The Wire is an amazing piece of television: regularly referred to as the best show ever made. But like all creative works, The Wire is of necessity constrained by the medium in which it was presented. The story is forced into the structure of a television season: the viewer knows that at the end of a season, the Poh-leece will make some sort of massive bust; the characters are defined as occupying opposing sides, kingpins and dealers versus city hall and the cops; sympathetic characters are treated with respect.
The Corner is The Wire without redemption. The first collaboration between Wire creators, David Simon and Ed Burns, presents a Baltimore where Bubbles wouldn’t get clean, where the drug dealers would never go along with Colvin’s Hamsterdam, where Omar isn’t a street legend but just another stick-up boy, where Namond doesn’t become a good student but falls into the corner. Most importantly, it’s a world where there are no Stringer Bells, Avon Barksdales, Marlo Stanfields or Prop. Joes: there are no master kingpins that the Poh-leece can conveniently arrest to stem the flow of the drugs into the rowhouses. There are simply small groups getting their hands on drugs and selling them to fiends.
The Corner’s enduring message is that there are no easy answers. A life-long fiend cannot simply step up to Narcotics Anonymous or a detox clinic; a dealer cannot get out of the game. Those in the slums of our inner cities are constrained by their environment, trapped in a prison of our making. The natural conservatism of human beings means that people like Gary McCullough or his estranged wife Fran Boyd fall into a regular rhythm and then find it difficult to change: wake up, get high, run a caper for some money, get high, go to bed, repeat. Like anyone else, these people are reluctant to move away from the familiar. Their daily rhythm is considered a crime whereas the middle-class daily rhythm – wake up, work, go to bed, etc. – is arrogantly considered to be ‘normal’.
Homicide – David Simon’s earlier book – and The Corner work together to form a proto-Wire: a Wire unconstrained by the demands of television. True, the works are constrained by their own medium, by the demands of novelistic structure but that offers more freedom. Homicide and The Corner work together to be a depiction of life as it happens in a city like Baltimore. The ups and the downs, the haves and the have-nots.