The Wire portrays a depressing battle between police and drug dealers
The Conservatives have compared parts of the UK to The Wire, a US television show which portrays inner-city drugs and violence.
In a speech, shadow home secretary Chris Grayling argued that the UK was suffering the same culture of gangs and street violence found in the US.
He said Labour had failed to ensure law and order was preserved in the poorest parts of the country.
But Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the comparison to The Wire was "glib".
Mr Johnson said gun-related crime was falling and the police should be supported not attacked for their efforts.
Mr Grayling told an audience in Westminster that police were fighting an "urban war" against gangs and that violence in society had become "a norm and not an exception".
The Wire, which is currently being shown on BBC Two, has been acclaimed for its realistic portrayal of the struggle between police and drug-dealing gangs on the streets of Baltimore in Maryland.
Mr Grayling repeated his charge that poorer communities in the UK have been let down by Labour, saying: "The Wire has become a byword for urban deprivation and societal breakdown in modern America."
He said: "When The Wire comes to Britain's streets, it is the poor who suffer most. It is the poor who are the ones who have borne the brunt of the surge in violence under this government.
"It is they who struggle to live their lives against a constant fear of crime.
"Far too many of those features of what we have always seen as a US phenomenon are now to be found on the streets of Britain as well."
Ministers dismissed the comparison with the hit TV show, saying that drug use in the UK had fallen since Labour came to power and was now at historically low levels.
"The connection between The Wire and Chris Grayling's grasp on the problems of modern Britain is that they are both fictional," Mr Johnson said.
"The serious problems being tackled in our communities will not be diminished by his embarrassing habit of making glib references to television programmes that he thinks will make him sound cool," he added.