March 14, 2012
Mourning The Wire…and decent roles for Black actors.


The Wire is the best show in television history.

No, I will not admit debate on this issue.

And that’s not why I’m here anyway. 

The Wire is a heartbreaking novel of America, and apart from overall sublimity, one of the most unprecedented and invaluable aspects of the series was the opportunities it afforded African American actors to create some unforgettable, nuanced, layered characters.  On TV.  On American TV, even.  And, sure, it’s not exactly groundbreaking for black actors to play drug dealers or cops, but there are drug dealers and cops on, say, NCIS or CSI, or SVU, or PDQSI (Police Department Quest…Special..Investigators? Maybe?) and playing those same roles on The Wire.  For me, the portrayal of black characters on even a decent cop show like The Shield looks half-assed and caricatured, while every other damned crime show is just a vaguely-racist cartoon.  That’s how good The Wire is; its basically spoiled an entire genre for me.  I don’t mind, really- it’s a threadbare genre worth spoiling. 

And so, when I see The Wire's black actors, some professionals who've been toiling on the fringes of the industry forever, some Baltimore nonprofessionals, all of who worked in conjunction with the show's creators to embody some of the most memorable characters in the medium's misbegotten history shunted back to the margins playing “cop/criminal of the week” in network crime-crap, well, I get mad.  Mean mad. 

And I wanna do something about it. 

And lest someone suggest that I’m being condescending and/or patronizing (“thank god a white blogger is here to save the poor black actors”), I’d respond that I am genuinely offended as a fan on behalf of these very talented people whose work touched me. When they finally had a chance to show what they could do on a project that afforded them a measure of respect, they absolutely killed it.  Seeing them shunted back to mediocre-and-worse crap just pisses me off for them.  (I’m exempting old pros like Lance Reddick, Robert Wisdom, Frankie Faison, and Glynn Turman from the list- they can take care of themselves. Plus, people have clearly caught on to the magic that is Idris Elba.  [Although I have been instructed by my lovely wife Emily that Elba should definitely be the next Doctor Who…)

WARNING #1.  As the whiteboy (and I mean white) half of Brannigan’s Law, Dennis recognizes that he sounds like a big, mealy-mouthed, liberal, do-gooder, sheltered suburban little swot who accidentally heard a Richard Pryor album when he was fourteen and thus became enamored of African American culture.  To which he responds, in his best Richard Pryor voice, “Fuck you, motherfucker.” 

WARNING #2.  This is gonna get SPOILER-y. If you haven’t seen The Wire, in its entirety, then stop reading right now.

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