How The Wire Is, and Isn't, "Dickensian"

July 2, 2014 11:37 AM

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Serial television binge viewing is often justified by comparing it to the addictive fictions of a previous age. We justify our impatience to get back to a familiar world and its characters -- whether they are "breaking bad" or "breaking good" -- by comparing our addiction to the serial fiction of the Victorian era. We are not addicted to television, but to the higher form of literature! Proof is how much our addictions are "just like Dickens," most of whose novels first saw the light of day as eagerly awaited serials. Where I once waited impatiently for my weekly dose of The Wire, slave to the temporal rhythms of weekly hour-long serials on HBO, so Dickens's mid nineteenth century readers waited impatiently for the latest installments of The Pickwick Papers, or Bleak House.

Just as HBO once tried to advertise itself by claiming to be other than television ("It's Not TV, It's HBO"), so we like to think our addiction to television serials transcends lowly television. But David Simon, The Wire's creator, not one to be outdone by comparisons, has always avoided the term "D...

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