#2: The Wire - Season Four

Dookie, Randy, Michael, and Namond
 Here's a fun game.  Take the 4th season of your favorite TV drama (obviously not named the Wire) and pretend the major antagonist (and one of the most interesting characters) was killed off at the end of the previous season.  Then imagine that the lead protagonist had his role reduced to essentially cameo appearances every couple episodes.  Would you still enjoy watching that show?

Why do I ask?

Because that is exactly what the Wire did in its fourth season.  Drug kingpin, and aspiring businessman Stringer Bell, one of the best characters in the show (and really one of the best in any show), met his demise at the hands of Omar and Brother Muzone at the end of season 3.  Jimmy McNulty gave up the bottle, quit his job as a detective and became a patrol officer, turned himself into a family man, and thus faded into the background of season 4.  It sounds like a good way to get your show cancelled, but the result is what many critics would consider to be the best television season of all time.  Season Four of the Wire follows three main interlaced storylines: 1) the detective unit attempting to bring down the newly crowned king of West Baltimore, Marlo Stanfield 2) Tommy Carcetti's attempt to win the democratic nomination for Mayor of Baltimore over the incumbent Mayor Royce 3) The lives of a group of middle school students in West Baltimore whose brand new teacher is none other than Roland Pryzbylewski, who quit his job as a cop/detective after accidentally shooting a fellow policeman.  While, as with the other seasons of The Wire, the drug storyline is what keeps you on the edge of your seat, the school kids storyline is probably the best in the entire series.  From the reformation of Namond Brice (Wee-Bey may be a ruthless drug enforcer but he does some damn good parenting) to the tragic storylines of good-natured Michael, Dookie, and Randy, season 4 really brings to light how much the odds are stacked against kids growing up in the bad parts of West Baltimore.  The education system is shown to be flawed, and despite the efforts of individuals like Prez, many of the kids are swallowed up by the crime and violence saturating their environment.  As I said before the brilliance of The Wire is a function of the combination of a plot in which all the pieces matter, amazingly well-developed characters, and the harshly realistic portrayal of life in the bad parts of Baltimore and nowhere else was that more evident than in season 4.