I’ve been saying for tedious years now that the reason The Wire has come to be regarded as the best show of the New Golden Age over, say, The Sopranos is because everything The Wire has to say, it actually says. On both a thematic and a narrative level, The Wire is about the failure of American government and law enforcement. Since many or even most critics writing for mainstream publications use allegory as the great legitimizer for genre art, this is catnip. You don’t even need to do the high-school English-essay amount of interpretation necessary to figure out whether the zombies represent consumerism or the amphibious monster represents American intervention on the Korean peninsula or whatever — all you need to know is how you feel about the War on Drugs, compare it to how David Simon feels about the War on Drugs, and call it a day. I realize I’m being reductive and unfair, there’s more to The Wire than an editorial cartoon, there’s breathtaking breadth and (the final season aside) depth to what he and Ed Burns did there, but yeah, pretty much that’s what’s going on.
The marked trend of fiction in television and movies is towards a realism that thinks accurately presenting the world of something is a sufficient enough achievement to merit the status of art (spitballing: for movies, the Lord of the Rings could very well be patient zero of this trend: so visually and stylistically impressive that plot and pacing decisions are largely left unexamined. And Tolkein would be an interesting case since he so heavily resisted attempts to read into the plotting decisions he made.). If one looks at, oh, Louie or Girls or Breaking Bad or Mad Men on tv, the praise heaped on them is almost always of the form "these people have depicted something that looks and feels like the real world, therefore they have succeeded." It's all visual and emotional and emphatically not intellectual.