The Corner

Issue section: 

Director: Charles S Dutton; Writers: Ed Burns, David Simon and David Mills

Made in 2000, two years before The Wire, The Corner has never been shown on British television. It is only being released on DVD now because of the success of David Simon's later work. Indeed there are so many similarities between The Corner and The Wire that they simply have to be discussed together.

The Corner centres on the same Baltimore streets so familiar from The Wire (often the exact same locations); it features many of the actors we know from The Wire (often playing very different roles); it has the same focus on the wrecked lives of neoliberalism's waste products; it has the same commitment to telling the truth (however uncomfortable that is).

And beyond these formal qualities The Corner has the same social compassion that animated almost every frame in The Wire. You really can feel the love for the users and losers on The Corner.

However, while it inhabits the same world as The Wire, The Corner has a very different range. It tells the story of just one family surviving among the "craziness" of the "open-air drug market" that is West Baltimore. This tight focus on a dysfunctional African-American family is extraordinarily bold in itself for a show not aimed at a niche black audience. It also produces a narrative clarity that The Wire sometimes just refused to provide. Finally, given that we spend six TV hours watching the lives of three main characters, their tragedies carry enormous emotional firepower. When it hits, The Corner is arguably even more moving than The Wire.

But there is a significant debit side. Where The Wire had the richness and detail of a great novel, The Corner is much closer to high order soap opera. And that means that the political has to become personal.

By focusing on the casualties while leaving out the political economy of drugs as an industry, The Corner inevitably replaces analysis with soapy emotion. With no Tommy Carcetti, no Clay Davis, no Stringer Bell, no Commissioner Burrell, no Greek (who isn't even Greek), no Mayor Royce, The Corner tells only the victim's story. So it can generate real empathy, but almost no real understanding. In The Wire, Bubbles is the victim of a system; in The Corner, Fran is the victim of her own taste for a party.

So ultimately, The Corner is a rehearsal for the great work to come. Nonetheless it is a brave and often moving series in its own right, and I recommend it to all of you who think that TV can aim at something more reflective than Britain's Got Talent.