The Wire’s Roots: David Simon’s Homicide.

Wire addicts looking for a fix should check out David Simon's Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

Wire addicts looking for a fix should check out David Simon's Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

Dunreith, Aidan and I have been watching The Wire-in my humble and admittedly ill-informed opinion, one of the great television dramas of all time-for a second time.

We’ve made our may through the first four seasons and have just begun the fifth. 

I’ve loved each of the seasons, finding the third season, in which the conflict between Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale as well as between the Barksdale crew and the one run by Marlo Stanfield, particularly gripping.  I also found that I enjoyed the fourth season, which focuses on the city’s troubled school system by concentrating on four eighth grade boys, more than I remembered the first time. 

The fifth season is a bit lacking to me. 

Even though I am in journalism, I am finding both the anger of prize-seeking bosses and quote fabricating reporters and McNulty’s antics in tampering with dead bodies and spreading the false rumor that there was a serial killer in Baltimore in the fifth season a bit much to swallow.

Still, Wire addicts looking to get a fix of their favorite characters might want to head back to the late 80s, when David Simon, then a young reporter for the Baltimore Sun, spent a year in the Homicide division of the Baltimore Police Department. 

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets is the book that resulted.  Wire fans will likely have many knowing smiles as they read about Jay Landsman, the duping of suspects into confessing by using a photocopier as a “lie detector” test, the placing of dead police officers’ bodies in bars as they are saluted by their companions, and the department’s endless obsession with the clearance.

Many of the characters, scenes and institutions that Simon unrelentlingly portrays are broken in The Wire are essential elements in Homicide.  Reading the book is almost like seeing an earlier version of one of Michelangelo’s statues half-carved out of marble: the future masterpiece is visible, but not yet fully formed.

The drug dealers and users are a major ingredient of The Wire that is not a significant part of Homicide.  Simon spent the year with the detectives, and while he does an effective job of painting complex pictures of these public servants, his depcition of the criminals at that point was far thinner. 

One of The Wire’s many virtues is its rich, multi-faceted and changing representation of characters’ ebbs and flows, whether through McNulty going through a season-long stint as a sober, engaged partner with Beattie before resuming his earlier ways in the fifth season, or Kima Greggs’ relationship committed relationship deteriorating after her partner Cheryl has a baby or informant Bubbles’ tortuous journey to get and stay clean.

This absence doesn’t mean that Homicide isn’t worth a read, particularly for people hungry for a B-More fix.  It just mean that they shouldn’t expect the earlier work to cover the same ground.

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4 responses to “The Wire’s Roots: David Simon’s Homicide.

  1. Enjoy Season 5! If this helps, think of it as the dark comedy Wire season. Still some problems with the narrative, but like a bad Beatles album, it’s better than almost anything else. I say.

    http://readjack.wordpress.com/2009/07/29/the-godfather-of-television/

    All best.
    sincerely, Jack M Silverstein

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Jack, and I hope lots of folks read your take on The Wire on your blog. You’ve got a lot of passion for, appreciation for, and insight into, one of television’s best shows ever (Not that I’ve watched them all, but you know what I mean!).

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Jack,

      Are you on Facebook? I just checked and there are a LOT of people with your name. I’ll send you a friend invitation if you tell me which one of the Jack Silversteins is you!

      Jeff

  2. Pingback: All the pieces matter: analysis, essays, and anything else on The Wire « the readjack.com blog

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