I love The Wire. It was one of the most important shows on American television and yet all it garnered was critical acclaim, and a few awards. You always know when someone has seen it, because we can’t stop ourselves from talking about it. David Simon, the creator, has talked about what’s going on in Baltimore because as a resident of the city he has long been privy to its inner workings.
A lot of people are probably looking to The Wire or recommending it to others who don’t understand what’s going on in Baltimore right now. And rightfully so, as it is one of the few television shows of the last twenty years that addressed some of those very problems. But The Wire was still required to be a commercial property, and so the stories were sometimes hampered by the need for some kind of cohesive narrative to draw the (white, middle/upperclass) audience in. It was thought-provoking, it was hard-hitting, but at the end of the day it still had to be entertainment.
The Corner paints a much more interesting picture, of the city in particular and America in general, and was made by many of the same people. Short of going to Baltimore and living there for a few years, it’s the closest some of us watching the news can get to understanding what’s going on.
Directed by Charles S. Dutton, The Corner is a dramatization of the nonfiction book The Corner: A Year In the Life of An Inner City Neighborhood. Many of its actors are recognizable from The Wire and elsewhere, and all of them give knockout performances.
As the title indicates, the six-episode miniseries shows a year in the life of a neighborhood that has fallen apart for a variety of reasons. Drugs, economic disparity, civic corruption, it’s all there on display. No punches are pulled by Dutton’s direction or the writing of the show- the grim realities are all exhibited without agenda other than ‘this really happened.’
For example: Francine, a drug addict and mother to one of the main characters, decides to get clean. She goes to a nearby center where she’s been told she can do so. However, the program has a limited number of beds, and sees people eager to turn over new leaves every day slide right back into addiction. She’s told to come back and apply again for four Tuesdays in a row so that they know she’s serious about getting clean. Basically, another month on the street.
It seems simple enough to us, who are reading this article or watching the show in our comfortable living rooms, with smartphones we can program to remind us where to be on certain days at certain times. Or even if we’ve been trained by parents or school programs about time management and basic organizational skills, being somewhere four times in a row sounds easy! We have cars we can use to get around, or means to check the bus schedule fare to get us there.
Francine has none of that. Her ‘normal’ doesn’t require her to know what day it is, or be anywhere at a certain time. As an addict, her internal clock is timed to her next fix, not “Humpday Happy Hour” or “Casual Friday” or anything that might help her get to the center at the right time on the right day. And a month in Bunchie’s neighborhood is a very, VERY long time frame in which a lot of things can happen. The show does not belabor the point, just makes it and steps back.
Another powerful thing about the series was getting to see so many actors I recognize from other shows display such range. Many of the people from the Wire play characters diametrically opposed to their characters in The Corner. Maria Broom, known as Lt. Daniels’ politically-savvy wife Marla in the Wire, is totally torn down as Bunchie, an unemployed addict who sits on her stoop all day. Likewise Clarke Peters, who played natty and understated badass Lester Freamon plays Fat Curt, so named because of the grotesque swelling in his hands and feet that years of drug use have caused. Seeing people of color displaying their range in such a way was a huge eye-opener; I started really thinking about how few roles there are for people of color in American entertainment, and how limited those roles usually are.
Look, I’m not going to pretend I’m anything other than a white woman who watches a lot of TV and movies. But as an American, Baltimore’s strife kills me for a lot of reasons; I know that I live in a different America than a lot of people, I know that I am privileged. I am also struggling to understand both sides of a conflict that has made a lot of bodies and broken a lot of lives. In thinking about it, I remembered I had watched this amazing show and wondered how many other people were aware of it.
Watching a television show won’t make someone understand what’s going on in Baltimore, but The Corner introduced me to a conversation going on in this country that I wasn’t previously aware of, and helped me find an orientation to that conversation. Hopefully it can do the same for others.
The Corner is not available on Instant Watch, but is available through Netflix Disc service and HBO GO or NOW.