Perhaps the only complaint ever lobbed at The Wire by serious critics was that the show lacked distinct visuals. It was derided for a lack of style, visual panache: utilitarian in nature the camerawork simply told the story in the simplest manner possible. Now, although I have always found these complaints unfounded, I waited until now to mention that the visual style of The Wire has always been underrated.
Why now, you ask? Because Norwegian academic Erlend Lavik did all the heavy lifting for me, crafting the below-embedded video detailing the distinct visual style employed by David Simon's production team when crafting my favorite TV show of all time. What many people saw as flat and boring in The Wire's visuals, was in fact an attempt to mimic the style of documentary filmmaking—in particular, the work of Frederick Wiseman (one of my favorite documentary filmmakers).
I've always had an idea that this is what Simon was going for, but so many of the techniques he employed, I'll admit, flew over my head until I watched Erlend's video. For instance, Simon never wanted the camera to know more than the viewers; it couldn't anticipate action. And so, in dialogue scenes for instance, the camera never moved to a character until after he or she started talking—as if, as in a documentary, the events were spontaneous, the cameraman just trying to catch whatever he could on film.
But why are you still reading this? Watch Erlend's thoroughly researched and beautifully constructed video to get a better idea.