Why David Simon Should Shut Down The Wire

Devotees of The Wire, myself among them, should be delighted by this hint given by one of the HBO drama's actors. Dominic West, who plays the increasingly manic police detective, Jimmy McNulty, tells the Los Angeles Times some of his colleagues are lobbying David Simon for a movie spinoff, and the show's creator is indeed considering a prequel. But here's the sacrilegious thought, which I can't suppress: the final season is not the triumph that fans had hoped for; and it's time for Simon to let go.

First, Simon has turned his focus on his former employer, the Baltimore Sun; in newspaper terms, he's too close to the story, and the latest season's parable on the decline of the press, complete with irredeemable journalistic fabricator and empty-souled news executives, is leaden. Maybe the dockers and gangsters of earlier seasons were also less textured than the real Baltimore personalities on which they were based, but they didn't have an outlet for their complaints. Journalists do, and that has colored the reception to The Wire's latest storyline.

There's a deeper problem, which should establish why a feature, even a prequel, is such a bad idea. The saving grace of The Wire was the series' leisurely, meandering, convoluted plotline: Simon had no deadline for his political diatribes; his righteousness never overwhelmed the essential drama of crime and corruption in America's decaying industrial cities. But now the crusading former journalist has only a condensed final season, three episodes shorter than he'd hoped, in which to make all his remaining points, and demand recognition for a show which has never won a major award.

The result: embarrassingly improbable plot points, such as the fake serial killer conjured up by McNulty to shake down the mayor for police funding; absurd caricatures, particularly of journalists (see below); increasingly heavy-handed lectures on the bankruptcy of government, the press, heck, everybody; and a cascade of newspaper columns by Simon as part of the show's last-ditch marketing campaign, belaboring points which viewers should arrive at themselves. It's painful to admit: The Wire's creator has turned into one of those didactic lecturers who simply rattle out the script and raise the volume when they feel the audience slipping away from them, and the clock running out.

David Simon has struggled to compress his concluding remarks into the 10 episodes of the HBO show's fifth run. Imagine how painful it would be for him to fit his morality play into two hours of a feature movie. It would be better for him, and fans of earlier seasons, if he didn't.