What David Simon and George Pelecanos Want You to Know About Their Shows
Whether you’re a fan of The Wire, just getting into The Deuce, or simply looking for more shows from David Simon, HBO has you covered. Writer/creator David Simon and frequent collaborator George Pelecanos (The Wire, Treme, and The Deuce) share what you need to know about each show before you dive in.
Series, 2017 - 2019
George Pelecanos: The Deuce came about when David Simon and I were put in contact with a guy who, along with his twin brother, owned a couple bars in Times Square. They were Mafia fronts for different illicit businesses — prostitution; drugs — and tangentially involved in the birth of pornography. He introduced us to a rich array of characters who sprung from that era and geography. It captures a moment in America where the commodification of flesh and sexual imagery went from being in a brown paper bag and under the counter to universal in American life. We don’t as much sell a beer or a new car without some awareness of what pornographic imagery can deliver.
This was a moment where people were the absolute pioneers of a new industry that had suddenly found its legal footing. They were writing a rule book in a world where there were really no rules. The Deuce takes a look at the remarkable paradigm of capitalism and labor: where money goes and how it’s routed; who has power and who doesn’t; who is exploited and who’s not.
David Simon: Show Me a Hero is based on then-New York Times reporter Lisa Belkin’s book. It’s about a moment where the city of Yonkers, New York had to build a relatively small amount of low income housing in a white neighborhood. The town had taken federal money and used it to segregate their society, and the federal report finally said: You can’t do that.
This simple fact blew the town up politically. It became an incredibly violent, disruptive and dystopic 20-year saga that ultimately devoured political careers and turned the town against each other. It really showed how much America struggles with the idea of integration. It seemed like a very good story to do about the American city and why we find ourselves still at odds with this.
George Pelecanos: Treme begins after Hurricane Katrina and it’s a year-by-year account of how everyday people there put their lives back together. It’s sort of a testament to, or an argument for why, a great American city like New Orleans needs to be saved and preserved. The people we showcased were musicians, restaurant owners, police officers, crusading lawyers; [the city] was a cross section of all these folks who stayed there and somehow made it work against great odds.
David Simon: It’s is a show about the engine that is the city’s culture. When things weren’t working in the recovery or achieving the desired results, the culture never failed. In some ways it’s an argument for what the American city and multiculturalism can create. In our minds The Wire was never an argument against the city, but I know some people took it that way. After working on The Wire, we all felt particularly proud to make an argument for the city.
David Simon: Generation Kill is based on the book by Evan Wright, one of the best books of narrative nonfiction to come out of the war. It’s about the highly trained Marine Recon unit that was the tip of the spear of the invasion of Iraq; they went from the Kuwaiti border to Baghdad in a matter of three weeks. Evan worked on the scripts with Ed Burns and myself, and some of the Marines who were actually in 1st Recon, Bravo Platoon and Charlie Platoon participated and helped us keep it accurate. It’s a blow by blow account of what 1st Recon experienced when we went into Iraq and Baghdad: what actually happened to those Marines, the war they saw, and how their views on what they were doing were transformed in those three weeks.
David Simon: The Wire was intended as a critique on the war on drugs, which is, as far as I’m concerned, just a war on the poor. But it’s also a piece about what happens when institutions move away from their intended purpose to govern all of us in the best possible way. When they start to become self-preserving, to serve people’s ambitions and get away from their missions, you get a dystopia of the kind we depicted. Above all we wanted to criticize the war on drugs by depicting the war on drugs, but in the end using the dystopia was an argument for the city in another way, or we hoped it would be.
George Pelecanos: We answered the scurrilous claim and lie I’ve heard all my life, “Why can’t those kids just work hard and get out of the ghetto?” We showed people why things are the way they are in an East Coast urban environment like that. Achieving that alone was something major and made me proud to be involved.
David Simon: The subtext that made the show run was its addressing of lives that have appeared — in the vast majority of entertainment and news coverage — as being stereotypical, or existing as only human problems, not as human beings. We were much less interested in putting labels about good and evil onto characters. We were more interested in the idea of a combination of these things — even in those living at the extremities, like people selling drugs or people being cops. We were very conscious of trying to make a piece where everybody, on every side, was a human being.