Great minds think alike. Not four days after I unveil my brackets for a Wire-based tournament of characters, Grantland releases its own bracket. Now, not to sound like I'm blowing my own horn here, but…well, mine is better. Mine has 64 characters, a better divisional layout and mine also didn't leave out Carver, Slim Charles, Gus and a host of others in favour of making Serge "Boris" Malatov a #6 seed. Mark 1, Grantland 0. Now, some might argue that since I got the idea for a Wire tournament from a Bill Simmons interview anyway, Grantland isn't really *stealing* anything. To this, I say la la la la, I can't hear you.
But in any case, I'd better get cracking and break down my first round before, I dunno, Pinterest or some other site gets to it first.
#1 Omar vs. #16 Kenard
Oh, sweet irony. This is literally the only circumstance where people would vote for Omar to lose in the first round since "that's what happened!" In terms of who's the better character, however, it's no contest. To be honest, I probably could've found better street representatives than Kenard but matching him against Omar was too good to pass up.
#8 Namond vs. #9 Kimmy
Just for the record, had 'The Four Kids' been able to be grouped as a single entry, they probably win the entire tournament. On their own, however, Namond is the weak link. Here's my first upset, as Kimmy blasts her way to victory. Don't feel too bad for Namond, he's living it up in the suburbs with Bunny Colvin.
#4 Dukie vs. #13 Walon
This matchup will probably take place at a rehab meeting in a few years' time, provided Dukie is still alive. Dukie wins this one, giving him one victory in his overall miserable life. Also, no knock on Steve Earle, but his version of the Wire's theme song in S5 is clearly the weakest one (not unlike S5 itself).
#5 Randy vs. #12 Brother Mouzone
Pound for pound, the Brother might've been the weirdest character in Wire history. On the show that embraced gritty realism like no other, here comes a guy who is more like a quirky, low-level Batman villain than he is a legitimate drug trade enforcer. I guess that made him an ideal (temporary) opponent for Omar, who was essentially a gangland Batman, but still, Mouzone really stands out, so much so that some might argue that the seedings here could be reversed. I'm giving Randy the win, however, since we had a full season with him and saw his character develop the most. Brother Mouzone was a fun sideline; Randy was able to deliver an emotional impact like this.
#3 Michael vs. #14 Dante
If Omar is Batman, then Dante is essentially his Jason Todd, ultimately a bad seed of a partner that causes Omar more problems than he's worth. (Yes, I realize Batman and Robin are just crime-fighting partners, not partners in the sense of Omar and Brandon/Dante/Renaldo. I'm not getting all 'Seduction Of The Innocent' on Batman here.) Dante brought some interesting complications to Omar's life but yeah, needless to say Michael is the clear choice.
#6 Butchie vs. #11 Sherrod
Were I the ringtone type, I'd want a ringtone of Bubbles saying Sherrod's name. The name just flows so smoothly off of Andre Royo's tongue. That's about all I can say about Sherrod, since Butchie is a man so tough that he was one of the few (the only?) to actually withstand Snoop and Chris' punishment, dying before selling Omar out.
#7 Cutty Wise vs. #10 The Deacon
Tough matchup here. Cutty is right near the bottom of the list of 'notable characters' and the Deacon is right near the top of the 'underrated minor characters who aren't quite enough to knock off a relative weak link like Cutty.' I thought more could've been done with Cutty in his two seasons as a significant player on the show. Maybe it was just that you'd think his character arc would involve him getting back into the game, except nope, his real purpose was to show what a guy could go once he actually did try to go straight.
#2 Bubbles vs. #15 Johnny
Friend vs. friend! This is a battle full of tears but come on, do you really think Bubbles is going to lose in the first round?
#1 McNulty vs. #16 Santangelo
Don't need a psychic to guess how this one develops.
