Every day I tell people to ‘watch The Wire, it is by far the best television series of all time.’ People generally say either a) they couldn’t get into it or b) what is The Wire? Is it a Karadashian spin off? Ok, people rarely give answer b, but that does not hide the fact, that everyone on earth needs to watch this television series. A Turf Fascination can’t find the right words to detail why The Wire is so good, so please welcome Kelley L. Carter from Buzzfeed to A Turf Fascination…
It’s Time To Revisit The Greatest TV Show Ever (That No One Watched)
Kelley L. Carter
In the summer of 2003, Andre Royo, known to fans of HBO’s The Wire as recovering heroin addict and Baltimore police informant Bubbles, was standing in a buffet line fixing himself a plate at a party for the premium cabler in New York, when he saw Mark Wahlberg making his way toward him.
At the time, the middle of the second season of The Wire was airing, and the actor was at the event to toast the launch of another HBO series, Entourage, which Wahlberg produced.
“I was like, oh shit! Mark Wahlberg’s coming up to me!” Royo told BuzzFeed News via phone, recalling the glint of familiarity in Wahlberg’s eyes. “And he came up to me, and he was like, ‘Hey, you’ve got a good job now. I hope you appreciate your position right now. You better stay clean and take advantage of this moment.’”
Royo was momentarily confused. “I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? I’m an actor. I’ve been doing theater for a little while.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you was a real junkie. I thought they found somebody on the street and they gave him a part. My bad,’” Royo remembered. “He definitely took a step back.”
Wahlberg’s mistake was genuine — and common. By that time, fans of The Wire knew that creator David Simon often mixed real-life people into each episode, including some addicts, former drug dealers, cops and politicians — some were extras, others had a couple of lines. And that ultimately made Royo and his Wire colleagues feel accountable. “I felt like, I have to tell this story the right way, because this motherfucker is standing right next to me. And I’m not trying to make fun of this motherfucker. I’m trying to tell his story,” Royo said. “So, you know, I think Wahlberg just thought I was one of those guys they found in Baltimore and gave me a job.”
Ultimately, Royo took Wahlberg’s confusion as a sign that, clearly, he was doing something right: He knew then that he was turning out the authentic performances he strived to bring to the screen.
But that also was the problem with the series, which ran on HBO for five seasons, from 2002 to 2008. It was gripping, but it gut-punched viewers in a way that perhaps no other TV show had done at the time. It was too real. It played out like a reality TV show you desperately wanted cancelled. It was ahead of its time. Unlike other cop dramas, The Wire wasn’t a procedural, nor was there the promise of a happy ending, tied up in a nice pretty red bow. The Wire was the kind of show that was scarier to watch than the nightly news.
Though it was that type of authenticity that made The Wire one of the greatest shows on TV, it also hindered the series’s success. At its peak, The Wire was able to grab 4 million viewers, but by Season 5, it dipped below 1 million.
Now, however, audiences have another chance to see the series that was perhaps born and gone too soon. HBO is bringing back The Wire this week with a marathon of a remastered HD cut that will air on HBO Signature. Starting Friday, Dec. 26, one season will air per day, and the complete series will be available to purchase on Digital HD on Jan. 5 and on Blu-ray sometime next summer.
But Royo understands why people didn’t tune in during The Wire’s original run. “When I come home, I don’t want to see my misery, you know what I mean? When I turn the TV on, I want to escape my problems. I want to be entertained. TV is called the idiot box for a reason. I don’t want to see the bleak and the problems that I go through every day,” he said. “I think people were too engulfed by seeing such honesty, you know? They want to laugh — they want to have a sitcom. They want to see somebody else’s story.”
Though The Wire was set in Baltimore, it felt familiar to many viewers nationally: The struggles reflected in the series easily could have happened (and quite frankly, are still happening) in many other major cities in urban decay. To others who couldn’t relate, The Wire was a glimpse into a saltier side of life, leaving no angle untouched. In a crime show, audiences are used to seeing that, ultimately, the bad guys get their due. But that rarely happened on The Wire.
“People want good news,” actor Jamie Hector, who portrayed The Wire’s most menacing drug dealer, Marlo Stanfield, told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. “People watched and were like, can a dude like Marlo really exist? Yeah. He can. He’s a sociopath. And that was scary.”
In mid-October, much of The Wire cast gathered at the 2nd Annual Paley Festival in New York for a reunion. The running narrative that night was how, because no one was watching the series at the time it was on the air, they had a chance to really push the envelope and tell unexpected stories without much pushback.
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, actor Michael K. Williams, who portrayed Omar Little, perhaps one of the greatest TV characters ever written, agreed with that sentiment.
