There have been many great characters throughout television history, but not many of them can claim to be as complex, round, or hard to figure out as Jimmy McNulty from the Wire. McNulty may be the most interesting and deep character ever created. The Wire has many great characters, including popular favorites Omar Little, Stringer Bell, and Avon Barksdale, but Jimmy McNulty was the poster boy for the show and he is the central figure of the show.
Jimmy McNulty is the character featured in the opening scene of the series, and for the next three seasons he plays a prominent role. McNulty is the character rattling the cages of those in charge of the police department. McNulty is the only character putting the job ahead of himself. He wants to catch the criminals, rid the streets of drugs, and make Baltimore a better place. Everyone else in the show is simply holding Jimmy back. If the Wire were a melodrama like most shows on television, it would seem natural to place Jimmy McNulty as the hero of the Wire. He may have a little too much to drink sometimes, he may have cheated on his wife with another woman, and he may have no respect for anyone but himself, but perhaps we can pity him for this rather than hate him. However, the Wire is not a melodrama. It is a drama based on the reality that is Baltimore. Jimmy McNulty does do great things as far as working cases and catching crimminals, but the Wire also shows him for who he really is. We see the pain he has caused his ex-wife and his children. We see the pain he causes Beadie when he again reveals his true traits. We see his disrespect for even those one might consider his friends at the police department. We even see Jimmy McNulty altering corpses and impersonating serial killers, so he can get his way. Jimmy McNulty has many great and honorable traits, but he also has many traits that should be frowned upon.
The Wire even goes as far to essentially remove McNulty from the show for a season. Most shows do not remove their poster boy and central character from the show, but the Wire did not hesitate to. Even by focusing on other things, they managed to develop McNulty. For a moment, many believed Jimmy McNulty could be happy without investigating crimes, but the fifth season puts that belief to rest. He is a character driven and passionate about only one thing, solving crimes. In most show this makes him a hero, but the Wire shows more about him, defeating stereotypes and incorporating the realism that makes the Wire special. Jimmy McNulty is one of the greatest characters in the history of television, not because of his smarts, bravery, or other honorable traits, but because of his negative traits that make him a round, whole character.