We Own This City is the new show by David Simon and George Pelecanos; two of the major figures behind The Wire, which is often held up as the greatest tv show of all time. The Wire is an incredibly complex story of crime, poverty, the police and more. Different seasons took on different aspects of the reality of crime whether it be the police or something less immediately cinematic, like school. While The Wire was inspired by David Simon and Ed Burns’ experiences as a journalist and police officer, respectively, it is fiction. We Own This City is based on the true story of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force and their epic rise and fall; from being seen as courageous and effective officers to utterly corrupt criminals.
As the show starts tensions are running high in the city. The Department of Justice has a team of lawyers working in the city in response to the killing of Freddie Gray, a black man who died in police custody on his way to a police station. Following this there were trials of police officers, protests, clashes between police and protestors. An early scene in the show sees several officers trying to arrest people and being filmed by the crowd, eventually the officers just walking away. It seemed many officers were unwilling to get in situations where they could be accused of police brutality.
After some unusual discoveries in a case involving drug dealers, it becomes apparent to some of the city’s police officers that something very odd, and probably criminal, is going on with the Gun Trace Task Force, and they become the target of an investigation.
David Simon and George Pelecanos have worked together on numerous tv shows, with Simon being the creator of The Wire and Pelecanos being a producer and writer on it. They both went on to make Treme and The Deuce and have a stellar reputation for intelligent, complex, character-driven tv shows.
Sidenote – David Simon’s Twitter is spectacular. You might think the hugely successful creator of a number of tv shows wouldn’t get in vicious social media knife fights with any random person with eight followers and you’d be wrong.
Like The Wire, the show has a very big cast who often fall into different sides: the Gun Trace Task Force, the Baltimore police authorities, the federal investigators conducting a thorough review of the police force, the local political authorities. It’s impossible to get into the entire roster of actors in this article but the main stars are Jon Bernthal playing Wayne Jenkins, head of the Gun Trace Task Force and Wunmi Mosaku as lawyer Nicole Steele. Whilst Jenkins is a real character, Steele is not, and is more an amalgamation of various civil rights lawyers involved in the case. Bernthal is sensational as always – the first episode starts with a blistering lecture/speech by Jenkins on police brutality to other officers, explaining how brutality will cause problems getting convictions, will mean no one in the community will talk to you and mean you get taken off the streets (whilst also insisting on the importance of fighting to keep the streets and not mentioning that police brutality is illegal and wrong).
Mosaku is a lawyer from the Department of Justice, fighting a battle so uphill it’s almost vertical, her working day seems to an endless procession of people telling her terrible things. Mosaku is very good as person who knows the odds of them actually being able to significantly change things are very bad but she will always keep fighting.
Like all of the shows David Simon has worked on there is a lot going on and the viewer has to work hard to keep up with it. At times you will be lost. Shows like Game of Thrones do a good job of introducing various factions and the background information you need. We Own This City intentionally doesn’t do that, you watch and have to discover, and at some point something mentioned two episodes ago will suddenly make sense.
The show has all the trademarks of a first-rate drama and anyone wanting to see the very best television has to offer should watch We Own This City.
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