LIKE every other guy on the planet, I am obsessed with “The Wire.” The recently wrapped-up HBO show seems so real and honest, and its characters so lifelike, that it’s hard to believe that Baltimore might not be exactly like it’s depicted in the show.
To me, it’s the complete opposite of that other beloved cop show about Balmer, “Homicide: Life On The Street.” The 1993-99 NBC series, the precursor to “The Wire,” has been praised as one of the best television shows ever (Entertainment Weekly just ranked it among the Top 50 TV “classics” of the past 25 years), but damn, I find it a chore to sit through. Not that I haven’t tried. I’m still trying.
I watched it live when it debuted (the same year as the far-more-entertaining “NYPD Blue”), and stayed with it for a couple seasons before tuning out. Years later, I rewatched the first two seasons twice, figuring that I must have missed the genius that everyone else saw. I’m still working my way through the DVDs, drawn by the promise of David Simon, the co-creator of “The Wire” and the author of the book on which “Homicide” was based (and a producer in later seasons.)
But the show never seemed to live up to the talent involved (talent that included Barry Levinson as an executive producer). I found original cast member Ned Beatty completely miscast, Kyle Secor‘s “Det. Tim Bayliss” an endlessly inconsistent central character, the stylized jump cuts and handheld camerawork out of sync with the unconvincing story lines and dialog, and the performances unnatural (the cast tried way too hard to sound as if they were improvising, so most scenes play more like acting exercises).
And that includes Andre Braugher. I will never understand the ridiculous amount of praise he got for his portrayal of “Det. Frank Pembleton.” He’s overly intense and showy and blustery and actorly (in other words, he won an Emmy), so I never bought him as a real person. Four or five seasons in, after Braugher’s character suffered a stroke, the performance got even worse — his calculated stammering and stuttering took his look-at-me Acting to 11. “The Wire” has probably a hundred actors giving more authentic performances than Braugher’s.
Ironically, the most natural performer on “Homicide” was Richard Belzer, more a comedian than an actor when he took the role of “Det. John Munch.” By underplaying his part, he created a genuine and likable character that would appear on just about every other TV show since then. Including, apparently as his reward, “The Wire.”