Down From “The Wire”: TV’s Most Talented Cast Makes Its Way to the Movies

Down From “The Wire”: TV’s Most Talented Cast Makes Its Way to the Movies (photo)

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On his DVD commentary for the pilot episode of his television show “The Wire,” creator David Simon describes the series’ objective. “It seems to be a cop show,” he says. “But we were actually trying to mask something different within a cop show…It’s about how institutions have an effect on individuals and how… you are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution you have committed to.” The milieu of Simon’s marvelous serial was the working classes of Baltimore: the cops, drug dealers, lawyers, public school teachers, longshoremen and so on. But since “The Wire” went off the air after five seasons on HBO, the struggles of most of the show’s incredibly talented cast within the institution of Hollywood has only served to prove the universality of Simon’s theme.

Granted, it’s only been a year. But so far, the show’s veterans have been popping up in films that have only served to illuminate the depressing gulf between the level at which Simon and company were operating at and the one at which most of mainstream Hollywood does. Granted, “The Wire” had 60 hours to develop its characters to a typical movie’s 90 minutes. But when an actor from the show appears in a mainstream film in a role similar to the one they portrayed in “The Wire,” the contrast is often shocking.

04232009_JamieHector.jpgConsider, for example, the effect of putting Jamie Hector into one scene of “Max Payne.” Over the course of the final three seasons of “The Wire,” Hector played one of the series’ main antagonists, a brash and ambitious young drug dealer named Marlo Stanfield. Stanfield distinguishes himself from his peers with his intelligence and cold-blooded brutality, and Hector distinguished himself as an actor with his icy intensity and withering glare. In “Max Payne,” Hector plays a brash young drug dealer named Lincoln, though that’s where the similarities to Marlo end.

Mark Wahlberg’s title character comes to Lincoln looking for information; Hector plays the scene seated behind a desk covered in assault weapons, punctuating his dialogue with exaggerated gestures with a knife and sheath he holds in each hand. The scene, though a bit over the top, isn’t entirely out of context for the video game-inspired world of “Max Payne,” but when compared with “The Wire”‘s verisimilitude, the results are almost laughable. That’s no fault of Hector’s, of course, and at the very least, the scene proves he’s a genuine actor; Hector is so good as Marlo — so unrelentingly cold and hard — that you might have mistaken him for one of the numerous members of “The Wire” cast, like Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, who are survivors of Baltimore’s real drug war and who are playing fictionalized versions of their own lives. Hector most recently appeared in a multi-part guest spot on the NBC series “Heroes.”

04232009_MichaelkWilliams.jpgTelevision actors often struggle to shed the small-screen identities they become associated with — think of the struggles of the “Friends” cast as they moved into the world of film. But the cast of “The Wire” were so good at their jobs that they’ve made their post-series careers that much more difficult. Personally speaking, I have real trouble watching Michael K. Williams in films without thinking of his incredible performance as Omar Little, inner city Baltimore’s answer to Robin Hood, a principled gangster who only steals from other gangsters and whose exploits have lent him near-mythic status: kids on street corners in Baltimore “play Omar” the way kids in the suburbs might play “Power Rangers.”

Williams, who has a distinctive scar bisecting his face, brings palpable ferocity and a convincing air of invincibility to the part — after a few seasons, he’s convinced the audience he’s unkillable, just like he’s convinced the rest of Baltimore. Which is why it’s so hard — almost painful — to see Williams in a role like the one he tackled in Spike Lee’s “Miracle At St. Anna.” He appears in beginning of the World War II flashback, as a terrified Buffalo Soldier who repeatedly screams “Kill me now!” as his unit trudges into an ambush where he’s promptly granted his wish. Williams imbues his brief appearance with all the emotion he can muster, but playing such a pathetic creature seems like conduct unbecoming the man who brought to life one of the greatest badasses in television history. Hopefully, Williams’ role in the upcoming adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road” takes better advantage of his gifts.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.