Last month, for the release of “The Wire” on Blu-ray and the show’s 13th anniversary, City Paper dedicated a whole issue to the show. We thought hard about all five seasons, and made it clear how on point the show was in its diagnosis of the systemic issues within government and the police department and how that’s become even more apparent following the Baltimore Uprising. We assumed that would maybe be the last time we’d really go deep and think about “The Wire,” at least for a while, but there are too many ideas we didn’t get to include for one reason or another.
But members of “The Wire” cast will perform an uprising-themed piece as part of Artscape this year, which got us thinking again about the connections between the show and recent events. The fact that viewers around the country were familiar with David Simon’s Baltimore garnered the real Baltimore a great deal of sympathy and understanding following the death of Freddie Gray and the Baltimore Uprising. Let’s not give an oppressively lauded television show too much more praise—and indeed, David Simon’s own comments, in which he told angry violent protesters to simply go home, were disappointing—but it seems very likely that the overall attitude of the show, which balanced no-nonsense realism about how the system works with a deeply felt sympathy for those caught up in the system from d-boys to the police, made it much harder for the nation to buy into the nonsense that Freddie Gray was “a thug,” or that Baltimore’s problems are the fault of the people bearing the brunt of those problems, or hey, that the police aren’t capable of losing control and harming people. As Baynard Woods said back in our “The Wire” issue: “Carver and Herc killed Freddie Gray.”
A few months out from the uprising, “The Wire” remains prescient. It’s hard not to see the recent removal of Commissioner Batts as, in part, the kind of cagey political move in which a figurehead’s tossed out to cover the ass of everybody else that “The Wire” explored. A recent turn in “The Wire” criticism has involved challenging the show’s sympathy for the police and there is much to be unpacked and criticized about that element of the series, but David Simon and crew also showed how if you pull back and go widescreen and look at the city of Baltimore’s political system, the police are beholden to politicians whose primary concern is how things look. Meanwhile, Martin O’Malley, no doubt the model for Mayor Tommy Carcetti, is making a rather rickety run for president and it all seems as slimy and forced as you’d expect. When O’Malley announced his run for president back in May, it was briefly interrupted by protesters, one of whom sported a “Carcetti For Mayor” T-shirt.
So how will “The Wire” cast respond to the uprising at Artscape? We’d love to imagine a kind of alternate reality mini-“Wire” episode in which we get a glimpse of the characters during the uprising, caught up in it, inconvenienced by it, radicalized by it, or made more cynical about the city’s future because of it. You know, McNulty pissed off by the violence but deeply aware he’s a knucklehead who would totally fuck shit up if he got the chance; Bubbles wandering up and down North and Penn selling #FreddieGray t-shirts; Namond Brice right there leading protesters and maybe even shouting down a Geraldo Rivera type like Kwame Rose did to the real Geraldo.
On Saturday afternoon, in an event sponsored by ReWired For Change, “Wire” actor Sonja Sohn’s nonprofit, members of the cast including Dominic West, Michael Kenneth Williams, Wendell Pierce, Seth Gilliam, Chad L. Coleman, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Andre Royo, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Jamie Hector, Tristan Wilds, and Felicia ‘Snoop’ Pearson will be part of an uprising-themed performance. There will also be a “surprise musical guest performance from one of today’s hottest performers,” the press release says, which is the kind of maddeningly vague teaser speak City Paper usually wouldn’t quote, but hey, this is “The Wire” cast reuniting for a good cause.
The involvement of so many members of the cast is particularly interesting given the strange relationship that “The Wire” has with the city itself. Namely, that even as the president of the United States, Barack Obama, sits down with David Simon like a fanboy and rattles off the lessons he learned about policy and the drug war from the show, local politicians continue to vilify it. Back when the president and Simon talked about the show, City Paper’s Brandon Weigel gathered rather clueless quotes from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (“The show’s popularity was based on showing all that was wrong in Baltimore”), now-former BPD Commissioner Anthony Batts (who said he watched the first season but that’s it), and O’Malley (who said he was “the antidote to ‘The Wire,’” whatever that means). “It’s a shame Rawlings-Blake and Batts haven’t sat down to watch the whole thing, because they might learn something, as Obama clearly has,” Weigel wrote. “The existence of ‘The Wire,’ much like the problems it depicts, simply can’t be wished away.” Even if our politicians don’t like the show, most of the rest of the city does. And its cast seems to be in it for the long haul—and we appreciate that.