David Simon has gone home. Twenty years since his acclaimed TV creation The Wire premiered, he returns to the Baltimore streets which made his name for We Own This City. In the gripping new crime drama, Baltimore remains a harsh place rife with poverty, drug abuse and corruption, and it is also reconciling with the real-life police killing of Freddie Gray while in custody – an incident that brought no convictions for any of the six accused officers and forms the spine of the show.
This all means that We Own This City finds its population on edge. The cops are at war with the media, while the higher-ups face pressure to provide arrests that will clean up the violence and harassment. Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Task Force, captained by Wayne Jenkins (a brilliant Jon Bernthal) are the BPD’S decorated elite, put together to tackle the problem. Unfortunately, they’ve ended up part of it. As a unit, the GTF shake down civilians and gangsters alike for hundreds of thousands of dollars, terrorising, brutalising and exploiting anybody unlucky enough to get in their way. And they know they’ll largely get away with it because this is America where moral rot is the status quo.
The cops of We Own This City are largely unrecognisable from the cops of The Wire. In the earlier show, Detectives McNulty (Dominic West) and Bunk (Wendell Pierce) are (mostly) good people, deeply flawed but well-intentioned. This is not so in We Own This City. Perhaps the worst is Josh Charles’ Daniel Hersl, a man with a sadistic flair for violence. In one scene he savages a young Black man that he’s pulled over on a non-existent charge.
Throughout, the show has a strict accuracy which comes from the book of the same name that is based by local journalist Justin Fenton. It’s a harsh look at the realities of life in America, how the thin blue line doesn’t really exist anymore, and how power is the worst drug of all. It’s also likely to frustrate viewers, especially the story of civil rights lawyer Nicole Steele (Wunmi Mosaku) whose fight is a noble one but provides limited progress.
We Own This City may be a spiritual successor to The Wire but it is a fundamentally different show. Whereas The Wire was a labyrinthian odyssey through all of America’s structures, both personal and political, We Own This City provides a sharp, short jab at the America’s most severe societal failures, a fatalistic indictment of the changeless and those who abet the broken system.
‘We Own This City’ is available now on Sky Atlantic and Now TV