Those who prefer reading over movies or television cite many reasons for their preference. Primary among these is that reading is a longer, more involving process, with greater rewards for the patience it can demand. You become more familiar with the lead characters. That's my favourite part, and it's why I prefer great television to movies. It's hard to develop a connection with characters over the course of ninety or one-hundred and twenty minutes. And even most television shows, most of the ones on this list included, don't address that problem. The Wire is television for book people.
There's nothing specific I can think to cite as a testament to The Wire's greatness. If Arrested Development is the perfect comedy, The Wire is the perfect drama, and it does not lend itself to isolating strengths. It is natural, and, again, perfect. There is an impeccably crafted plot through all five seasons, and once you notice it and look for it, it is incredible, but you don't consciously feel it working. It's invisible, as the best plots should be.
It is the textbook example of ensemble writing. Within the world of The Wire, there is no main character. There are only characters we see more, and characters we see less. We become invested in all of them, and they are all developed over the course of the series. You hear the word "Dickensian" thrown around a lot in conjunction with this show, and quite rightly; the scope of its story, the breadth of its subject matter, is remarkable in every facet.
As far as the story is concerned, The Wire neither begins nor ends. We come into the middle of things in the first episode, and we leave in the middle of things in the sixtieth. Despite this, it is fulfilling. You do not leave the series feeling things were unresolved. And watching it again is possibly more rewarding than watching it the first time.
The first season of The Wire was the best season of any television show I'd ever seen. No hyperbole there. The second season was better. The third was better still. The fourth is, I would say, the best individual achievement in all of television. Combined, the overall work is unrivaled. That this show never won Best Drama at the Emmys is an embarrassment the continued success of Mad Men is only barely helping to rectify.
The Wire was originally my choice for Number 1 on this list, until I began writing an entry for the show that is now Number 1, and I realised I had to promote it. Either way, I remain unfazed in my belief that The Wire is the best television show ever made. You can only do worse.