Normally, this sort of comparison tends to be derogatory or dismissive. It is, in this case, quite the opposite: The Line is in every best possible sense a very Canadian take on similar settings, story elements, characters and themes.
The 15-part crime drama – an eight-episode "second season" was ordered up even while the first was still shooting – debuts tonight on The Movie Network at 10.
The Line, like The Wire, is a gritty, graphic, character-driven depiction of a street-level drug war, seen from both sides of the street, the cops and the criminals, intersecting and inextricable, and similarly conflicted and complex.
There is not a single aspect of the series that is anything short of addictively compelling, from its strip-mall Scarborough locations to its charismatic casting.
Toronto has never looked seedier, filmed with an evocative kinetic energy that only enhances the impact.
Set and shot largely in the bleak, prison-yard desolation of disintegrating public housing blocks, there is an immediate unspoken understanding of how environment alone engenders such hopelessness and desperation.
Which would mean nothing dramatically were we not immediately invested in the characters, vividly depicted in varying shades of grey – good and evil, fallibility and resolve – by a uniformly excellent ensemble.
There are two male duos at the heart of the tale. On one side: the contentious detectives, grizzled disillusioned veteran Ron White and a drunken, hooker-happy Daniel Kash.
On the other: the seething, stone-cold drug lord chillingly depicted by former rapper (Maestro Fresh) Wes Williams and his reluctant lieutenant, a mass of tortured, conflicting emotion indelibly embodied by Clé Bennett.
But mostly unlike The Wire, the women in The Line are equally if not more significant to the story, from U.S. import Sharon Lawrence (NYPD Blue) as a compromised prosecutor, to Sarah Manninen as Bennett's increasingly frantic ex.
Other stellar American actors, clearly intended to boost international appeal, appear in future episodes – I've gotten as far as the promising introduction of Linda Hamilton (the real Sarah Connor), and look forward to the arrival of craggy veteran Ed Asner.
Also unlike The Wire, The Line is less concerned with the pursuit of justice than it is how unjust that process can be, and its effect on those on either side of that "line" and the innocents who find themselves trapped in between.
The script itself also sets it apart, being far more Mamet than Bochco or Wolf, its stark realism offset by tension-breaking dark humour – in other words, exactly what one would expect from the celebrated pen (keyboard) of playwright/screenwriter George F. Walker and his partner Dani Romain (This is Wonderland).
There will likely be another key difference between The Line and its illustrious American predecessor. Given how enthusiastically TMN is promoting it, The Line may well escape The Wire's fate as "the best TV show you never saw."
I must add, in the interest of full disclosure, that director Gail Harvey, who helmed most of the episodes, is my next-door neighbour. It is therefore a (not unexpected) relief that The Line is in fact as good as it is.
Things don't always work out that way.
APRIL FOOL Apparently Carlawood, a "reality" chronicle of comedian-turned-actor Carla Collins' misadventures in L.A., has just been bumped from an April 1 debut date on E! to April 19 on the somewhat less prestigious rerun channel, TVtropolis.
I'm guessing that someone finally got around to actually watching the pilot.
Rob Salem is the Star's TV columnist and a close personal friend of Carla Collins. Until she reads this. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.