Drake Bennett in Slate:
Academics, on the other hand, can't seem to get enough of The Wire. Barely two years after the show's final episode aired—and with Simon's new show, Treme, premiering next month on HBO—there have already been academic conferences, essay anthologies, and special issues of journals dedicated to the series. Not content to write about it and discuss it among themselves, academics are starting to teach it, as well. Professors at Harvard, U.C.—Berkeley, Duke, and Middlebury are now offering courses on the show.
Interestingly, the classes aren't just in film studies or media studies departments; they're turning up in social science disciplines as well, places where the preferred method of inquiry is the field study or the survey, not the HBO series, even one that is routinely called the best television show ever. Some sociologists and social anthropologists, it turns out, believe The Wire has something to teach their students about poverty, class, bureaucracy, and the social ramifications of economic change.
The academic love affair with The Wire is not, as it turns out, a totally unrequited one. One of the professors teaching a course on the show is the sociologist William Julius Wilson—his class, at Harvard, will be offered this fall. Simon has said that Wilson's book When Work Disappears, an exploration of the crippling effects of the loss of blue-collar jobs in American cities, was the inspiration for the show's second season, which focused on Baltimore's struggling dockworkers.
Wilson's class, a seminar, will require students to watch selected episodes of the show, three or more a week, he says. Some seasons, like the fourth, with its portrayal of the way the public school system fails poor children, will get more time than others. Students will also read works of sociology: two books by Wilson, as well as Elijah Anderson's Code of the Street, Sandra Susan Smith's Lone Pursuit, Bruce Western's Punishment and Inequality in America, and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh's Off the Books, works that explore poverty, incarceration, unemployment, and the underground economy.
Asked why he was teaching a class around a TV drama, Wilson said the show makes the concerns of sociologists immediate in a way no work of sociology he knows of ever has.