Hello all and welcome back. Today, a little thought I had. And at the end, perhaps it could be put to good use in writing. We shall see…
I (as was sufficiently documented on this here blog) am a binge TV viewer, as in – don’t have cables, watch everything on Netflix/Amazon etc. – and as one, I’m pretty much always on “catch up mode” with the rest of the western society. Sometimes, the catch up would be on some pretty recently finished show (as was the case with say… “Breaking Bad“) and sometimes a long overdue TV-fest (Such as “The Sopranos” or Dexter).
One TV series I watched in “real-time” (or as close as it could, being in Israel at the time) was Homicide: Life on the street. I have already crowned this one the best ever in a previous post, (though I’m almost tempted to bring in Breaking Bad in, as a late entry).
I was reminded of this one a few weeks ago, as I was binge watching “The Wire“.
Now, here comes the thought – The two best police TV dramas are based in where? New York? Los Angeles? Miami? Chicago? Nope… in little ole’ Bawlmer!
What is it about Baltimore that makes that so? What is it about those two shows that couldn’t have been done in a different – more “sexy” – location?
These two shows have some things in common and some pretty big differences. I’m not really trying to compare the two, just to see what was it about them which would likely work better in this not trivial location.
Frank Pembleton/Tim Bayliss Vs. Jimmy McNulty/Lester Freamon – I know there are other very good characters on both shows, I just used these “couples” because in a way they’re the same though different. Black/White aside, those are detectives who care about “real police work” and are willing to push the boundaries of that term to solve the crime. Homicide’s Pembleton and The Wire’s Freamon are philosophers, who “know better”. Their approach to policing is based on a well-defined thought process, at the end of which they get results. Bayliss and McNulty of course differ in – where McNulty is a veteran who’ve seen it all, Bayliss is learning to be “real murder police”. But they both show the stubbornness, if not obsessive drive to get to the truth.
Villains – In The Wire, leaving politicians aside, the villains are the drug kings of Baltimore, and there were a few. I would choose to focus on the more interesting one – Stringer Bell (Yes, Avon Barksdale was the target, but we all know who really made that empire). In Homicide, it wasn’t so much about a specific villain, but if one had to choose a significant foe, one would have to choose Luther Mahoney of course. In an ironic twist of coincidence, Erik Todd Dellums who was Mahoney in Homicide, was also Dr. Randall Frazier of The Wire. But the more interesting point is that these two villains shared some things in common. Both viewed themselves as businessmen, entrepreneurs first, and drug dealers second. Both would use violence when deemed necessary and thought nothing of it, but as backup for when the business approach failed. Both fronted in some social capacity and were literally untouchable. Both of course shot to death in a somewhat unresolved manner (in terms of law and order). A side note: The wonderful Clark Johnson also featured on both shows, as Meldrick Lewis in Homicide, and as Augustus Haynes of The Wire.
Now, thinking about the characters, the plots and the style of these shows (which is the reason I love them so much), one would have to come to the conclusion that it couldn’t have been achieved on any other location. NY and LA are just way too big for this to work. These shows required a smaller, less “shiny” location and, all due respect to the city of Baltimore, one couldn’t really find a place which answers all of the criteria required to make these shows maintain credibility. Just try to picture any of this in any big city, or a smaller one without the rep this city has. It’s hard to picture these characters even existing. It makes some of these plots completely impossible if not downright stupid.
So what is it about Baltimore? I guess it boils down to this – If you want to create a TV police drama which gives time for a story line to evolve over a season or even two – without the distractions of a huge metropolis (many crimes, little patience) – and yet have time to bring out multiple characters at great depths, I guess Baltimore is a no-brainer.
Oh, and there’s also the fact that both shows are based on David Simon’s Homicide: A year on the killing streets 🙂
I guess the lesson for today is – locations could be of great significance for the plot to work, for characters to evolve and even give the right “atmosphere”.
So, to wrap this up for today, let me quote probably the best TV detective character of all times (Credit: Planet Claire Quotes):
Wait wait wait. That doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense. What does life and homicide have to do with each other?
Until next time,
More on “The Wire” and “Homicide”:
- Slate – After The Wire
- 100 The Wire quotes
- Academy of meaning-making and observations
- Variety – Anatomy of a Homicide: Life on the street
- Merespace – Homicide: Life on the street
- Martin Crookall – Homicide: Life on the street