'We Own This City' review: Police saga has shades of 'The Wire'

David Simon returns to Baltimore in HBO series about police corruption.

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

It would be hard not to compare “We Own This City” to one of the best shows in the history of television, “The Wire.”

Both shows take place in gritty Baltimore. Both shows were created by David Simon. Both shows are on HBO, both look at the criminal justice system, both inevitably deal with race relations. Heck, more than a few of the actors who appear in “We Own This City” were also in “The Wire.”

Rob Brown, Ham Mukasa, Robert Harley and Jon Bernthal in "We Own This City."

But where “The Wire” wandered here and there, exploring the city and growing its characters over five seasons, “We Own This City” has only one true story to tell over six episodes. It is a tale of massive police corruption, but also a story of institutional failure.

At the center of it all is Wayne Jenkins (Jon Bernthal, all firecracker), a cop who gets so consumed by his own corruption that he hardly believes he’s corrupt. After all, he’s still getting drugs and crooks off the street, even if he is keeping half the loot he confiscates.

And as far as the Baltimore PD is concerned, Jenkins and other abusive police are at least doing something out on the streets as compared to many of their colleagues who’ve grown wary of action following charges of police brutality. Many of them just stay in their cars and collect paychecks.

“City” is based on a nonfiction book by Justin Fenton and somewhat weighed down by its solemn intent. It doesn’t have time for humor and it doesn’t have the space for subtlety. Too many scenes are plain explanatory and grim business simply leads to more grim business.

Still, Simon has always excelled at capturing specific cultures and their contradictions, and criminals policing citizens is pretty contradictory. The insular world of crooked cops is hardly new ground but the facts here are pretty startling. Who are we supposed to trust?

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. 

'We Own This City'


9 p.m. Monday