Prospect has just published an essay by screenwriter Peter Jukes, asking why British TV can’t replicate The Wire. It’s a deceptively simple question. The Wire (and associated long-form US TV dramas) have been universally lauded, and the format has been repeated enough times (The Sopranos, Big Love, Mad Men, etc) to think it would be worth someone in Britain having a go. But while we all have a sense that this model works—long plot arcs, interweaving narratives, gradual character development—it’s sometimes tricky to see quite how different the shows are. Which was why we gave Prospect‘s Brian Semple possibly the best job a writer at the magazine has ever had.
Go home this morning, we said about a month ago, and watch a Wire box sets. The only snag was Brian was (a) tasked with noting down the plot lines as they popped up and perhaps less joyously (b) having to also watch a BBC drama for comparison. Here is what Brian turned up:
Just in case you were wondering, this is the episode in which: “Weak product in the pit has Bodie getting heat. Homicide detectives hand out grand jury summonses to stevedores involved in the homicide case, and Port Police Officer Beadie Russell works the lingering affections of an old boyfriend to find out how cargo disappears from the docks.” But somehow it looks a good deal more complex than that.
(Hat-tip to Steven Johnson, who we think originally had the idea of doing graphs like this, in his book Everything Bad for You is Good.)