Photo: Credit Paul Schiraldi/HBO

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The Wire (HBO, 2002–2008)
Troubled city of Baltimore as seen from several angles—police force, drug trade, port, schools, local government, newspaper—and through eyes of central characters (detectives, dealers, thugs, politicians—all roughly morally equivalent).<

Why It's Treated Like Shakespeare's Second Coming
Show had more ambition in one scene than most do in full series; tracked rises, falls of power players—legit and illicit—with clear-eyed compassion; popularized a vernacular (burner, re-up).

Cultural Touchstone
The immortal profanity of "Sheeeeeeeeeit." Intoned by state senator Clay Davis (Isiah Whitlock), means "give me a break." (And yes, it really does merit nine e's.)

One to Watch
Consider "Boys of Summer," season 4 opener, microcosm of show. Slice of life of four schoolkids reveals how series's main concerns—drug use, violence, crime's sirenlike pull— have heartbreaking roots in childhood.