Monday, May 05, 2008

West Baltimore vs. West Beverly

A couple of weeks ago, Bill Simmons complained about seeing the actress who played Cheryl, Kima's ex-girlfriend on "The Wire," in a commercial for Viera televisions:
Am I the only one who feels like nobody from "The Wire" should ever be allowed to work again? I feel like all of the "Wire" characters were real people -- I can't handle seeing Kima's ex or Murray the lawyer or Clay Davis in 30-second ads. I just can't.
If seeing third and fourth-tier "Wire" players pop up in ads is freaking the Sports Guy out, I wonder how he's reacting to the news that Tristan Wilds has joined the cast of The CW's "Bevery Hills, 90210" remake. On the one hand, Simmons is even more of a shameless "90210" fan than I am, so seeing Wilds get work on a show he's sure to tune into could be a plus. On the other, based on the above quote, I worry that Bill is looking at the Larry Bird picture on his nightstand and crying, "Why, Basketball Jesus? Why!?!?!?!!?!?"

And yet I can kind of see Simmons' point. More thoughts coming up just as soon as I buy a shotgun...

I spent most of the run of "The Wire" lamenting the fact that the likes of Clarke Peters and Andre Royo and Sonja Sohn would never again find a movie or TV part remotely this good. The deck is so stacked against actors of color, let alone actors of color whose most high-profile work was on a show whose existence Hollywood was barely aware of, that I would get frustrated imagining their struggle for good work in the future.

But, like the Sports Guy, I do tend to freak out when I see certain actors from "The Wire" pop up elsewhere. My daughter's going through the obligatory Disney princess phase right now, which means we watch "Enchanted" on at least a bi-weekly basis (and even that pace requires a lot of parent-child negotiating), and every single time Isiah Whitlock Jr. pops up as the husband in Patrick Dempsey's divorce case, it unnerves me; I keep expecting him to look at Amy Adams and throw out a "Sheeeeeeeeit!" When Andre Royo popped up on a few episodes of "Sarah Connor Chronicles," I began wondering what life as a dope fiend would be like under the rule of SkyNet. (If nothing else, what would they call the different brands of dope? Die Humans Die? You'll Be Back?) I would never begrudge work to anyone involved in the Best Drama Ever, but it can be awfully disconcerting.

Now, I don't react this way to everyone from the cast. It's primarily the people who I never saw before "The Wire" (or didn't remember before "The Wire"). Frankie Faison, Wendell Pierce, Chris Bauer, Wood Harris are all actors I had seen in prior roles, so as great as they were as, respectively, Burrell, Bunk, Sobotka and Avon, I'm able to make the character/actor distinction in a way that becomes harder with the likes of Royo or Dominic West.

At the same time, I didn't immediately hollar "Omar coming!" when Michael K. Williams turned up (as a cop!) in "Gone Baby Gone," nor am I troubled by Lance Reddick's presence as one of the new bad guys on "Lost," even though "The Wire" was my first real exposure to either one. Maybe the issue isn't whether I knew the actors before they played a cop or a slinger or a soldier, but how good (and relatively "Wire"-appropriate) the new role is. Williams fit right into the brooding world of "Gone Baby Gone" (which co-starred Amy Ryan, after all), and while "Lost" is a stylistic and thematic 180 from "The Wire," it's a great show in its own way, and doesn't feel undeserving of Reddick's talents in the way that putting Wilds on the new "90210" seems to be.

What does everybody else think? Again, I don't think anybody wants to deprive these fine actors of employment opportunities, but is there a part of you that wishes, like Simmons, that you never saw any of them again?

26 comments:

porter said...

I see the point in a lot of cases -- Murray the lawyer in the Arby's ad makes me queasy to no end. However, I think especially for some of the younger actors, you have to allow a little slack.

Even if Rob Thomas had stayed on, there's no way "90210" II gets anywhere close to "The Wire" in terms of quality. But assuming that hasn't already put Tristan Wilds on the map (which, considering what we're talking about, I guess it has), you can't really argue against him taking a lead role in a pretty high-profile show. Kid has some chops, so maybe he can use them to elevate the material just a little.

(And, slightly OT, the cast of the new "90210" actually looks pretty good. I'm at least curious to see what comes of it.)

