Picks and Pans Review: The Wire

updated 06/16/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/16/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

HBO (Sundays, 10 p.m. ET)
Critic's Choice

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Uncompromising is the word for this crime drama, which dares to disclose information gradually and build momentum slowly as viewers take in the gritty Baltimore atmosphere.

The Wire's first season concerned a complex drug investigation that ended with a realistic whimper rather than a satisfying bang. Kingpin Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) got by with a light sentence while Det. Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) was exiled to a police boat as punishment for his persistence. In the second-season premiere, Jimmy finds a dead woman floating in the harbor and port-authority officer Beatrice Russell (Amy Ryan) discovers 13 suffocated females in a cargo container. It's a messy case that the lethargic Baltimore cops would rather not pursue, until pain-in-the-posterior Jimmy pushes them into action.

There's some hard police work ahead, and that's only the half of it. Most of Jimmy's old colleagues from the first season have been assigned to investigate a waterfront union boss (Chris Bauer) whose dirty dealings seem designed to keep his organization afloat at a time when honest work is drying up. And The Wire continues to monitor the Barksdale drug business, currently suffering from supply problems. The show moves methodically from one story line to another, progressing by inches yet holding our interest with its finely drawn characters and a rare ability to illuminate the gray areas of city life.

BOTTOM LINE: Stay plugged in

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