By Russell Goodacre (4StarMovies Conributor)
The Wire vs. Breaking Bad Review
There have been many television shows in history of television. From the likes of cartoons, drama, science fiction, sports, reality shows and other types, only two shows deserve to be called the best the best to ever air on television. Those two shows are; The Wire and Breaking Bad. You as a reader might be sitting there wondering out of all these television shows, “how can this 20 year college student come up with those two shows as the best ever?” Let me explain.
The Wire is a five season series that aired on HBO from 2002-2008 consisting of 10-13 episodes a season with 60 total episodes. David Simon, a former writer for The Baltimore Sun created The Wire; Simon was the crime beat reporter with the police. Simon wrote many stories on crime in the Baltimore metropolitan area (mainly Baltimore City) and the effects on the inmates and Baltimore City. While Simon is most known for The Wire, he is notable for other works as well. The stories from these two projects and many different interviews led to the creation of The Wire.
The Wire takes place in western Baltimore City neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are run down by crime, drugs, and poverty. Some people these days call Baltimore, Maryland “Bloodimore, Murderland” because of The Wire. While The Wire shows how life is today in a typical American project, it shows how the city of Baltimore is affected by the crime and how the people who live there are affected.
I first heard of The Wire when I was eight years old, watching a Baltimore Orioles game. The year was 2004 and the broadcasters were talking about the show, in that time season 4 was being filmed. I didn’t think much of the broadcaster’s conversation since the show was on HBO and we didn’t have it at the time. As I grew older however, I would always hear of how people gave Baltimore a bad rep because of the show. I being the innocent child who pretty much knew of just downtown Baltimore (not the rest of the city), would argue with these people that Baltimore was in fact a pretty city. Surely they didn’t forget about the Inner Harbor, various shops and restaurants, two great sports stadiums, and a decent convention center. So while I was in the 10th grade, I decided to get a full glimpse of what the people were talking about. Needless to say, I LOVED THE SHOW.
One final thought before I started reviewing The Wire is that it amazes me how very few people have watched or heard about the show. There are reasons why this is the case and I will touch on them, but in my opinion, The Wire is must-see television.
The Wire Review
In June of 2002 The Wire made its debut on HBO and it hit the ground running immediately. You could tell from the start that The Wire had an identity and you knew what it was going to be about. Each season has it’s own theme or story behind it. Season 1 for example, talks about the drug dealing in Baltimore City and how the police handle “The War on Drugs”. Season 2 talks about the American working class (AKA the middle class in modern day America). Season 3 examines American politics and the influence that it has on the inner cities of America. Season 4 talks about the broken Baltimore City public school system, although it does relate to many American inner-city school systems in today’s time. Lastly the 5th season talks about the media and it’s role in today’s society. Seasons 1, 3, and 4 I find are the best in the series. Seasons 2 and 5 are still good but they require a decent amount of background knowledge to fully understand what they’re talking about.
The cast in the show is excellent. For many actors on the show it was their big break to stardom. An interesting fact about some of the characters is that former criminals actually have roles in the show, however, they do not play the roles they did in real life as the main actors got those parts, but it’s neat to see them involved in the production. You can make a case that there are multiple lead characters but no single lead.
Many fans of the show agree that the most important character is Omar Little, played by Michael K. Williams. Omar Little is a stick up man, his real life counterpart is Donnie Andrews (Andrews is actually in some scenes). Without Omar Little, The Wire would not be nearly as compelling. Omar Little is the heart and soul of the show. The scar you see on Michael K. William’s face is from a real life accident and it adds a lot of value to Omar Little’s character. One of Omar Little’s biggest fans happens to be President Barack Obama. In 2008 when he was still a senator he said the following about Omar Little and The Wire “That’s not an endorsement. He’s not my favorite person, but he’s a fascinating character,” Obama said, who noted in an audio clip on the site that Omar, who is gay, is also “the toughest, baddest guy on the show” (Chicago Tribune). For Michael K. Williams, this is his most notable piece of work, in that he is perhaps the most important character. Though he has appeared in various films such as 12 Years a Slave, and Purge: Anarchy, he was most prevalent in The Wire.
One other actor who performs well in the show is Idris Elba. Elba plays the Drug kingpin in the Barksdale Organization, known as Russell “Stringer” Bell. Stringer Bell is my favorite character in The Wire. Stringer Bell is a drug kingpin by day and a businessman at night. Bell goes to night school to get an Economics degree to have his drug trade runs like full business (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDBq-OU1rHo). If you think about it, it’s an unbelievable way of running a drug trade. At the same time, it’s unique, that’s why Stringer Bell is my favorite character in the show.
