We Own This City will inevitably draw comparisons to The Wire, given their shared Baltimore setting, and though the latter stands as the greater achievement, it’s not necessarily the most meaningful resemblance. As much as We Own This City covers a lot of ground, the scope of The Wire stretched far beyond the police to an entire urban environment, capturing how every element of the social and political economy connected. We Own This City specifically focuses on policing, and suggests that it’s actively worsened since the early 2000s when The Wire was set.
The series spends a great deal of time in the lead up to Donald Trump’s election in 2016, which allows Simon and Pelecanos to show how an absence of justice for dead black men, coupled with economic displacement and a politically polarised culture, have exacerbated distrust in the police, who in turn are depicted as viewing the people they’re supposed to protect with active disdain.
Despite the downright nostalgic scenes of detectives poring over wiretaps and the numerous appearances from stars of The Wire, the most fitting point of comparison to We Own This City is Sidney Lumet’s 1981 film Prince of the City, which is based on another real-life story about police corruption. It’s no wonder that the film’s star, Treat Williams, makes a crucial, almost winking cameo in the series.
We Own This City suffers from various minor issues. The all-round stellar performances from the cast are frequently underserved by Reinaldo Marcus Green’s rote direction. The drama can feel a little mechanical at times, likely because it closely hews to the facts of the real-life case, and the storyline involving Suiter in particular sometimes scans as a too-symbolic contrast to the GTTF story, as if to clumsily underscore the fact that there are actually good cops around.
But when the series heads into the home stretch and all the pieces start to connect in only the way a Simon-led series can do, these drawbacks tend to fade from memory. Few other writers craft television narratives like this, whose appropriately downbeat worldview accurately reflects the fact that , despite the sheer amount of people trying to do the right thing, there’s a lot of money in ensuring that systemic failure flourishes.
We Own This City premieres on HBO in the US on 25 April and on Sky Atlantic and NOW in the UK in June
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