20 (ish) non-spoiler clips to show your friends to convince them to start watching ‘The Wire’

“You call the guy Snot?”

So, you love The Wire. Maybe you’re among the few who started watching on HBO back during the first three seasons. Maybe you caught on in 2006 for Namond, Dukie, Michael, and Randy. Maybe, like me, you tuned in right at the end, watching all of the seasons to lead into Season 5. Or maybe you’ve watched the whole show on DVD. In any case, you LOVE IT, and now want to turn every person you know into a Wire devotee.

Only problem is you’re not sure how to show clips without ruining plot points or feeling like you need to explain a million miles of backstory. We’ve all been there: “So, in this clip, a guy named Proposition Joe is trying to get a young gun named Marlo to join the ‘New Day Co-Op’ by convincing Omar, Baltimore’s shotgun-toting Robin Hood, to — what? Oh, the ‘New Day Co-Op’ is a drug organization built by Stringer and Prop to combine assets and efforts in the Baltimore drug game in order to — huh? Oh, Stringer is from the Barksdale crew on the Westside while — oh right. Sorry. The Barksdales are…”

Well, your days of trouble are over! Here are 20 (ish) spoiler-free clips that you can use to turn your friends onto The Greatest Show in Television History.

(One note. Though these clips are spoiler-free, should your friend begin perusing YouTube, she’ll easily run into some spoilers. So tell her to tread carefully.)

(A second note. This post was originally at Lists That Actually Matter on ChicagoNow. After the redesign, the post lost its video. I tried to re-insert the video so that you could watch the clips right there in the post, but it didn’t work, so I am re-posting the whole story here. However, you should know that Lists That Actually Matter is amazing and deserves your respect and attention. Go there now. Seriously. I mean, The Wire is totally overrated anyways. Lists That Actually Matter matters. I love them. Plus, that original post has all sorts of cool pictures that I’m not including here. So really, you’re not getting the FULL experience without checking that out and seeing the pictures!)

(Okay, that’s good.)

1. The Opening Scene: The Tale of Snot Boogie

Some of the clips I’m showing have “spoilers” in the sense that if you told a person the clip’s season, and if they were really paying attention, they’d know, “Oh, so-and-so was still alive in Season 4, so I guess he doesn’t die in that scene in Season 2,” etc. And in some cases there are very subtle plot points revealed, ones that your potential Wire fan friend will forget once she begins watching from the beginning. (“You know what subtle means?” “Laid back and shit.”) There is, however, one scene that you can show that reveals absolutely nothing: the opening scene of the series! If they enjoy this, your job will do itself.

2. Snoop buys a nail gun

Your friend may notice that the writers felt it necessary in that first scene for the white cop to spell out for the audience terms like “rolling bones” and “behind the cut rate.” That didn’t go on forever. Here, in the scene that opens Season 4, we find a character buying a nail gun. And that’s all I got to say about that.

3. Iconic scenes: How to play chess

At this point, your friend might say, “So what is this show really ABOUT?”

And you say, “Well, it’s kind of about the drug dealers in West Baltimore and the police chasing them.”

“So show me something with the drug dealers,” they might say.

“Okay,” you say, “watch this.”

And then you show them D’Angelo teaching Bodie and Wallace how to play chess. If your friend is a writer, he’ll enjoy the dialogue and pacing. If your friend is a chess player, she’ll enjoy the metaphors used to explain a complex game to newcomers. Regardless, the famous Chess Scene works as a tidy metaphor for both the show among other shows and the cops among other cops — compared to The Wire, other shows and other cops were “playing checkers on a chess board.”

4. Humor

“But wait!” your friend protests. “Is this going to be one of those preachy, super serious, sorta depressing shows?” Well, yes. But don’t worry! It’s pretty damn funny, too. Here are three amusing clips — the first shows two police out with their girlfriends at the movies running into the two drug dealers they were chasing earlier that day; the second shows a skinny dock worker challenging a larger dock worker to a fight; and the third shows the linguistic creativity of Sgt. Jay Landsman, whose best (and hence, dirtiest) scenes are, sadly, not on YouTube.

5. McNulty and The Bunk

At this point, your head will be spinning with new ways to convince your friend to watch the show, and you’ll start just thinking of characters you wish to introduce, starting with, of course, Jimmy McNulty and Bunk Moreland. It’s important to show them working together AND drinking together, as one would not be right without the other. First is the famous “Fuck” crime scene, and next we see Bunk and McNulty discussing fashion while on a stakeout. And finally… well, you’ll see.