“What we set out to do was show you what’s really going on in major cities in America,” Williams told BuzzFeed News. “It was real. I tell people in that time, if in my face it looked like Omar was someplace that he might have smelled something dead, it probably was. We went into real abandoned homes to shoot a lot of my scenes, and we were really in the hood. They were not sets. None of those places were built. We went to real neighborhoods and the community and shot my scenes. All of that lends to the realness of what it looked like.”
That level of authenticity was mind-blowing, giving The Wire a documentary feel, even though the plotlines were fictional. It was almost as if viewers were getting a behind-the-scenes look at life on the force as well as life on the streets.
The stories also felt overwhelmingly black, considering the time and space within which the series was set, but The Wire did a magnificent job at contrasting the central issue: class and circumstance.
“People weren’t ready to see that this wasn’t a black and white story,” Royo said. “It was a universal, middle-class story. It was never about race, it was about the class system, and I think that people didn’t catch on to that. They just thought it was a basic cop show with good guys and bad guys. But if you look at the show at the time it came out, it just had a different tone. It had a different landscape of storytelling. At the end of the day, the bad guy wasn’t caught. This was nothing like Law & Order or CSI where it’s wrapped up at the end. Our endings left you more confused than the beginning. You have to stick out and watch not one episode, not two, you have to watch the whole season to get it.”
That points to another gripe fans of the show — and those who worked on it — have: Why didn’t The Wire ever get nominated for any major awards? Royo points out that as far as judging committees go, shows can only submit three episodes for most awards. But with a show like The Wire, it’s virtually impossible to watch out of context. Simon’s crafty series was such that a small unseen nugget from Season 2 would play a major role in the final season. Almost nothing was a throwaway moment.
“We weren’t getting the numbers and we weren’t getting the nominations. We were a little salty. We were a little salty every year. The Golden Globes, SAG, the Emmys. Nothing,” Royo said.
Instead, the best testament to how well done The Wire is comes from the remarkable afterlife it’s had. Wendell Pierce, who portrayed homicide detective William “Bunk” Moreland on the series, said that he often hears from latecomers who discovered the show long after it was canceled.
“One time, I was with Andre Royo recently, and we were coming out of a bar and this guy started screaming, ‘Oh my god! You don’t understand! Literally, I just finished the last episode! I’m walking out of my apartment after turning off the television after days of watching five seasons of the The Wire and then I run into you guys!” Pierce recalled to BuzzFeed News. “And those moments happen all the time.”
But HBO’s decision to release a remastered HD cut doesn’t signal that a long-whispered-about prequel might be coming, though Pierce is still hopeful that creator Simon might change his mind about that.
“I had spoken with Samuel Jackson, who is a fan of the show, and he was like, ‘Wendell, I would love to play head of that family,’” Pierce said. “So that’s when I approached David … to see that prequel story of how they got to where they were [come to life], and I think it would be fantastic. But to David, it’s a book. It’s a novel. It is what it is, let it stand on its own. [Season 5 writer] Richard Price just nixed it. He said, ‘If I ever see them do a damn prequel of The Wire, I’m going to come and strangle David.’ I was like, ‘Well, thank you, Richard.’ But the idea of seeing the prequel with Samuel Jackson being taken down by Avon [Wood Harris] and Stringer [Idris Elba] and seeing how the police officers all become who they are. It would be great. But you see, the thing about it is this guy named David Simon … He has to write it. And if they get someone else to write it, it wouldn’t be the same.”
The prequel is unlikely at this point, and the people who portrayed some of the most beloved and loved-to-hate characters on the show are perfectly fine with that. They understand that The Wire set a precedent, and they’re fine with that being their particular legacy.
“If you try to come back with a No. 45 jersey on after [wearing] a No. 23, your knees might be a little rickety,” Hector said, referencing NBA legend Michael Jordan, who came back to the court out of a two-year retirement wearing a different jersey number. “I feel like it ended perfect.”
Yeah! Well said! Now get on the download machine and get watching!
Race 1. Take a quinella 2. Judges, 8. Osteria and 13. Mr Liberty. Not sure which one will win, but confidence is high that two of these three will fill spots one and two.
5.6. Preferito $3.50. In a $200,000 novelty race, you can do a lot worse than following the one horse in the race suited to the conditions. This colt also just happens to be trained by the greatest trainer of two-year-olds in Australian racing history.
