Posted on Thursday, December 17th, 2009 by Hunter Stephenson
There is little doubt in the minds of many critics and cultured viewers that any single season of The Wire would be perched near or atop the best films of the decade if it qualified. In a new eight-page interview with Vice, the writer and creator behind all five seasons of the HBO series, David Simon, offers characteristically solid, amusing no-bullshit insight into how The Wire was created.
Even post-finale, any casual conversation about The Wire is akin to slitting open the belly of a five-headed Jaws, and Simon dives in afresh. The series’ overarching theme, he says, is that, “Human beings—in [America] in particular—are worth less and less.” He also extends on why Charles Dickens “punked out” and why seasons weren’t set aside to tackle immigration and health care. What’s the main thematic difference between The Wire and his new, New Orleans set HBO series, Treme? Simon’s impassioned explanation, after the jump…
…[Treme] is a little bit different in that it’s a celebration of what we’re capable of as Americans. The Wire tried to imply—and I felt it being from Baltimore, and I think Baltimoreans felt it, but I’m not sure how well it conveyed for the rest of the country—the value of the city as the essential American experience. We’re an urban people. Eighty percent of us live in metro areas. I don’t buy the whole Republican convention with its small-town values and ‘We represent the real Americans.’ I live in Baltimore. I’m concerned with big-city values and I live among real Americans. I could give a fuck about the other 20 percent of the country. I care about how we live together in cities.
New Orleans has created such unique cultural art in terms of music and dance, and it’s a very idiosyncratic culture, it shows the value of what the American melting pot is capable of. It does it in a way that is visual and musical and demonstrable, and it does it in the fucking street every day. Somehow this city is trying to find a way to endure while the political essence of the country doesn’t give a fuck. That, to me, is a fascinating dynamic.
Regarding the first part of the above pull quote, I have to laugh when Simon adds that some viewers residing in rural towns or suburbia seem to feel that characters in The Wire should just move the fuck out of Baltimore. He disagrees deeply, as one might hope, but I can’t say this quasi-solution hasn’t crossed my mind while watching. But then again, so has ending it all, so hey! And it’s a doubly-sharp observation, since so many of us had similar reactions watching the death and depressing struggles during and after Hurricane Katrina, from a televised and online distance.
Treme—which Simon co-created with writer/producer Eric Overmyer (St. Elsewhere, Homicide)—debuts with a pilot episode, said to run an hour plus, in April of next year. Set in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, and titled after Tremé, a New Orleans neighborhood, the series centers on the lives of jazz musicians and second-line culture. Here’s a recent set visit report. Wire vet, Wendell Pierce (Det. Bunk Moreland), plays a lead character named Antoine Batiste, a professional trombonist, while Wire vet Clark Peters plays a bass player and “Mardi Gras Indian chief,” another piece of black New Orleans culture that many aren’t familiar with. Actor Steve Zahn also stars. It will be cool to see him in more challenging material compared to some of his recent “killer, gah!” film output.
With two recent and decent films set in New Orleans and the French Quarter, Bad Lieutenant and Princess and the Frog, not to mention HBO’s smash True Blood, the region appears on the verge of permeating pop culture. All the better to lure in viewers who might otherwise not be indifferent. It’s funny. I recently saw Princess and the Frog only to read Simon’s thoughts on the ubiquity of simplistic, underdog storylines exercised in so many films today (in this case, one for children, but is that an excuse?)
…The thing that American entertainment is consumed with is the individual being bigger than the institution. …’You can’t do that.’ ‘Yes, I can.’ ‘No, you can’t.’ ‘I’ll show you, see?’ And in the end he’s recognized as just a goodhearted rebel with right on his side, and eventually the town realizes that dancing’s not so bad. I can make up a million of ’em. That’s the story we want to be told over and over again. And you know why? Because in our heart of hearts what we know about the 21st century is that every day we’re going to be worth less and less, not more and more.
On why the topics of immigration and health care/hospitals didn’t receives seasons of their own, joining the drug war, the media, and education, Simon says that immigration would have needed to be the fourth season. The time available to do this, and the fact that no one on staff spoke Spanish, would have made this nearly impossible. Health care, he feels, though urgent and current, is too similar in terms of inside-politics and man-versus-institution to other seasons.
Related posts: For /Film’s recent interview with Vice magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Jesse Pearson, who conducted the discussed interview with Simon, click here. Check out a Wire-crazed /Filmcast ep here. For the 100 Greatest Quotes from The Wire, click here.