Two other excellent characters in the show are Bunk Moreland (played by Wendell Pierce) and Jimmy McNulty (played by Dominic West). They both play police partners, and the daily problems in the city are incredibly dangerous and strenuous. Both cops fight to do the right thing but that isn’t always possible. Both Pierce and West do a great job of portraying how cops are. We regularly see them dealing with problems in the inner-cities, how they have to interact with people, especially criminals and those in the drug trade.
There are various exceptional characters in The Wire, and if you want to see, watch the show!
Favorite Scene From The Wire
This is a scene from Season 1 Episode 3 “The Buys”. You have D’Angelo Barksdale walking around the neighborhood and spots Brodie and Wallace playing checkers on a chess set. This disturbs D’Angelo that they’re playing checkers on a chess set and he teaches them how to play Chess. For me, this reflects our current society, “The king stay the king…pawns man they get cap quick”- D’Angelo.
Final Thoughts on The Wire
The Wire is fantastic as you could probably already tell from my review. You will gain a greater understanding of inner-city life, from both the drug dealing aspect as well as everyone else who is involved in the inner cities. I will note, if you think the drug dealers are bad guys and the cops are good guys in this show you will be surprised. In The Wire, no one is any better than the other group of people in the show and in the end, everyone no matter what their “hustle”, gets the wrong side of the stick every single time.
Breaking Bad is a five season series that aired on AMC from 2008-2013 consisting from 7-16 episodes a season with 62 total episodes. Vince Gilligan created Breaking Bad and he has made quite the career in writing and directing. For example, he was a major writer in the Fox series, The X-Files, and he co-created The Lone Gunman, which is a spin off of The X-Files. Gilligan also created Better Call Saul, which is a spin off of Breaking Bad. Gilligan’s hope with Breaking Bad was to create a show where the hero would be the villain by the end of the series. A crucial piece to look at in Gilligan’s creation of Breaking Bad is that while he was putting the entire show together, Gilligan had learned that another show, Weeds, also had a similar premise. This discovery of this really discouraged Gilligan, but his producers were able to convince Gilligan to continue on with Breaking Bad (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/vince-gilligan-breaking-bad_n_1679038.html).
Breaking Bad was set and filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the title Breaking Bad is a southern term which means, “raise hell”. Breaking Bad follows two main characters Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a high school chemistry teacher who was diagnosed with lung cancer, and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), a low-level drug peddler, one of White’s former students. White knows he doesn’t have much time to live, he wants to make sure his family is set for the future and he stumbles upon the drug business while on a ride along with his brother in-law, DEA agent Hank Schrader (played by Dean Norris). White naïvely decided that his chemistry background could potentially be very applicable in producing methamphetamine.
I first learned of Breaking Bad when I was in high school, literally everyone watched it and they said it was the best shows they had ever seen. Period. Like The Wire, I wasn’t immediately hooked when I began watching it, but I became hooked a month or so ago when I was at college at Shepherd University. My 3 roommates (one of them was 4 Star Movies own Fred Filberg) were talking about Breaking Bad and how we should watch it. I didn’t think much of it, but I watched the first episode of the series with one my roommates and it looked intriguing even though the opening seemed a little slow (I wasn’t a fan at first). I did promise them I would watch the entire series over our winter break, I can now say I have and here is my review for Breaking Bad.
Breaking Bad Review
In January 2008 Breaking Bad made its debut on AMC. For me I’ve already talked a little bit about it above but I was not a fan of the start of Breaking Bad. To me it seemed a little slow and it had no true identity. I honestly thought I would become very bored with the show and lose interest, then season 2 happened.
Thank goodness for season 2 of Breaking Bad. Season 2 starts off with a bang and from there it became addictive (like meth). Walt and Jesse found a way to escape from Tuco and they end up selling their meth in the area where Tuco used to run. Season 2 gets depressing but it is still strong. Walt realizes his cancer is spreading and Jesse continues his drug addiction after one of his friends is killed by a rival cartel member. Walt misses the birth of his daughter because he was doing inventory. Jesse’s lover (Jane) passes away, however White plays an integral role in her passing, and it will go to define his character from then on. This is also the season where Walt and Jesse’s relationship begins to crack. Season 2 got me excited and kept me interested for the rest of the series.
For me the climax of Breaking Bad is in season 3. I found season 3 very entertaining. Walt admits to his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) that he cooks meth and it creates more tension in their marriage. They both agree to keep Walt’s meth cooking secret from the their son. Meanwhile Jesse is still in rehab and he buys his aunt’s house and starts cooking again on his own. Meanwhile two cousins of Tuco hunt for the man who killed him. They travel to Albuquerque to kill Walt. The plan is to kill Walt but they actually wanted to kill Walt’s brother in-law Hank. They find out about it and Hank is furious and they make a plan as they’re going to destroy the RV they cook the Meth in. Hank is furious so he goes to Jesse’s house and assaults him violently. Hank is then ordered to be off duty and then the hitmen cousins attack Hank. Hank is shot and paralyzed from the waste down. At this point Walt realizes the attack was supposed to be on him. Season 3 ends with Gale (David Costabile) who is a skilled chemist hired by Gus to assist the lab, gets killed by Jesse at Gale’s home as Walt knows Gale could potentially be the new replacement for Walt. That for me was the climax and craziest season of the series.
