the 5 Shows that Deserve to Be Mentioned as Spiritual Successors to “The Wire.” Note that “The Killing” is not among them because it doesn’t belong among them (although, I understand that the Scandinavian version, which I have not seen, has drawn many favorable comparisons).
The Shadow Line: “The Wire” crossed with “The Killing” (original version).
Sample Review (The Changing Same): “Obviously, comparisons will be made to “The Wire” - and not just because everyone concerned with television seems to have extolled the American show as the greatest thing television has ever produced, enshrining it eternally as the paradigm for all police dramas henceforth; namely gradually solving a single (albeit multifaceted) case over a number of weeks, as opposed to the solving of (distinctly similar) cases each week (see any of the CSI franchises). “The Shadow Line” alludes to its American forbear in a number of key aspects; the ‘life-like’ language, not just swearing, but a wilful use of colloquialisms. In the Wire, this had the tendency to baffle, but the pay off of learning the lexicon giving a deeper connection with the characters was a rewarding one. With the “Shadow Line,” there’s a bit of this, but not much.”
Luther: “The Wire” crossed with “The Shield”
Sample Review (Paul Levinson, Salon): I saw the six episodes of the BBC’s Luther on DVD the last few nights — all of its first season — and I’m here to say the series is somewhere between “The Wire” and “The Shield,” the best two shows (along with “Friday Night Lights”) ever on television. Which is not say Luther is as yet as good as those two shows - with just six episodes, how could it be — but it’s playing in the same ball park, and its originality and power certainly puts “Luther” in that rarefied league.
Southland: “The Wire” crossed with “Cops”
Sample Review (Scott Malchus): Count me among the many critics who will cite Southland as one of the best shows on television and the best cop drama since The Wire. I’ve just finished watching the first two episodes of the third season, premiering tonight on TNT, and all I can say is, “Wow.” Seriously, it does not get any better than Southland. It. Does. Not.
Brick City: “The Wire” crossed with Reality
Sample Review (Alan Sepinwall): In that attempt to illuminate the lives of a cross-section of a struggling city — and the difficulty that individuals have in trying to swim against an institutionalized tide — “Brick City” isn’t unlike a non-fiction version of HBO’s “The Wire.” “Brick City” is certainly a more optimistic endeavor, but what it also shares with “The Wire” is a willingness to view its characters from all sides, good and bad.
Chicago Code: “The Wire” crossed with “The Shield” Part II
Sample Review (The TV Addict): Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals) is the city’s first female police superintendent with big plans to take on the city’s corrupt government, scraping together an off-the-books team to link the long-rumored to be malevolent Alderman Gibbons (Delroy Lindo, perfectly capturing a “two-faced” politician) to dirty deals with crooks. She tasks her former partner, Jarek Wysocki (BROTHERHOOD’s Jason Clarke), a born and bred veteran police officer with an aversion to profanity (a wholly unconvincing characteristic that attempts to sidestep the stricter language rules of broadcast TV), to lead the investigation. Of course, nailing Gibbons proves harder than expected, his control, money, and influence extending far beyond his own district. If this attempt to crack down on institutionalized corruption sounds familiar, it should: this feels like Shawn Ryan trying to do a small scale, network TV version of “The Wire.”