Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Corner (2000)

Whether they’ve seen it or not, most readers here probably know of the HBO series The Wire, which ran 2002-2008. Written by David Simon and Ed Burns, that brilliant series was preceded by their raw look at inner-city drug addiction, The Corner. Also made for HBO, it was directed by Charles S. Dutton as a quasi-documentary telling of the story of a real-life family.

Like The Wire, the series is set in the mean streets of Baltimore. It’s the mid-1990s, after the introduction of crack has devastated the already-fragile social structure of black neighborhoods. The family at the center of the story is the Boyds. Fran and Gary, both addicts, have already split up. They have two sons, a teenager DeAndre and DeRodd, who is still a schoolboy.

DeAndre is already dealing on a “corner” with some of his buddies. They scorn the addicts who buy from them and have firearms stashed nearby should they be threatened by suppliers trying to move in on their territory. DeAndre has a girlfriend, Tyreeka. By series end, Tyreeka has given birth to their baby, and DeAndre has become a user himself.

The Boyds
The series strikes a delicate balance between portraying drug addicts as irresponsibly self-destructive and as plague victims. We see them as human beings with both strengths and weaknesses and often a wry sense of humor about themselves and their drug-induced predicaments. In flashbacks, we also see them in better times, gainfully employed, credit-worthy citizens. They are people whose lives have simply been derailed.

Gary is the most poignant example as an intelligent man with all-American aspirations, who once ran his own business and lived comfortably. The pull of recreational drugging first sucked his wife into addiction and then himself, as their relationship disintegrated. He laments the loss of that life but lacks the will to resist the siren call of the next high.

His wife Fran becomes a survivor, persistently waiting for an opening at a rehab and taking the 12 steps to recovery. After months of sobriety, she slips, but shows up at an NA meeting to start the steps over again. At the end, when we meet the real Fran Boyd in a series epilogue, she’s remained straight for several years.

Clarke Peters as Fat Curt
Like The Wire, the special quality of the writing is its call for a large ensemble of characters. We get to know dozens of them, of all ages, and in enough depth to make them fully three-dimensional. Among the large cast of mostly African American actors, several are standouts, including Khandi Alexander as Fran and T. K. Carter as Gary.

Another is Clarke Peters as Fat Curt, a damaged man in his final months of life who soldiers on without loss of a basic dignity. Physically shattered, he is covered with the scars of his addiction, his hands wrapped in bandages, and hobbling along uncertainly on a cane. He is the crippled but unbroken spirit of the community that the series represents.

David Simon
Wrapping up. You can see several of these fine actors again in The Wire and the post-Katrina series, Treme, especially Clarke Peters (in both) and Lance Reddick as the phenomenal Lt. Daniels in The Wire. Khandi Alexander has another strong role as a bar owner in Treme.

The Corner was based on former Baltimore Sun crime reporter David Simon’s 1997 book of the same name. Simon had been the inspiration of the 122-episode NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street (1993-1999), reviewed here a while ago. He and co-author Ed Burns were later responsible for all 60 episodes of The Wire.

The Corner is currently available at netflix, and the entire six-episode series can be viewed online at youtube.

For more of Tuesday’s Overlooked Movies and TV, click on over to Todd Mason’s blog.

Photo credit: David Simon, imdb.com

Coming up: Max Evans, The Hi Lo Country (1962)


  1. Yes...it was very much the step between HOMICIDE and THE WIRE, and as worthy as either.

  2. Could not believe this didn't get another season. It was terrific.

  3. Ron, I might have watched snatches of this series though I'm not sure when. I have definitely heard a lot about it. I have also seen a few episodes of THE WIRE. I am not very comfortable watching films and television based on drugs and drug wars. I can't accept it as a work of fiction or watch it with a sense of detachment. I could stretch that sentiment to a couple of other areas like health dramas.

    1. It took me a decade or more to work up the interest in these series for the same reason. But I found them both very illuminating because of the apparent honesty with which they were made.