Back for a Final Run, The Wire Shines
TV Critics, so willing to accept government agents who murder their bosses and cops who regularly beat confessions out of street thugs on other TV shows, are now quibbling about the way journalists are shown on HBO's The Wire.
True enough, creator David Simon has made no bones about the resentment he harbors against the Baltimore Sun, where he took a buyout in 1995 amid early cost-cutting which seems particularly minor given the bone-deep slashes underway today at American newspapers. In today's Floridian, I make the case for why The Wire is still one of the best dramas on television -- this year, precisely because of the way it portrays the media.
And the same way some Baltimore police officials, politicians and business people complained that Simon's series focused too much on the awful stuff in their corners of civic life, some critics are making the valid point that Simon simplifies the forces rocking the modern newspaper world -- making heroes of middle manager editors and longtime reporters at the expense of their bosses and young reporters. (I say: who else could make this kind of stuff to only interesting, but compelling -- right down to the nightmares we all sometimes have when at home irrationally convinced we made a mistake in an important story?)
Anyhow, as the show begins its fifth and final season at 9 tonight on HBO, here's my short list of favorite characters from the show's entire run. (See a season five preview here)
Augustus "Gus" Haynes (Clark Johnson) - As the City Editor of The Wire's fictitious Baltimore Sun, Gus is everything every serious journalist wants to be: sharp, savvy, connected, willing to tell his bosses when they're wrong, able to smoke out news at the bottom of a city council agenda and yet, somehow, incredibly charming and cool. I haven't met this guy yet in real life; someday, if I'm lucky, I might grow up to be him.
Omar Little (Michael Kenneth Williams) - He's a feared predator among West Baltimore's drug gangs -- the one man ruthless and skilled enough to regularly rip off the drug gangs without getting capped himself (yet principled enough to leave civilians out of it and live openly a life as a gay man). When new king Marlo Stanfield figured out a bloody way to bring Omar back into the game this season, you know there's bloody times ahead.
Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) - Once marginalized by clueless police officials, Freamon has merged as the best investigator in the department, helping local officials piece together an impressive bribery case against a state senator who was taking money from drug gangs. He's methodical, smart, practical and passionate -- which pulls him into a con by colleague Jimmy McNulty this season which is as audacious as it is unbelievable.
Felicia "Snoop" Pearson - One of many Wire characters played by a real figure from Baltimore, Pearson is basically playing herself as a bloodthirsty, mannish, openly gay enforcer for Stanfield's drug gang. Arrested for second degree murder at age 14, Pearson even nabbed somebody selling bootleg Wire DVDs in a story widely told by creator David Simon.
Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector) - Ruthless drug kingpin bent on taking over West Baltimore's drug trade. Hard enough that he will kill a convenience store security guard for even suggesting he not take candy from the store without paying, Stanfield is the ultimate predator -- moving decisively to take over the city's drug trade this season in a way that is both frightening and compelling.
Russell "Stringer" Bell (Idris Elba) - Convinced he could bridge the street-level drug trade and the legitimate worlds of business and government, Bell was a sharp operator -- taking college courses and financing downtown building projects even as he was directing West Baltimore's drug trade. When he was killed by Omar Little and Brother Mouzone, I thought the series had lost an unforgettable character.