7.2. Nordic Empire $9. Hard to beat 1st up at good odds.
8.15. Mujadale $9. Will be leading and the other major chances will have to climb over each other to get past him.
10.1. Red Bomber $7. The class horse of the field and the 3kg claim will certainly help.
2.2. Bravissimo $5. Beat Preferito in a trial recently and did it in good time.
5.6. Song And Laughter $7.50. Does not like being favourite. Lets see how she goes when at each way odds.
7.3. Festivity $5. This mare is going too good to keep running 2nd. Although she does have a tricky barrier.
8.6. Sports Edition $5. 2nd best of the day.
9.4. Caped Crusader $5. If he does not win this race, don’t give up as he will only get better with more racing.
2.8. Tisani Grey $19. Missed the start by about 50 lengths when $2.50 on debut. Made good ground late. $19 now and worth some thought.
6.5. Espiriut $7. Great first up and generally improves into a preparation.
7.14. Chillin With Dylan $6. Best of the day.
5.8. I Am Gypsy $4. All the others in this race are looking for more ground!
6.4. Sagapuss $3. Top five ‘best things beaten’ I have ever seen last Saturday. With even luck she should just win.
8.9. Violets Are Blue $4.60. Great horse that looks set for a big preparation.
Race 6. WA Guineas. 1600m Group 2
This race seems to have a lot of different horses engaged that have been running against each other an awful lot with different results on each occasion. For this reason, my thinking is based around the invader from the east, the Hayes trained He’s Our Rokkii. Last start he was just beaten by the eventual Sandown Guineas winner and the way the track played this day, he had very limited chance. The start before that he ran really well at Caulfield, again against the bias and again he made a stack of ground. From barrier 12, Damien Lane will have his work cut out, but if the track is playing fair, as it usually does in Perth, look for this former kiwi to be barrelling down the outside. He will take a power of beating. Blackwood has had 7 starts for 5 wins and 2x 3rd place finishes. He is trained by Fred Kersley and will carry the famous Northerly colours. From the barrier next to He’s Our Rokkii, expect Lucy Warwick to follow the favourite in to the race. Big Red Costa is coming off a maiden win, but often in these three-year-old races that are out of immediate attention, we can overlook improving types. Big Red Costa has improved every start this preparation he looks trained to the minute for this race.
Winner – 5. He’s Our Rokkii $5.50
Hardest to beat – 14. Blackwood $6
Best long shot – 12. Big Red Costa $61
Race 7. The Winterbottom Stakes. 1200m Group 1
Buffering has won this race in the past, and on this day he beat a much better field than what is assembled this year. He also did it when he was not going as well as he is now. He has proven he can travel, and in-fact the further away from his home in Brisbane he gets, the better he seems to go! Like most of the more fancied runners on the day, he has a tricky barrier, but he has proven time and time again, that he will find the front and anything that wants to go with him and try and keep up may as well scratch now. The favourite has won this race 7 of the last 10 times it has been run and it really should be 8 considering Apache Cat was $0.10 shorter than Takeover Target one year (Takeover Target won by an inch). To say favourites generally win is an understatement. Magnifisio is not as good as Buffering, has a worse barrier and only receives 2kg despite having won 5 less Group 1 races! He is the danger to Buffering, but with just even luck, Buffering should brain this field – as we know, things rarely go to plan, but Buffering certainly is as bombproof as horses get. The other worth some thought (considering he is $61!) is Madassa. Two starts ago he beat a horse that will be going around at $1.50 in an earlier race, and he has since won a trial by 7 lengths. He is rock hard fit and is way over the odds.
Winner – 1. Buffering $3.50
Hardest to beat – 13. Magnifisio $8.50
Best long shot – 11. Madassa $61
Race 8. The Railway Stakes. 1600m Group 1
Whereas the favourite generally wins the Winterbottom, they have a terrible record in this 1600m handicap. There are plenty of good horses in the field however a few of the leading chances look as if they are looking for further (Delicacy) or maybe even a touch shorter (Black Heart Bart). I have therefore landed on the mare who is 2nd up and for whom the mile seems the perfect trip. Real Love has never been beaten when 2nd up and she proved when 1st up this preparation, that a recent trip east has done nothing but improve her. Like Buffering and He’s Our Rokkii, this mare has a terrible barrier, and in an even handicap, a bad barrier can spell the end. However, the fact she is 2nd up and at the mile is more than enough to put her on top at the each way odds. Hazzabeel is a winner. He has won 6 from 10 and he is coming off perhaps the best win of his career. Again, he has a terrible barrier, but he has shown in the past that he has plenty of natural speed and can cross the field and lead. He most likely will cross and lead on Saturday, and with just 53kg he may prove very hard to catch. Battle Hero is the other that garners some attention at odds. He was the even money favourite last start when beaten by Hazzabeel by 1.5 lengths. He is now $26, and the run last start was not all that bad. He can bounce back.
Winner 5. Real Love $5
Hardest to beat – 11. Hazzabeel $9
Best long shot – 9. Battle Hero 26
Good luck and stay tuned.