“The city of Baltimore is a poster child for the basic failure to stop lawlessness.” — Governor Larry Hogan ca. 2014
It started with a phone call.
10 years after the team for The Wire wrote their final words wrapping up the highly acclaimed series, crime novelist and tv writer George Pelecanos received a call from Kary Antholis, an executive at HBO, according to an interview with Pelecanos conducted by Julia Sancton of The Hollywood Reporter.
“[He] called me and said, ‘Read this manuscript and let me know what you think. Maybe you’d like to adapt it as a miniseries.’ I thought there was a lot there to talk about. And then I said, ‘I’ll do it if I can bring in my partners, David Simon and Nina Noble, and a couple of The Wire writers as a karmic return to Baltimore.’ And that’s how it came about.”
Four years later, that limited series, We Own This City, receives its debut on HBO with the airing of its first episode on Monday, April 25 with Antholis, Pelecanos, Simon, and Noble serving as Executive Producers.
A generation had passed, but the problems remained.
In the interview, Pelecanos said, “A generation passed. We wrote the last words of The Wire 14 years ago. That’s a generation in the life of the police department when you consider that the average police career is about 20 years. Basically, the drug war that we argued against in The Wire continued apace to the point where generations of cops who had learned how not to do the job and how not to police properly were now colonels and majors. And they’re now teaching the next generation how not to do the job. So what Justin uncovered was basically a police department that had truly bottomed out. And that would’ve happened with or without Freddie Gray. What Freddie Gray and the aftermath of Freddie Gray delivered to Baltimore was a moment where, first of all, communities of color were saying, ‘We’ve had enough of being treated this way by our police department.’ But secondly, the police department itself had a crisis of confidence in that they now had a few guys who knew how to police honestly or constitutionally who, in the wake of indictments related to the treatment of Freddie Gray, and in the wake of the public reaction, if they couldn’t work how they were taught, wouldn’t police. That meant that the guys who were willing to get out of their cars and police, even if they were doing it corruptly and for their own advantage, were now even more valued than before by the department.” (Read more from this interview at The Hollywood Reporter.)
Based on Justin Fenton’s nonfiction book about Baltimore police corruption, We Own This City is a limited six-episode series — and the first that Pelecanos has overseen as showrunner. It returns him to the Baltimore streets and back alleys that provided his entry into the world of television 20 years ago, as a writer on the groundbreaking crime epic, The Wire.
Simon, who created The Wire, suggested that We Own This City serves as a sort of coda to that beloved series, which aired on HBO from 2002 to 2008. By the end of The Wire, Simon had become alarmed by the level of dysfunction in a police department he had covered closely — and sometimes approvingly — first as a Baltimore Sun reporter and then as a TV writer. (Note: You can find links to extensive Crime Story interviews with Pelecanos, Simon, and Fenton at the bottom of this page.)
We Own This City follows an elite squad of Baltimore police, led by Jon Bernthal’s Sgt. Wayne Jenkins (based on a real officer), who presents an earnest protect-and-serve image to the public while engaging in increasingly audacious criminal enterprises on the side. But as in The Wire, which famously expanded to explore the breakdown of multiple civic institutions, the new series’s ambitions are broader than they might initially seem. “We didn’t want to do a show that was just about dirty cops,” Pelecanos said.
“We saw this as a way to talk about the larger issues of policing in America,” he explained. “We wanted to talk about the why of it: How does a system of policing both allow and encourage corruption?” (Read more from this profile of Pelecanos in The New York Times.)
Interested in hearing what others have to say about We Own This City? Check out a couple of the rave reviews it’s received so far below.
“If you’re a fan of The Wire as I am and consider the David Simon series the greatest tv show ever, then you will love HBO’s We Own This City. If you are not the biggest Wire fan in the world (and I feel bad for you, son), you should watch the Baltimore cop-based We Own This City because, while some may see it as a sequel of sorts to the acclaimed Wire, this sometimes non-linear but always strapping six-episode series stands tall on its own as an example of top-notch storytelling, which Simon and Pelecanos totally own here.” — Dominic Patten of Deadline (read more of this review here)
“We Own This City paints a dire if necessary portrait of a city and a law enforcement agency. As young recruits get told they need to forget all the sensitivity training they were taught and as roughened veterans feel themselves inviolate because of their badge, the engrossing HBO series manages to structure itself like a self-aware procedural that constantly asks us to question what we think we know about how criminality is conceived by and within police departments all over the country.” — Manuel Betancourt of The A.V. Club (read more of this review here)
We Own This City kicks off this Monday, April 25 on HBO Max, so be sure to tune in! In the meantime, check out the teaser trailer at the top of this article, and check out some of the interviews that Kary Antholis has done with David Simon, George Pelecanos, and Justin Fenton below.
- “Episode 24: David Simon, The Wire, The Corner, and Homicide – Part 1 of 4″
- “Episode 25: David Simon, The Wire, The Corner, and Homicide – Part 2 of 4″
- “Episode 26: David Simon, The Wire, The Corner, and Homicide – Part 3 of 4″
- “Episode 27: David Simon, The Wire, The Corner, and Homicide – Part 4 of 4″