6. Omar

The next character (and possibly the first) you’ll be itching to introduce is everyone’s favorite vigilante, (including President Obama’s) — Omar Little.

In this first clip, we watch Omar rob a poker game, leaving behind a trail of perfectly crafted one-liners. In this second, we watch the man ply his trade in the streets of East Baltimore.

7. Stringer Bell

Ah, Stringer. Most of String’s best scenes are spoiler HEAVY, but this one isn’t, as the macroeconomics student and drug lord schools his street team on the theories of product vs. territory.

8. Avon Barksdale

The differences between Stringer and his boss, business-partner, and oldest friend Avon Barksdale are summed up quite nicely by the latter, when he tells his friend, “I ain’t no suit-wearing businessman like you. I’m just a gangster, I suppose.” Of course, as we see in this scene between Avon and his nephew D’Angelo at the bedside of Avon’s comatose brother, no one on The Wire is “just a gangster” or “just a cop” or “just a junkie” or “just a dock worker” or anything else. A beautiful scene, played wonderfully by actor Wood Harris.

9. Bubbles

If Omar is everyone’s favorite vigilante, then Bubbles is everyone’s favorite junkie. Here we see “snitchin’ Bubbs” teaching a young undercover officer how to look like a true heroin addict.

10. Lester Freamon

The sage of the wire room is none other than Lester Freamon. Like Stringer, many of Lester’s finest moments are plot-heavy. But here we see him schooling (yes, teaching is a theme of the show) a young policeman in the ways of building a case from scratch, as he delivers the show’s ultimate creedo. (start at :43)

11. Proposition Joe

The Wire isn’t just about its opening credits characters, but the supporting players too. Here we see East Baltimore drug lord Proposition Joe Stewart compromising with some dealers new to the game because they happen to be well-connected.

12. Method Man!!

That’s right, hip-hop fans. Method Man’s on the show! And you know what? He’s pretty good, too. Here he is getting interrogated for what turns out to be the murder of a dog.

13. Inner-city teaching

Perhaps your friend is a teacher with experience in a city classroom. This clip shows a new teacher still learning the ropes of his classroom. It’s a wonderful scene, showing how kids can be right, though not for the reasons we adults were hoping.

14. An honest look at politics

Or perhaps your friend has an interest in politics. She might enjoy this scene in which a councilman expresses his distaste for fundraising during a mayoral campaign.

15. Great one-on-one character scene work

Again, let’s say your friend is a writer, or someone interested in learning to write. The Wire is a great place to start. The show is particularly brilliant with scenes between two characters; in fact, many of the series’ highpoints take place between two characters simply talking on a bench. Here we see the famous alley Western showdown between Omar and the mysterious Brother Mouzone…

16. One-on-one scenes, Part II

…while here we have the scene that, thematically, sums up the series, as Omar and The Bunk discuss the downfall in social morality.

17. One-on-one scenes, Part III

This scene, though, between Lester and The Bunk, takes the show’s writing and scene structure to another level. If your friend is still watching clips at this point (I sure hope so!) she may be interested in the laid-back-n-shit nature of this scene construction… the way the two characters speak to each other while discussing totally different topics… the way the dialogue and music bounce back and forth, creating their own rhythm… the way we get small character reveals (Lester talking about nature) in the middle of a larger canvas. Just beautiful.

18. Great speeches, Part I

Okay, okay, I’ll admit: the show can get a little preachy at times. However, you don’t really notice because it’s in the context of a rock-solid story and delivered by great actors playing compelling characters. Besides, what would visual narrative be without some classic speeches? The good thing about The Wire is that the speeches come from all angles. In this clip, a police commander delivers the liberal viewpoint of police work and drug enforcement.

19. Great speeches, Part II

There were a few more speeches I originally included, but ultimately I decided that they were a little too close to spoilers. So how about some thoughts on the relationship between drug dealing and the global economy?

20. Sex and debauchery!!

So, you haven’t sold your friend on the great characters, great writing, great scene work, or anything else. You’re getting desparate. What now? How bout some good ol’ fashion sex and drinking! Sadly, most of the show’s sex is unavailable on YouTube, but it’s not TV, it’s HBO, so you can be sure they’ll squeeze some in. We’ve got boobs for the gents, barrel-chested men for the ladies, and same-sex scenes of both genders for the gays. None of that here, though… watch the damn show already. I mean, if you think I’m going to show you EVERYTHING, well, I have one word for you:


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