First, know that I am firmly in the tank for “Homicide;” I firmly believe it is the GOAT, though the show suffered a drop-off in quality in the last two seasons. I will accept that for most people, “The Wire” is the superior show. However, I give maximum points for “Homicide” being a) based upon David Simon’s incredible book the show, and her spirit was seen in the closing of the finale. The show rarely used such cop show clichés as car chases or shootouts, and instead focused on dialogue. Visually, “Homicide” broke the rules of television, using cinematic techniques from the French New Wave among other movements. Further, the centerpieces of the show, The Board and Lt. Al “Gee” Giardello, were innovations for storytelling and racial politics on television.
The Board in both Simon’s book and the television series is the center of the squad’s activities. The names of all murder victims are entered on the Board, open cases in red ink, closed cases in black. The detectives’ careers are therefore on display for all to see and judge, but the Board is also a way for the victims to be spoken for, a key element in Simon’s book and the series for showing the motivation of the men and women who are drawn to working Homicide.
Giardello’s character, adapted from the real Baltimore Homicide Department’s Gary D’Addario, remained Italian and was played by Jewish-Cameroonian-American actor Yaphet Kotto. Giardello’s pride in being both black and Sicilian was a recurring element of the show, as the character speaks fluent Italian but often senses that systemic racism keeps him from being promoted to Captain. Gee’s internal and external conflicts of race and identity paralleled the struggles over racial and personal issues throughout “Homicide’s” run and is a theme that Simon would expand upon greatly in “The Wire.”
In the series finale, “Gee” runs for Mayor of Baltimore but is assassinated, bringing all the former detectives back to the squad to put the case down, to move the name Giardello from red ink to black on the Board. “Homicide” was powerful television that never found a large audience, partially because it had to pull punches with language and depictions of the results of violence and because NBC kept moving its time slot.
On the other hand, HBO gave Simon the creative freedom to expose the underside of Baltimore’s streets in “The Wire.” If you don’t like—nay love—“The Wire,” you need to close this window now. Go away, nobody likes you.
Bringing on such creative talents as “Homicide’s” Clark Johnson to direct the pilot (“Homicide’s” Det. Meldrick Lewis) and Peter Gerety (Det. Stua Gharty) in a recurring role as “Judge Phelan” as well as cast and crew members from Simon’s HBO Miniseries “The Corner.” The cast of characters expanded with each season but the depth of characterization in such characters as Stringer Bell, Omar Little , Jimmy McNulty, among many others is rarely seen outside of literary novels.
David Simon’s series took the best parts of “Homicide”: great characters drawn from the real world of Baltimore, but expanded its vision from the Board to focus whole seasons on the war between the police and the drug dealers, then to the world of the dockworkers, then the political system at large, the school system, and finally the newspapers. “The Wire’s” startling ability to show the deeply entwined structures of power in each of these institutions is unmatched in American television historya. Louis Althusser would have loved this show.
Simon also used continued “Homicide’s” system of developing plot structures over multiple seasons and from multiple points of view but took it to a new level in “The Wire”—not simply focusing on the police, but on how a city’s fractured institutions are symptoms of the depths of the modern city’s overall disease.
“The Wire” is the best dramatic series HBO has ever produced. Better than “The Sopranos.” Yeah, I said it. Now go—the whole series is on sale.
Amazon is now offering a tremendous deal: The complete DVD collections of: “Homicide: Life on the Streets” (35 DVDs) for $114.49 and “The Wire” (23 DVDs) for $155.49. To buy these series at these prices is to steal. To not own these is simply foolish. You can also package these two series with the nearly as good “The Shield” (another 29 DVDs) for a total of $378.47. This does not suck.