The last two seasons of Breaking Bad were really good, but for me they weren’t as compelling as seasons 2 and 3. I felt the ending was fairly emotional, and they definitely ended the show at the right time. I didn’t think season 5 needed two parts. I actually thought season 5 could’ve been shorter than 16 episodes. Walt ends up dying after being mortally wounded in one last fight. As Walt is dying he takes one last good look at the equipment then collapses and dies. The police make it to the lab moments after Walt passes away. This was a defining moment of the series, Walt looks back on everything he has done, how far he came, and then dies.
Walt was my favorite character in Breaking Bad, I loved his grit throughout the entire series. He stood out to me the most in the series. Normally when I see a movie or a TV show my favorite character is not normally the main character but in this case it is Walt. Just like Omar in The Wire, if White wasn’t as interesting of a character, Breaking Bad wouldn’t be as good.
Moving on to some other characters in the series. I enjoyed Walt’s family and the characters who had roles in the Mexican drug cartel and the hitman cousins. They were fantastic as I thought they fit each role perfectly. I didn’t like Gus or Gale that much, though they were very popular characters. I found Jesse and Hank’s characters to be alright, not great or not awful.
Favorite Scene From Breaking Bad
I touched on this scene earlier when I was talking about how season 2 really got me interested in the series. Hank inadvertently comes to the rescue after being worried about Walt and faces off with Tuco, It was basically a two-minute standoff which showcased one of the first moments where we learn that Hank is a badass.
Final Thoughts on Breaking Bad
I got to admit I actually liked Breaking Bad more than I anticipated. It’s a fantastic show that I would highly recommend. It’s very creative and you get hooked once things start to intensify. I do wish Breaking Bad was more consistent from beginning to end, sometimes there was far too much filler in between the good moments. You can’t go wrong with either The Wire or Breaking Bad, both are good for a variety of reasons.
Comparing The Wire and Breaking Bad
So here we are. I’ve now reviewed both shows and given my input on both shows so let’s compare them both. On paper, Breaking Bad dose have an edge if you were to look at awards wins. Breaking Bad also has an edge on The Wire when it comes to viewership and there are two reasons behind that. One being The Wire was on HBO while Breaking Bad was on AMC. This is not surprising since you have to pay separate costs for HBO but not for AMC. The main reason why The Wire does not have as much notoriety is pretty clear and controversial, but it makes sense. Look at the cast of characters between the two shows and what they portray in America today. The Wire is 2/3-70% African American while Breaking Bad is nearly all white with some Hispanics in the show. In America there’s a certain population that won’t watch a show with a majority cast of African Americans. It’s an implicit bias essentially, by no means does this mean that those who haven’t watched the show are racist. The Wire and Breaking Bad are even on reviews across the board. Rotten Tomatoes gave The Wire 96% on 54 reviews and Breaking Bad 95% on 128 reviews. The Wire scored a 79% on Metacritc and Breaking Bad scored 73% on Metacritic. The Wire received a 9.4/10 from IMDb while Breaking Bad got a 9.5/10 from IMDB. The Rolling Stone named The Wire the second best show ever and Breaking Bad third, both behind The Sopranos (http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/lists/100-greatest-tv-shows-of-all-time-w439520/the-wire-w439640). So I think you’re wondering by now, “which show do I think is better and why?”
Which Show is Better? The Wire or Breaking Bad?
I’ve thought long and hard about this since I’ve finished Breaking Bad recently. They’re both phenomenal shows that definitely deserve all the praise they get. I broke down each show by the following category:
Better Main Character: Walter White (Breaking Bad) vs. Omar Little (The Wire)
Most Important Character: Walter White (Breaking Bad) vs. Omar Little (The Wire)
Better Supporting Cast: Breaking Bad vs. The Wire
Better Setting: Albuquerque, New Mexico (Breaking Bad) vs. Baltimore, Maryland (The Wire)
Better Writing/Story Line: Breaking Bad vs. The Wire
Better Cinematography: Breaking Bad vs. The Wire
Better Director/Writer: Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) vs. David Simon (The Wire)
Out of the seven categories I came up with The Wire won by a score of 5-2. Those are my thoughts, what are yours?
Authors note: As a non-regular writer for 4StarMovies I would like to thank Fred Filberg and his staff at 4StarMovies for the opportunity to once again write on this blog as I did another piece around this time last year