Anonymous said...

While it's fun to indulge in the whole, "The Wire and its actors never get enough credit" schtick, I'm confident that with time, this series will receive its due recognition.

Right now, there is still an insider mentality for Wire fans who feel privileged (and smarter/more in touch with urban America) that they were witnesses to the greatest TV drama of all time, while everyone else was watching American Idol.

I started a new job in November and no one I worked with had seen the show. Now the entire office are die-hard fans and they pass along the Wire secret to everyone they know. The show's greatness will be fully realized with time, but for now we can continue to bemoan seeing Lance Reddick in commercials for Cadillac.

Anonymous said...

I welcome any opportunity for the great actors from The Wire to continue their acting careers.
One of the things that I was so sad about when the show ended was the idea that we would have so few opportunities to see these wonderful performers. Sure - there's always guest spots on Law & Order, but I think it's great that some of the actors are branching out in other genres.
So I'm glad for Tristan Wilds.

Anonymous said...

Even if I still see everybody as Wire characters, there is still a lot of satisfaction seeing characters in places you never would expect them. Though "I Think I Love my Wife" was a subpar film, my hour and half devoted to it was saved by Michael K. Williams and Wendell Pierce. I actually yelled Bunk when Pierce showed up for a quick second. Someone in casting is a Wire fan like me and that made my day.

Mrglass said...

It's true for most TV actors after a "hit" series ends. (or a critical darling in The Wire's case) Look at Friends' and Seinfeld's stars relative lack of success, and those were mega-hits.

Have you heard those rumors about Katee Sackhoff joining CSI next year? Eww what a waste it would be.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one excited about this? I think it's terrific news! Finally, the lily-white CW network has cast an African-American actor in a leading role in one of its series. Quite a breakthrough for diversity. This will be the most multi-cultural cast of any teen drama.

There are rumors that the CW is in talks with Sachs and Judah (Freaks & Geeks, Life as We Know it, What about Brian) to rewrite Rob Thomas's draft script and take over the project.

I expect 90210 will generate a lot of buzz and the heart throb appeal of Tristan Wilds may introduce a new audience (particularly youth) to The Wire.

isaac_spaceman said...

I was a little weirded out when I saw Idris Elba on the ads at the train station for some family-drama movie, but John Francis Daley as the overly-optimistic dad on Thursday's Grey's Anatomy really did me in. And Dominic West was just awful in 300.

Meanwhile Dominic Lombardozzi as Dom in Entourage -- Herc is an ass on both coasts.

isaac_spaceman said...

(Daley, of course, being of Freaks & Geeks, not The Wire. But the principle still applies, I think.)

domino87 said...

I don't mind "The Wire" actors being cast in other roles simply for the fact that maybe people seeing them in those roles will turn them onto The Wire. ie. someone see's Amy Ryan's guest role on the upcoming Office episode and check's out here previous work on imdb and notices "The Wire", which Michael Scott just referenced in a previous Office episode. Anything that creates more exposure for "The Wire", I'm all for it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

(Daley, of course, being of Freaks & Geeks, not The Wire. But the principle still applies, I think.)

Except that wasn't Daley on Grey's. He's otherwise employed as the shrink on Bones. Don't know who the expecting father was, but it wasn't Sam Weir.

alm8319 said...

The most disturbing one for me is the editor at the Sun, Klebanow, breaking into a song and dance routine in a Mohegan Sun commercial. Its hysterical.

Narrim said...

When I first started watching The Wire (around the same time Simmons did: HBO On Demand before Season 4 started), I had the exact same feeling towards all the characters I knew from Oz. Clayton Hughes, Kenny Kangler, Johnny Basil, the evil Martin Querns; I was distraught by their very presence. Now I'm the same way with most Wire characters ESPECIALLY The Wendell 'The Bunk' Pierce and Isaiah Whitlock, sheeeeeeeeit. Hell, anytime Pierce appears on any CBS show he randomly but consistently shows up on, I keep wondering where his everpresent cigar is and good-humored demeanor fled.

