The Wire + Oz = Clusterfuck

Anyone who knows me knows of my near-pathological love for The Wire. But long before I was resident Wire-ologist, I was a big fan of OZ - HBO's very first (yes, even before the fucking Sopranos) one-hour drama from the late 90s. With The Wire (aka the greatest piece of literature emerging from my lifetime) nearing the series' end, I wanted to offer this suggestion for a series, sharing many of its qualities as well as its actors, to queue up on your Netflix in order to avoid that hollowing feeling we will all inevitably experience in a few weeks. The actor crossovers alone should keep you satisfied. Who and what do they have in common?

Though I won't argue Oz is even close to The Wire's genius, with its tendencies of spelling out its moral message through narration, music constantly underscoring dramatic twists, and generally displaying very enjoyable drama-for-the-sake of drama, it's hard to ignore that Oz does share a lot of qualities. It could be said that it laid some foundation for such a show like The Wire to be made. Oz's creator, Tom Fontana,and co-executive producer, Barry Levinson, are the same guys behind the series adaptation of David Simon's most famed writing, Homicide [the book / the series], which contains about a jillion more crossovers from both The Wire and Oz. In short, this is all in the family.

First, the entire structure of the story is based on institutions (the most serious kind: prison) and the counter-institutions (criminal underworld) adapting in reaction to them. There are all the themes one expects from such a program--ineffective law enforcement bureaucracy, institutions trapping the men within them, the state of nature that results from social marginality, identity-based solidarity, survival, all that Freud ish, the value of human life reduced to money--basically, a paradoxical Lord of the Flies meets the (failed) panopticon of the State.

However, unlike The Wire, and largely through the structure of its Greek chorus-like narration, it occasionally provides some annoying liberal commentary on issues such as prisoners' rights, the death penalty, the racial/economic/general sociological underpinnings of who is incarcerated, which are not articulated subtly but rather all up in your face. Despite this difference, it doesn't avoid the fact that many of the prisoners are indeed sociopaths capable of horrifying acts, it doesn't venture to offer any easy answers, and it does contain complete dumbfounding moral ambiguities in almost all of its characters.

Before The Wire, Oz is one of the only shows I can think of that has so many recurring characters, to the point where there are many whose faces you constantly see but can't name. Ensemble cast is an understatement regarding either show. Like The Wire, Oz also has an overwhelming majority of male faces, but whatever it's prison. More notably, it is also one of the only shows that has a majority of black faces, playing not only criminal characters but also agents of the state and many other roles in between. It avoids the typical television trappings of a unified black identity, and it courageously complicates the idea of the simple black-white power dichotomy by placing complicit black characters throughout the state bureaucracy. Just as The Wire's arguably most stagnant institutional actor is the black Police Commissioner Ervin Burrell, Oz's prison is run by a (also moustachioed!) black Warden Leo Glynn (played by Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson).

Most importantly and most fun for us with enormous mental IMDB files, like most of us here at Cosmodrome, Oz featured many actors from The Wire. No coincidence since they shared the same CSA, Alexa Fogel. Since Oz ran from 1997-2003, and The Wire from 2002-2008, this has given a few actors, to varying degrees, a pretty good run on HBO criminal dramas. Many Oz actors went on to Law & Order (the sex one) and Lost, but I don't watch that shit as policy. In fact, before I started watching The Wire, I recall seeing commercials and thinking "Woah, they got Kenny Wangler AND Johnny Basil on the same show again?" How long I've come since then.

Though there are too many other notable cast members (invaluable IMDB files) to go through meaningfully, I gotta mention the inclusion of some (very) 90s rap stars, in addition to Method Man (below), and other musicians: Pepa (of Salt N' fame) as well as her babydaddy - Treach, LL Cool J, Master P, David Johansen aka the frontman of the New York Dolls aka Buster Poindexter-singer of "Hot Hot Hot", and that Cuban dude that knocked up Madonna the first time.

Finally, here is a list of actors I have observed to be appearing in both series, which is accurate up to episode 54/60 of The Wire. I will be sure to update again if there are any other sightings in the next six episodes.

"Now" indicates role on The Wire - generally using police ranks from circa third season
"Then" indicates role on Oz
(#) indicate number of episodes

Now: Avon Barksdale (38)

Then: Correctional Officer Gordon Wood (1)

played by Wood Harris

Now: Brianna Barksdale (12)

Then: Wife of then-head Muslim prisoner Hamid Khan* (1)

played by Michael Hyatt *Hamid Khan played by Ernie Hudson, Jr.!

Now: Preston "Bodie" Broadus (42)

Then: Kenny "Bricks" Wangler (23) - tried and convicted as an adult at age 16

played by JD Williams

Now: Bug's Daddy / Michael's Stepfather (3)

Then: Correctional Officer Adrian Johnson (15)

played by Cyrus Farmer

Now: Police Commissioner Ervin Burrell (47)

Then: Cornelius Keane - father of death-sentenced and recently-converted-Muslim Jefferson Keane (1)

played by Frankie Faison

Now: Sergeant Ellis Carver (56)

Then: Correctional Officer Clayton Hughes (17)

played by Seth Gilliam

Now: Melvin "Cheese" Wagstaff (10)

Then: Carlton "Tug" Daniels (4)

played by Method Man

Now: Lieutenant Cedric Daniels (56)

Then: "Desmond Mobay" aka undercover-narcotics-officer-turned-junkie Johnny Basil (12)

played by Lance Reddick

Now: Detective Lester Freamon (55)

Then: Afsana, blacktivist prison lobbyist (1)

played by Clarke Peters

Now: Detective Thomas "Herc" Halk (57)

Then: Ralph Galino (2)

played by Domenick Lombardozzi

Now: FBI Agent Ernst Kristos Koutris / Mole for The Greeks (3)

Then: Agamemnon "The Mole" Busmalis (31)

played by Tom Mardirosian *an Armenian apparently always cast as a Greek

Now: Brother Mouzone (7)

Then: Correctional Officer Reinhardt (1)

played by Michael Potts

Now: Mayor's Deputy Chief of Staff Norman Wilson (20)

Then: Unit Manager Martin Querns (8)

played by Reg E. Cathey

Now: Deputy Commissioner for Operations Bill Rawls (55)

Then: Edward "The Colonel" Galson (4)

played by John Doman

Now: Latino kid who gives Omar the "mala noticia" in the fifth season (1)

Then: Pablo Rosa (6)

played by Michael Rivera

Now: Triage* aka Tree aka Cheese's boy who says "Woof" (2)

Then: Johnny Post (3)

played by Tim McAdams

*Not confirmed anywhere. If anyone can help me find evidence of who played the character "Tree"/"Triage" (recall who he was here) in The Wire's third season, I would be obliged.