#8 Bunny Colvin vs. #9 Herc
What an underrated, fascinating matchup of the first round. Colvin was a big part of two seminal Wire storylines --- Hamsterdam and the study group of the middle school students --- while Herc was part of the show from the beginning. Colvin made errors but was overall one of thoroughly good, honourable members of the Wire universe, while Herc grew more and more corrupt as the series went on. I recall reading one analysis of Herc online that identified him as one of the best kinds of villains, since you don't even realize he's a "villain" for the first four seasons. Sure, he's screwing up left and right and doing any number of sketchy things, but he's just depicted as a cop who cuts corners rather than being a legitimate bad guy. In S5, however, he joins up with Maury Levy, and then you realize, "Hey wait a second…" As you might guess, I'm leaning towards Herc in this matchup.
#4 Daniels vs. #13 Burrell
I admit to a bit of bracket chicanery to create the Omar/Kenard matchup, but I swear, Daniels and Burrell continuing their show-long rivalry was a happy coincidence. Also a battle of two of the great one-liners in Wire history --- "It's Baltimore, gentlemen. The gods will not save you." vs. "You'd rather live in shit than let the world see you work a shovel." Daniels clearly wins this, though I enjoyed Burrell's character as a living bureaucratic roadblock.
#5 Carver vs. #12 Beadie Russell
Ah dammit. My love of Amy Ryan is deep enough that I was fully prepared to vote Beadie into the second round of almost any bracket, but the police bracket is stacked and Carver is a great character. Carver wins here and you'll be hearing much more about him in later rounds. Spoiler alert? Spoiler alert.
#6 Kima vs. #11 Landsman
This is a closer matchup than you'd think at first glance. Of the approximately 200 Emmys that The Wire should've won (as opposed to the zero it actually won), one of the more hands-down Emmys was Sonja Sohn as best supporting actress for the first season. After that first year, however, Kima didn't really get all that much to do. She was certainly more of a key player in the unit than, say, Sydnor, but she still seemed to take a back seat to McNulty, Lester, Bunk and even Daniels (though Cedric had less to do in latter seasons as well.) Landsman, meanwhile, just kept cracking memorable one-liners for all five seasons and getting the occasional dramatic scene when he's delivering the wakes for departed officers. I'll be honest, I'm still clearly picking Kima but I at least thought for a moment about an upset.
#3 Lester vs. #14 Major Valchek
The most natural of po-lice against one of the crappier but most politically-savvy cops on the force. Valchek had no shortage of great comic moments in the series (starting the whole Sobotka case over an argument about a stained glass window, getting punched by Prez and the rueful laugh that I think all of us had when he's named commissioner in the series finale) and yet was still a very threatening and effective villain. As seems to be my custom in the police bracket, I'll talk up the loser before chalking up the win to the more obvious choice.
#7 Prez vs. #10 Rawls
This is almost unfair putting Prez in the cops bracket, since his biggest impact on the show was as a teacher in S4. That's the tradeoff for no 'education' bracket, however. Rawls was a good character but he's the clear loser here simply by dint of the fact that he didn't spend a season as the ostensible main character of the show. Maybe if S6 had been about Baltimore's gay community...
#2 Bunk vs. #15 Sydnor
Sydnor has two notable things to his credit. First, he looked like Ken Griffey Jr. Secondly, for a guy who was constantly praised as 'natural police' and one of the department's bright hopes, he didn't really get any key roles on Daniels' unit, did he? He was basically just the utility man, always there to cover a stakeout or take an undercover gig. It's a valuable job on an actual police unit, but in TV terms, Sydnor was always just an extra guy. You could argue he didn't break out at all until the series-ending montage when suddenly he seems to be on track to be "the next McNulty."
#1 Stringer Bell vs. #16 Cheese Wagstaff
This might also be a matchup, with the same seedings, in my 'best names on TV' tournament. Stringer Bell. What a phenomenal character name. It works as one entity (Stringerbell), just Stringer, or even shortened to a nickname like String, or Strings. In hindsight, I should've put 'Stringer' on my list of potential baby names.
