Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It's All In the Game

I pity anyone who watches The Wire without having first watched Homicide: Life on the Street. You can consult Wikipedia if you need more technical info here, but suffice it to say that Homicide is a show from the '90s that ran 7 seasons (6 of which I have seen in their entirety and am terribly obsessed with) and is based off of the book of the same name by David Simon. The Wire is winning me over in large part because of its HLOTS connections and how similar the shows are, except one has actual swearing and violence.

I've only seen the first season of The Wire so far, but seriously, half of the extras in the show used to be characters on Homicide and the writers throw in all of their own little HLOTS inside jokes into the episodes. One of the actors from Homicide directed the first few episodes of the show, and apparently Detective John Munch of Homicide (who you may recognize from the perpetually shitty Homicide wannabe, Law & Order...I think he does SVU? Gross) makes a cameo appearance as the same character on The Wire. My list could go on for ages (based only off of Season 1!) and I imagine it only gets better from here. Luther Mahoney, my favorite villain/drug dealer from HLOTS plays an ME on The Wire and I'm excited to see more of him, especially to contrast him to my new favorite compelling-but-technically-bad-guy Omar Little. Both have huge smiles and are smooth with cops. Apparently that is my criteria for "excellent character."

A few sleepy judgments before I go to bed: The Wire is probably better written and sometimes better acted than Homicide, and it doesn't have to have the occasional really stupid plot line to cater to a prime time audience with a fidgety-at-best attention span. But with The Wire, its freedom from the constraints of network TV have lead to its worst parts as well as its best.

For instance, The Wire's numerous depictions of naked, dead, and blank faced black women are severely creepy and definitely in bad taste. I really, really wish this didn't happen. Obviously male characters are shown as dead victims of violence too, but not totally unclothed; it makes it seem like these women's bodies are being displayed for the sole purpose of being looked/gawked at, totally divorced from their personalities or humanity since they were never important or even peripheral characters on the show. The depiction of WOC's bodies as objects to be subjected to nasty voyeurism and violence for entertainment (in this case the entertainment of white people who can afford HBO) is nothing new, and the writers/producers/directors should all know better than to perpetuate that ugly tradition even as they confront so many other complex issues head on.

Homicide, on the other hand, did a good job directly discussing the different roles of women at home and in the workplace through some of the shows prominent characters, but this only seemed to happen with regards to the detectives or other women in the police force. The women outside the office, the ones who were parts of cases, were hardly ever treated with this same respect or given this degree of analysis. I get that this could be (in part) chalked up to the fact that Homicide is a workplace drama about the detectives themselves, but it still seems problematic. HLOTS also was less of a "dude show" than The Wire, based on Season 1; the number of woman characters on Homicide changed from season to season, but usually there were several and they occupied important, authoritative positions on the show. The first season of The Wire had a few good woman characters, but the cast is overwhelmingly male and as a result the show gives priority to the male characters' perspectives and experiences.

Another weird thing: I am not a fan of the state of the U.S. police force, broadly speaking, but these shows obviously make me love cops as characters. Moral conundrum! I guess they also make me love drug dealers as characters, so...whatever. You're a crafty bastard, David Simon.
I will probably have more to say about this when I'm not half asleep.


  1. In fairness, Homicide season 1 only had one prominent female character, Kay Howard. Russert didn't even show up until season 3, and Dr. Cox (ugh) until even later.

    The Wire s1 has Kima and the D.A., so it actually wins on that front.

    But at least Homicide held off on having its lead female detective shot and subsequently written out of multiple episodes until season 3.

  2. Obviously that's the problem of having 6 seasons of Homicide to base my opinions off of and only one season of the Wire. I guess I'm just thinking about the "atmosphere" of the respective shows so far. Kay Howard was allowed to exist in that first season without anyone saying they wanted to "throw a fuck into her" or without any dudes asking rude questions about her sexuality. The DA seems to exist so far mostly as a sexy lady who adds depth to McNulty's character and gets to be harassed by men on the show, and just happens to be really helpful in the case they're working on. I think the Wire is clever about creating the "boys club" feeling on the show sometimes, like to demonstrate what work is like for Kima as a woman and a lesbian, but other times it seems totally oblivious to its own dudeliness. As of right now, I don't think Homicide ever made me feel like I was dumped into some super awkward position of being privy to really weird, occasionally vulgar "men only" interactions. Maybe that makes the Wire a better show for being more "real," but it can also feel alienating.

  3. Also maybe the Wire gets (unfairly?) saddled with "overwhelmingly male" because there are just so many more important characters than there were on Homicide, and they're all--with the exception of two--dudes.