'The Wire,' So Real You Could Feel It

By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Gather round the pool table, crank up the Pogues' "The Body of an American" and raise a shot glass of Jameson in honor of our dearly departed "The Wire," for the HBO drama is no more.

We mourn for the show some critics called "the most authentic epic ever on television." It could take days to recover from the notion that new drug kingpin Marlo escaped prison time in Sunday night's series finale (then again, it was to be expected; this isn't "Law & Order"). It will take time to digest the fact that Bubbles the recovering addict was staying clean, but that Dukie was the newest user.

And it will take a while to realize that Baltimore Mayor Carcetti, the do-gooder crusader, turned out to be just as ruthless as his predecessor. That resilient politician Clay Davis has, for the last time, stretched out his favorite four-letter word into a four-beat expletive. That Scott, a.k.a. the Fabulist, won a Pulitzer and that Gus the city editor got demoted to the copy desk. That the streets' Omar and Prop Joe and Snoop and Cheese all got got.

Mourn, because this is that rare show worth grieving for. It served up reality writ large, reality in the form of a five-season visual novel set in the mean streets of Baltimore, marinated in Old Bay seasoning and a hefty dose of skepticism and rage against the systems that fail us.

So mourn, but take comfort in knowing that its creator, David Simon, has moved on. He's never been afraid to knock off a major character, no matter how popular. And he didn't flinch from knocking off his own show.

"I can't exactly say it's been emotional," Simon said by phone yesterday between breaks editing his new HBO miniseries, "Generation Kill."

He said goodbye a long time ago -- like, last September when "The Wire" wrapped. He always knew it was going to be a five-season show.

And that means there likely won't be "The Wire: The Movie" coming to a multiplex near you. "We just finished the show," Simon said. "We really did finish it. . . . I think we've said what we have to say."

David Mills, who wrote episodes during "The Wire's" last two seasons, yesterday hailed the series's accomplishments. "As a fan, first and foremost, the thing that was extraordinary about it was the immense range of meaty roles for black actors," he said. "It's saying too little to say it was groundbreaking."

You didn't watch "The Wire" so much as you let it wash over you. For some, the show's combination of grit and grime was too much reality, but "The Wire" generated a fiercely loyal following. It always struggled in the ratings at the same time that critics heaped praise upon it. Its air of authenticity was greatly aided by the real-life characters sprinkled in with the fictional ones.

Last September, I was on the set of "The Wire" for the final shoot of the final episode and witnessed the goodbyes. (For all its on-the-street vibe, much of "The Wire" was filmed on a cavernous soundstage in Columbia, which is where the show wrapped.) I sat with Simon, watching as director Clark Johnson -- who also played the Baltimore Sun city editor -- cracked jokes and put his cast mates through their paces. As the night pushed into the wee hours of the next day, more and more cast and crew jammed into the soundstage. And after actors finished their final scenes, they were applauded and feted. Tears flowed.

All the actors I spoke with talked about how much they would miss the show, not just because it meant steady employment in an oftentimes dodgy profession, but because they were convinced they'd never again find work doing something quite as good.

Call it entertainment as mission statement. Said Wendell Pierce, who played the detective Bunk: "We showed the possibility of television as art."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company