There are certain movies and TV series that never lose their impact. No matter how much time has passed, they spark an emotional reaction every single time. The truly special ones ignite a new reaction with each viewing. No show embodies this better than HBO’s classic drama The Wire.
It’s been 20 years since it first premiered, but decades later, we’re still finding new things to love about the Baltimore based-show and its amazing cast of characters. To celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary, The Root spoke with its cast and creators about the drama’s legacy and why it still resonates so deeply with its devoted fans.
For creator/executive producer/writer David Simon, a big reason why The Wire still works is that we are dealing with a lot of the same institutional problems that the show brought to light when it debuted in 2002. He didn’t think there would be such a lack of forward movement, but sadly, that’s where we are.
“I don’t want to say that I’m so cynical that I thought the country would make so little progress on the drug war, mass incarceration and economic disparities between two Americas,” Simon said. “As somebody who was making television, I guess I was like, ‘Gee, I hope it stands as narrative.’ But if you asked me if I hoped that the arguments would still be relevant 20 years later, I was probably rooting against that. [Especially] as somebody who lives in Baltimore and would have liked to have seen a better outcome. I’m kind of sad that it’s making the same arguments.”
The Wire’s long-lasting legacy can be directly attributed to its fascinating characters. Unlike other crime dramas, it firmly exists in a gray area. None of these people are completely good or bad.
“We tried to write them all as human. I know the actors brought everything to it to play them as human,” Simon said. “Some of the things I’m proud of is you will have a conversation in the pit and each character has a distinct view of life and a distinct voice. They’re not just all teenage or 20-something drug dealers, they’re all distinct. The personalities are different. The writers worked hard on that. The actors defined it. And that’s the power of the piece. I don’t think anyone is stereotyped.”
Playing fully-realized people and not just caricatures provided the actors a chance to show how the characters are viewed by audiences with different perspectives and life experiences. Jamie Hector, who played drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield, experienced this firsthand from a group of young fans.
“I was having a conversation with a lot of young kids. I asked the question: ‘What do you consider Marlo to be? A criminal, gangster or businessman?’ They all said, ‘Businessman’. And I said, ‘You see him as a businessman,’” Hector said. “I couldn’t wrap my mind around it because I saw him in so many different ways. But that area of gray, that non-stereotypical way of seeing him and approaching him is exactly what David was moving towards in that work.”
If you’ve ever met a fan of The Wire, you know how devoted they are to the series. They never shut up about it. But to be fair, it’s universally revered as one of the greatest shows in the history of television. Along with its compelling storyline and characters, that obsessive devotion is due in large part to the growth of streaming and so many new generations discovering the drama for the first time. Wendell Pierce loves meeting new fans and hearing about their fresh impressions of The Wire.
“Just recently, I met a man who said, ‘You know, I’m sharing it with my grown adult children now for the first time. They’re in their 20s and it’s great to sit and share something that was so impactful to me with my kids,’” he said.
Like many of his castmates, Pierce knew they were doing something great, but it wasn’t until a very specific person made their love of the series public, that he knew this was a special project.
“I didn’t know until after we had finished. Then the more I traveled, the more people were speaking of it more than when we were shooting it,” he said. “Then, when President Obama said it was his favorite show, I knew we were going to be out here for a while [and] people are going to be speaking about it.”
The Wire is available to own on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital and is streaming on HBO Max.