Last October we analyzed in this same column why “The Wire” had been chosen as the best series of the period 2000-2021, according to a survey carried out by the British BBC among 206 specialists from around the world, surpassing no less than “Mad Men” Y “Breaking Bad”.
If “The Wire” is for many the most important series of this century, its creator (David Simon) is probably the most prestigious showrunner today. Their projects are not the most expensive or the most popular, nor do they have the biggest stars in the industry, but they are always recognized for their stamp, their intelligence, their hierarchy, and they tend to set trends that are later applied by others in series with more massive aspirations.
The term showrunner is used in the universe of the series to designate the star writer who is also the general producer, the supervisor and the final responsible in front of the network or streaming service that hires him. In some cases, like Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould in the “Breaking Bad”-“Better Call Saul” combo, they even dare to direct. some episodes.
For many years critics refused to analyze showrunners in authorial terms, a category that they do use regularly from cinephilia. Nobody doubts that Woody Allen, Jean-Luc Godard, Quentin Tarantino, Lucrecia Martel or Pedro Almodóvar are authors. Well, Vince Gilligan and David Simon are too, only in the much more diffuse world of the series.
And David Simon is back in the news these days because this Monday the 25th will premiere both on HBO (a chain that has financed almost all of its projects) as well as on the streaming platform HBO Max “The city is ours” (“We Own This City”), a miniseries of six episodes of one hour each that he created together with his usual partner George Pelecanos and that was filmed in all its parts by Reinaldo Marcus Green, who had just directed the Oscar-nominated “King Richard : a winning family”.
Although since “The Wire” ended in 2008, Simon has completed multiple and praised series such as “Generation Kill”, “Treme”, “Show Me a Hero”, “The Deuce” Y “The Plot Against America” (all available on HBO Max), many expected a project like “The city is ours”, which can be seen as an unofficial sequel to that consecrated work.
No, in “The city is ours” neither Dominic West, nor Idris Elba, nor Michael B. Jordan work, but the environment is the same (the police, officials and Justice) and, of course, the city is repeated, the always troubled Baltimorewhich with just 620,000 inhabitants it has one of the highest crime rates in the United States.
Journalist by training (he worked for 13 years, between 1982 and 1995, in the Police section of The Baltimore Sun newspaper), Simon wrote several research books until he began to venture as a screenwriter in series such as “Homicide: Life on the Street” (1993-1999).
And it is precisely on a book written by another veteran chronicler of the Baltimore Sun as Justin Fenton that “The city is ours” is based. Fenton investigated in depth one of the most shocking corruption cases in United States police historywhich ended in 2017 with a dozen detectives sentenced to between 10 and 25 years in prison for constant abuse of the civilian population, but above all for regularly keeping weapons, drugs and money seized from drug traffickers in different operations in areas of monoblocks.
Although it is -as in almost all of Simon’s projects- a choral commitment with a detailed monitoring of the day-to-day life of the police in the offices and on the streets, of their superiors who must deal with political power, of the civil servants of the Department of Justice and FBI agents who arrive to independently investigate the case, there is in “The city is ours” a central character who is Jon Bernthal’s Wayne Jenkins, one of the corrupt agents of the Baltimore Task Force. The main action takes place in 2017, when the entire rotten system is revealed, denounced and punished, but the constant flashbacks of the series transport us to the past of the characters and the moments where the most violent and heartbreaking events occurred.
Some skeptic may argue that this level of degradation is similar to what is usually denounced within any police body in any city and, in that sense, why should we be interested in the internal dynamics of the Baltimore department, but the answer must be sought -of course- in the dimensions and scope of David Simon as showrunner.
His series (and “The city is ours” is no exception) have a psychological depth, a rigor in the construction of their own worlds, and a narration so far removed from the demagoguery and commonplaces of contemporary series that their projects demand a commitment, patience and attention that a large part of today’s public, so dominated by anxiety and impatience, is not willing to concede. But, once submerged in that microworld and accepted its conventions, the reward after six hours of “The city is ours” is extraordinary.
The series may disappoint those looking for spectacular and choreographic action scenes (the explosions of violence here are limited, dry, raw and brutal, without any degree of stylization, virtuosity or gloating) and those who are used to constant impacts and blows of effect. “The city is ours” wins in its patient framework, in the accumulation of it, in its concern for detail and plausibility, in its documentary spirit even within the field of fiction.
Everything is pinned down to levels of sick obsession, its realism movesthe truth prevails and Simon shows that he does not have too many equivalents or parallels today when it comes to exposing the contradictions and miseries of public institutions, the widespread racism, the hypocrisy and the double standards of American society.