It is a disability that is thrown into sharp, saddening focus in Season Four, when the show's revolutionary treatment of children emerges alongside some of the most chilling examples of sexism in The Wire's run.

Gay characters on TV are almost without exception stereotyped, ridiculed, or defined by their sexuality.

The Wire doesn't so much tear apart this convention as act like it never existed.

A specific and crucial part of the excitement surrounding The Wire is its inherent, instinctive political morality.

The Wire's principally black cast is an anomaly on TV -- the fact that the script confronts racial politics without losing itself in dogma or obsessing over black versus white sometimes seems miraculous.

Threatened with cancellation after the third season and only available to most international viewers via DVD or the Internet, its fans tend to sound frustrated in the manner peculiar to those who recognize the irony of the ratings-chasing system chewing up a series that has explored the oppressive force of institutions with a subtlety and gusto rarely seen on TV.

Ostensibly a cop show set in Baltimore, The Wire is about the city's drug slums, schools, political systems, dock workers, unions -- it doesn't need to move deftly between these worlds because it shows how they feed and double-cross each other, day after day.

But his character, and his position in the fated, chaotic choreography of institutional game-playing that drives the show, transcends all of these things without discarding their fundamental force.

It's exciting to see a mainstream series -- any series, really -- driven by a progressive political sensibility that finds expression in its most profound aesthetic achievements.

If a piece of art is trying to make a change, who is it trying to save?