Why David Simon Thinks Binging Is The Right Way To Watch The Wire

David Simon's "The Wire" is one of the most densely layered television dramas in the history of the medium. Over five seasons, it depicts in enraging and heartbreaking detail how fortunes rise and fall at the top of the civic food chain and at the bottom. We watch in disgust as a ruthless careerist like William Rawls (John Doman) rockets through the ranks of the Baltimore Police Department, and grieve for the hopeless middle-school students of the fourth season who, despite showing great promise in a math class taught by former cop Roland Pryzbylewski (Jim True-Frost), are destined for the streets. It is a masterful accomplishment.

Between 2002 and 2008, viewers hooked on "The Wire" had to endure agonizingly long waits between seasons, and, when the season arrived, a week between episodes. For a show so thick with character and narrative detail, keeping track of the sprawl required a good deal of work (no one ever skipped the "previously on" intro to "The Wire" during this period). So while we often lament the binge-viewing model popularized by Netflix's "House of Cards," which forces viewers to gorge on an entire season lest they get spoiled by their friends on social media, Simon believes the all-at-once approach works well for a fully completed series like "The Wire."

Imbibing The Wire in the age of streaming

In an interview with Vanity Fair's Maureen Ryan, Simon observed that the series' season-to-season shift in focus often confounded viewers (particularly the second season, which dedicated much of its narrative to the inner workings of Baltimore's port). Now that HBO Max subscribers are able to watch at their own pace, indifferent to spoilers and secure in the knowledge that the show ended on its own terms, there is, if nothing else, less complaining. Simon seems to prefer this:

[When it was on,] these things were debated on a weekly basis without anybody being able to stand back and look at the whole. To us, it was always a whole. Yeah, there were separate seasons and they each had a theme, but it was structured as a whole, as 60 hours. Now it's being experienced as that.... They may like it, they may not like it, but at least they're taking it as the whole meal. That's probably a little bit better.

Guilt-free binge viewing

There is not a more rewarding watch on HBO Max right now than "The Wire." It's one of the few series where you don't have to caution someone jumping in for the first time to stick it out through some rough early episodes while the show finds its footing. "The Wire" was engrossing from jump. So binge away! You have the creator's blessing! (And when you're done, please give Simon's wonderful, New Orleans-set "Treme" a shot. It's more of a hang-out show than "The Wire," but it immerses the viewer in the rich, bubbling cauldron of culture that is The Big Easy.)