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We Own This City: How Does HBO Miniseries Compare to The Wire?

The number one thing that fans of the original show are going to enjoy the most is the large number of Wire alumni that return to the screen here. Jamie Hector, who played Marlo Stanfield on the original show, is the most notable Wire alum in the cast. He plays a homicide detective in this show, a polar opposite to the street boss Marlo. Other actors that fans should be excited about include Domenick Lombardozzi, who played Herc, and Delaney Williams, who played Jay Landsman. The issue with these castings is that it doesn’t make up for the fact that the character work in We Own This City is severely lacking compared to The Wire. We don’t get enough time with these characters in six episodes to truly care about their motivations. The return of these actors helps to make the show feel part of Simon’s universe, but they don’t serve a functional role in pushing the narrative along.

Jon Bernthal provides some major heat and intensity in the de-facto lead role of Wayne Jenkins. He’s not one of the alumni above, but he does have experience playing an immoral cop (his iconic portrayal of Shane Walsh in The Walking Dead is still beloved by TV fans). Much like Jimmy McNulty in the original show, Wayne Jenkins is a solid lead, but not the type of character that everyone else can orbit around. The rest of the ensemble is once again crucial to making everything come together.

All Cops, All The Time
The main reason The Wire was such a literary show and so dense with cultural discussion is because it explored more than just one angle of Baltimore. Yes, it was a cops versus dealers show at heart, but there are so many different aspects of society that make up the universe that Simon created. We Own This City doesn’t give you the same wide-ranging discussion that the previous show did. The miniseries uses laser-focus to dissect the major corruption within the Maryland Police Department, and the six hour runtime of the entire story doesn’t leave much room for non-police scenes.

This means that fans of the original show will be treated to much of the same great behind-the-curtain discussions between cops, the same sharp dialogue, and similar morally-ambiguous decisions that are made by the police. What you won’t get is the all-around view of the city of Baltimore that you get in The Wire. Each season of that show built upon the previous one to create a complete picture of the city. You got to see the perspective of politicians, teachers, students, journalists, drug dealers, cops, and more. Each part of the population affected each other in a way that they became interchangeable. Police became teachers and students became drug dealers.

It’s fitting that We Own This City wanted to focus solely on police brutality though considering how prominently the issue looms in 2022. Simon and Pelecanos clearly felt that this time in history is no longer the opportunity to show every perspective. The show leans heavily into depicting its cops as horrible people, demonstrating the ways that even one police officer’s actions build upon others to create the morally inept system that is in place.

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