Stream On: It’s all in the game—The Wire and Friday Night Lights

By on June 12, 2020

Detectives Bunk Moreland and Jimmy McNulty try to make sense of Baltimore’s inner city and win the “game,” as it’s described by drug runner D’Angelo Barksdale. (IMDB.com)

Two of my very favorite shows would seem at first glance to have little in common, but in fact they share a lot, from their epic natures to the cinéma vérité style in which they are filmed. While The Wire is essentially about the people of the city of Baltimore, the TV series Friday Night Lights is about the people of rural East Dillon, Texas, and the prevailing culture and destinies in the two towns.

THE WIRE (2002-2008) Amazon.com; on demand from Prime Video and other platforms including HBO Now [TVMA]

The first episode of The Wire is available on the show’s website, in exchange for an email address and your date of birth. The opening scene sets the stage: Detective McNulty is talking with a witness at the scene of a shooting, who says the victim didn’t deserve being shot for snatching the kitty during a poker game. “Usually we just beat his ass.” McNulty asks if the dead kid did this all the time, why did they let him in the game?

“Got to, man—this is America.”

Baltimore here is a microcosm for America; its problems are ours, and each of The Wire’s five seasons highlights a different aspect of life here: the drug trade and the police’s efforts to stay afloat; the city’s ports; the politicians, and the fight against corruption; the school system; and finally, the media’s role in the life of the city.

The Wire was created by former police reporter David Simon and former homicide detective and public shool teacher Ed Burns. Their concerns and experience make the show seem uniquely realistic, like a documentary, with three-dimensional characters from every turn of life, who struggle with the ethics of their chosen paths. Antagonist and protagonist roles are not useful here; some of the criminals are better organized and more moral than some of the cops and other authority figures portrayed.

At the core of the show is Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), who is a failure at everything except policing, and the Barksdale family, whose business is drugs: Avon (Wood Harris, Southland), his sister and her son D’Angelo (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr., Friday Night Lights), a smart youth who blossoms with the responsibilities he takes on himself.

Avon’s lieutenant and chief operating officer, as it were, is Stringer Bell (Idris Elba, Luther), who is a businessman at heart, if an amoral one. Omar Little (Michael K. Williams, Boardwalk Empire) makes his living highjacking the drug gangs, and his reputation is so fearsome that once, when he goes to the store for cereal in his bathrobe, a bag of drugs comes out of a window under which he stops.

Later seasons highlight the dangers of capitalism, human trafficking, political corruption, the school system (a cop from season one becomes a teacher, reflecting Ed Burns’ own experiences), and the desire of the press for readers over information (which is exploited by Det. McNulty in a bid to increase funding for his own case). A police captain experiments with defacto drug legalization by herding the pushers into a remote section of the city, and the politicians opportunistically deal with that by posturing and back-filling. The Wire is a sprawling novel of a series about the New World, where one can theoretically make his own path, and the forces arrayed against self-determination.

It’s an epic novel, with well-rounded characters and its share of humor and tragedy, which Shakespeare would have liked. Here’s a trailer, “A man must have a code.”

Coach Eric Taylor tries to make sense of small-town Texas’ football culture and win games while dealing with life’s drama among his players and in the town. (IMDb.com)

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (Amazon.com; Hulu; on demand from a dozen other services) 2001-2011 [TVPG]

Heritage, family, resilience, and the personal choices available in the New World also inform Friday Night Lights, a series, like the theatrical film, based on the nonfiction book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream, about high-school football in a small Texas town in which it is the repository of the town’s tradition, hopes and dreams.

Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler, Bloodline), with his wife and teenaged daughter, move to Dillon, Texas, for a job as high-school football coach. In rural Dillon, football, not drugs, is the civic religion, spanning generations of locals. In the same way that the shooting of Snot Boogie, the victim in the opening scene of The Wire, forms the shape of that series, star quarterback Jason Street is paralyzed in the opening game of Friday Night Lights. Coach Taylor’s job, and his family’s future in Dillon, depends on his ability to get the team, minus Jason, to the state championships.

A pair of antagonist/protagonists, like The Wire’s Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell, form the heart of Friday Night Lights. Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch, Waco), Jason Street’s best friend, is a talented but alcoholic 16-year-old ladies’ man living with his brother, and Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) is more of an artist than a football player, who cares for his grandmother while his father is in Iraq and his mom is in the wind.

Other primary characters are Jason’s devout girlfriend who believes he will walk again with enough prayer, her father; who owns an auto dealership and is the primary team booster; Coach Taylor’s wife Tami (Connie Britton), a teacher; and his daughter Julie, who hates Texas and dislikes football, but strikes up a romance with Matt Saracen.

Gaius Charles (Grey’s Anatomy) plays Brian “Smash” Williams, star running back, whose ego suffers setbacks while applying for college teams, and Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad and Fargo), plays Matt’s best friend, an intellectual but nerdy garage-band musician. Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Black Panther) plays an at-risk youth who signs up for the team in a last-chance bid to avoid jail. As with the youngsters in The Wire, adherence or opposition to family and tradition determines the paths taken in the characters’ lives.

You will miss them when you complete the series, which is filmed in a cinéma vérité style similar to The Wire; in fact, most of the scenes were shot with the actors being told how the scene should go, and then ad-libbing their lines to achieve the desired outcome. Here’s a five-minute trailer from the Emmy® Awards, “This is about more than football.”

Next time, unreliable narrators in The Family and The Affair.

(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

Click here for more Stream On: What to watch on TV columns by Pete Hummers.


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).


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