Of course, I started watching Oz because a brand new character to Lost was so awesome, I just had to see his previous work. Ekobisi and Mercutio led me to Oz, Clayton Hughes and Bodie not being another crappy Wangler led to The Wire, and now Lance Reddick's haunting my Lost screen and Governor Devlin is getting *spoilered* by a *spoiler* (which is the best thing an Oz fan could have ever hoped for... if only it was an Eko or Michael flashback).

So yeah, I've come full circle. Where's The Wire fandom lead to next?

Mac said...

I think I was pretty inoculated to Whitlock, though, what with his eleven guest spots (that's what IMDB says, but it seems like more) on various "Law & Order" shows over the years.

Tony said...

I don't mind it when the actors are in something good. And I find it hilarious when Clay Davis is informing his children that he was "hosed" after he got them new phones.

But I hate seeing them in bad movies or shows. I was watching Shanghai Knights on Sunday on TNT or TBS or something. I hadn't seen it, but Tommy Carcetti was the bad guy trying to kill the queen. It bugged me.

Lance Reddick, however, is going to be great on Lost. I can't wait until Matthew Abaddon gets more screen time.

Loweeel said...

There was an episode of New Amsterdam that had both Clay Davis AND Frank Sobotka. WRONG CITY!!! WRONG CITY!!!

nm said...

I loved those actors (as well as the characters) So Much that I have the opposite reaction. I want to see them all over the place, commercials and all. They were, as a groups, some of the best actors I've ever seen, and they can only bring respect to the shows they appear on in future. I just want the roles to be worthy of them, you know?

That First Andrew said...

Am I the only one who hasn't completely forgotten about Mayor Royce when he was on In Treatment as Blair Underwood's father? Would you rob the world of that kind of performance just to keep your memory of a show (now available on DVD...) encased in amber?

isaac_spaceman said...

Whoops -- sure looked like what I remember grown-up Daley looks like. Now it's going to bug me -- who was he? The nice-guy hostage-taker in The Nine? You're going to make me do research.

See, that's the whole difference between journalists and bloggers.

j g said...

I had previously thought of Michael K. Williams as the guy from Jackie Jr.'s so-called safe house right before he got shot on "The Sopranos"

KLE said...

Broadening this thought a bit wider than The Wire, I think sometimes actors hit it just right with certain characters and then no matter what they do, if you really connected with what they were doing in that role, you always see them through that lens.

I don't care so much about Paulie Walnuts intimidating restaurant employees, he's just trying to parlay his Sopranos fame into a retirement plan.

Rome is a similar example to The Wire for me. I still miss it because I think it had at leats one more season in it, and I still see Kevin McKidd as Vorenus, James Purefoy as Mark Antony, Polly Walker as Atia. Ciaran Hinds will forever be Caesar to my husband.

I've made a concerted effort to seek out their previous work, much of it of course period Brit lit type of material and see it all through the lens of who they were in Rome, because their protrayals were so definitive.

I'm still trying to work out in my head Bedrooms and Hallways with McKidd and Purefoy overlayed with Mark Anthony's death scene.

Ben said...

I think the rule should be that they shouldn't be allowed to do schlock and that the entertainment industry in recognition of their demonstrated talents must only offer them good parts.

Alan Sepinwall said...

You know what? I was half-goofing around with this entry, but you guys have convinced me that Wilds headlining the "90210" remake is a good thing for him, for TV, and potentially for "The Wire" itself.

BC said...

I was just talking about this with a coworker who loves the The Wire, to whom I recommended OZ. Those of us who have been Tom Fontana/David Simon fans for a long time have been through this experience a few times, now - Homicide to Oz to The Wire...and you have to add to that the Law & Order piece of it, since those shows pull from the same NY based talent pool. It's when they start showing up in things that aren't gritty northeast dramas that I freak a bit - like seeing Lance Reddick show up on Lost (he will always be the Fakin' Jamaican from OZ to me)

Andrew said...

More disconcerting than seeing actors from The Wire pop up in different is hearing Idris Elba (Stringer Bell) and Dominic West (McNulty) talking with their own British accents.

j g said...

I've caught a few "Different World" reruns on BET last couple weeks- and forgot- Glynn Turman- played "Professor War" or whatever the army guy teacher's real name was in 1988- became Mayor Royce

Cantrell said...

What is "The Wire"?