Depicting the “other” America
Pissing off the mayor
“We hang out in the Baltimores of the world, writing what we want to write about and never keeping one eye on whether or not it could sell as much as a drama that had, say, more white faces, more women with big tits, and more stuff that blows up or squirts blood real good.” DS
Three or four years ago, I got an email from a friend in which he described The Wire as the best thing he’d ever seen on TV, “apart from Abigail’s Party.” Here was a recommendation designed to get anybody’s attention. No mention of The West Wing, or The Sopranos, or Curb Your Enthusiasm, or any of the other shibboleths of contemporary TV criticism; just a smart-aleck nod to Mike Leigh’s classic 1977 BBC play. It reeled me in, anyway, and I went out and bought a box set of the first series.
I’d never heard of the show. It’s not widely known or shown here in the U.K., although whenever a new season starts, you can always find a piece in a broadsheet paper calling it “the best programme you’ve never heard of,” and I didn’t know what to expect. What I got was something that bore no resemblance to Abigail’s Party, predictably, and very little resemblance to any other cop show. At one stage I was simultaneously hooked on The Wire and the BBC’s brilliant adaptation of Bleak House, and it struck me that Dickens serves as a useful point of comparison; David Simon and his team of writers (including George Pelecanos, Richard Price, Dennis Lehane) swoop from high to low, from the mayor’s office to the street corner—and the street-corner dealers are shown more empathy and compassion than anyone has mustered before. The hapless Bubbles, forever dragging behind him his shopping trolley full of stolen goods, is Baltimore’s answer to Joe the Crossing Sweeper.
We talked via email. A couple of weeks later, we met in London—David Simon is making a show about the war in Iraq with my next-door neighbor. (Really. He’s really making a show about the war in Iraq, and the producer literally lives next door.) We talked a lot about sports and music.