I’ve got addicted to the HBO series The Wire in the last few days. While I was ill this weekend and home alone in the house in the countryside, I watched the whole first series while wrapped up in a pile of blankets in front of the electric fire one afternoon. Now I’m nearly done with the second series as well, though its not as good as the first.

If you’ve never heard of it – and I hadn’t till some of the guys here kept going on about it – The Wire is basically a cop show. But though I usually hate cop shows, this one’s got a sense of humour and a good plot that makes it very watchable. It shows both sides of a police case – the detectives who are all either corrupt or drunks but have heart, and the empire of drug dealers they are trying to catch. The story goes back and forwards from one perspective to another, and portrays both as sympathetically or negatively as the other. The name comes from its main preoccupation – the story is basically about the cops discovering the use of surveillance and wire tapping. It starts with them still writing reports on type writers, and follows them through the amazing discovery of how they can bring down criminal masterminds by looking at their phone records, tapping their phones, and – eventually in the second series – learning what text messages and GPS are. Somewhere near the end of the second series there is a big plot lurch forward when they realise they can track someone’s phone number and then get all their records if they know the place and time that they sent a single text message. This seems like fairly obvious stuff to me, but that’s probably because of the company I used to keep. To most people who watch it I guess it is quiet a revelation that so much can be learnt from tracking phones. The plot briefly explored the misuses of the wire tapping (the two ‘dumb cops’ listening in to a suspect having phone sex), but mostly it concentrates on everything that can be gained from such technology. The major obstacles are the oppressive and corrupt senior officers that don’t believe in the power of the wire and keep trying to close the investigation. The fact that the bad guys are obviously bad, and the audience knows this, means that there is never a more in depth questioning of the use of such technology.

Of course, its not surprising that a series like this comes at a time when the US and most other governments are flinging privacy laws out the window as fast as they can, and making it easier and easier to spy on anyone, anywhere, anytime. I never really like cop shows partly because I hate that thinly veiled attempt to get us to think the old copper is just a good guy really, and if he does turn you into a bloody pulp in a cell one night, its probably for your own good. The Wire is not so blatant as, say, 24, in pushing the message, and its refreshing in this day and age to not only have some non-Muslim bad-guys, but to also have the occasional snide remark about the effects of the ‘war on terror’. As far as propaganda goes, its well written and pretty entertaining propaganda, with just enough self-awareness to make it more than palatable.