We Own This City is Must-Watch TV!
When discussing writers and producers involved with American television in the past few decades, the name David Simon will assuredly have tv aficionados think of The Wire. Any mention of The Wire will, in turn, produce rapturous praise from those who watched it during its original run or since. Fans of the much-lauded drama series about Baltimore public institutions can rejoice because David Simon and Wire co-producers Ed Burns and George Pelecanos return with a spiritual sequel for HBO titled, We Own the City. At the time of his writing, 2 of 6 episodes have aired.
The mini-series, which began on April 25th, invites viewers for a concentrated look into the corruption and strife that ails the Baltimore Police Department. For this go-around at exploring humanity’s mediocrity within the prism of a city’s law enforcement, the showrunners take inspiration from the 2021 investigative journalism book of the same name from Justin Fenton (full title: We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption). The show is as faithful a depiction as possible of a dangerous and trying time in recent Baltimore history.
A dense investigation
Speaking of what occurs in We Own This City, curious viewers should be warned that the mini-series is dense. It is jammed packed with genuinely interesting and thought-provoking revelations. While reading Fenton’s book is not mandatory, a light parsing of the unfortunate Freddie Gray case of 2015 is strongly encouraged. The doomed man’s name is mentioned more than once and in such a matter that the viewers are expected to know what characters are referring to.
In a nutshell, Gray was a 25-year-old man arrested for possession of a small knife and died mysteriously while being transferred to a precinct via a police van. This sparked protests throughout the city, to say nothing of crime rates surging at an alarming ratio for a city of only 600,000 people. The Baltimore Police Department (henceforth BPD) creates a Gun Tracing Task Force (henceforth GTTF), led by Sgt. Wayne Jenkins (Jon Bernthal). Although arrests often come fast for Jenkins and his team, viewers quickly learn that all is not kosher within the unit. Essentially acting as an audience surrogate is Department of Justice attorney Nicole Steele (Wunmi Mosaku) from the Civil Rights Division, who is trying to understand why the BPD has such a ludicrously terrible record of police brutality and corruption. Also starring are James Hector, McKinley Belcher III, Darrel Brit-Gibson, and Josh Charles.
Furthermore, as an attempt to contextualize all the information as best as possible, the episodes jump back and forth in time, from 2003 when Jenkins was a rookie offi
cer, 2015 shortly after the death of Freddie Gray, and 2017 when the GTTF was being investigated for exploiting the system.
Patience is a virtue
Suffice to say, We Own This City is what one might describe as the thinking person’s television series. Then again, David Simon and his collaborators painted as detailed a picture as possible of the murky Baltimore political and institutional waters with their previous show. It should come as no surprise that they strive to create a similar tapestry this time as well. Despite that, We Own This City is specifically focused on the darker side of the GTTF, viewers can expect a relatively multifaceted approach to the subject matter. Much like how a real investigation into a crime often involves multiple parties, from cops, forensics, eyewitnesses, the accused’s associates, and lawyers, so too does this newest series adopt multiple vantage points to understand the corruption’s deep roots. It looks as if no stone will be left unturned as the 6 episodes dissect how a great idea to confront crime went so terribly awry.
While it remains to be seen if the finished product will deliver the goods, for now, faith can easily be placed in the producers. Not only did David Simon, Ed Burns, and George Pelecanos previously work on The Wire, but each knows the city of Baltimore and its institutions like the back of their own hands. They all hail from the general area (Washington D.C. is very close by) and are either former journalists for The Baltimore Sun or writers of detective fiction. The notion of expectations for a highly anticipated show can be tricky. After all, many consider the fruit of their previous collective effort legendary. Comparisons with The Wire may prove difficult to avoid for several reasons. Nevertheless, it is important to take in this latest endeavour on its own merits, at least as much as possible.
For those who enjoy slow burns, for whom pulse-pounding beats involve dramatic revelations via intricate plotting and characters investigating their surroundings, We Own This City should serve as must-watch Monday night TV. Take a turn down a darker alley, away from the sunshine and happy blue skies. Find out what lays hidden in the shadows, under the grime, and deep in the black hearts of people and institutions that Baltimore was duped into trusting.
- Edgar Chaput