#8 Snoop vs. #9 Chris Partlow
Man oh man oh man oh man. What a matchup. The alpha and the omega of assassins, paired against each other in the first round. First possibly absurd definitive statement: I'd take Snoop and Chris over any other pair of fictional hit men. (Say what you will about Vincent and Jules, but I don't see Chris or Snoop being shot while exiting a bathroom.) Second, more probably absurd, definitive statement: Snoop and Chris retired undefeated. Now, of course you'll argue Snoop was killed by Michael and Chris ended the series sentenced for committing roughly 627,549 murders (only 417,801 he was actually responsible for) but to this I say so what. Chris clearly had no problems with eating that sentence. Snoop, meanwhile, was pretty non-plussed herself when Michael got the jump on her, plus, it's no shame to Snoop if she met her final end at the hands of the "new Omar."
The case for Chris: A complete iceman. He only lost his cool once, when his presumed own past as a victim of molestation caused him to just lose it and beat Michael's pervert stepfather to death. So respected that even Marlo took his advice. Unlike virtually every other character on the show, he didn't need a nickname to enhance his toughness; "Chris Partlow" sounds like a guy you took high school history class with, not a fearsome gang enforcer.
The case for Snoop: One of the purely more memorable characters in the series, though this is more due to Felicia Pearson more or less playing herself than playing a fictional creation. The necessary fast-talking, always-moving charismatic counter to the void that is Chris. Capable of both comedy (that amazing opening scene of S4 when she's buying the nailgun) and serious badassery (that same scene, in hindsight, once we realize just what the nailgun is for).
I've spent more time discussing this matchup than any other, so I'll leave it up to you. Who do you think is a better character, Snoop or Chris? I'll put a poll up on the blog or you can cast your vote in the comments. Winner advances to face Stringer in the round of 32.
#4 Proposition Joe vs. #13 Poot Carr
I mentioned earlier about how Cutty's character was sort of the "this is what happens if you go straight" story of The Wire, though really, you can include Poot in this category as well. Poot is just kind of around for everything, not really quite taking it all in or being as affected by it as Bodie, and then one day he decides to hang it all up and get a job at Foot Locker. And….that's it. If I had to guess at Poot's future, he'd just work at joe jobs for the rest of his life, telling tales to his co-workers about the wild stuff he got up to back in the day. Anyway, we all like Poot, but Prop Joe wins this in a cakewalk.
#5 D'Angelo Barksdale vs. #12 Vondas
I legitimately yelled 'Hell yes!' when Vondas popped up in S4, given how the show hadn't really addressed any aspects of the port storyline aside from Beadie's continued presence. So ol' Spiros gets this bit of credit for himself before being iced in the first round. As unstoppable as they are within the Baltimore crime world itself, Spiros and the Greek are a lot more vulnerable in the tournament because...
#6 Bodie Broadus vs. #11 The Greek
Another fun matchup. The guy who was constantly surprised by how things developed around him in the Game to the guy who was constantly on top of everything. In an actual matchup, Greek would have Bodie destroyed without even having to get up from his diner stool. In a 'who was a better character' sense, Bodie is the winner. It's a sign of how ridiculously deep the Crime Bracket is that Bodie is all the way down at the sixth seed.
#3 Avon Barksdale vs. #14. Maury Levy
It's hilarious that of all the terrible murderers and criminals on The Wire, none of them generate as much pure hatred from fans as Levy. To revisit the Herc topic, all of the shitty police work in the world wouldn't have cemented his heel turn like joining up with Maury Levy did. Avon wins because, well, it's Avon, but man, again, Levy would be a great upset pick in several other brackets.
#7 Wee Bey Brice vs. #10 Slim Charles
Man, I'm going with Slim Charles. His rise to being one of the 'good' bad guys on the show was so measured and so gradual (like the man himself) that by the end, it's perfectly deserved that he gets the honour of killing that dirtbag Cheese. As for Wee Bey, for a guy that provided so many memorable moments (instructing D'Angelo about his fish, wolfing down that sandwich in the interrogation room while happily confessing to dozens of murders, etc.) it's stunning to remember that he was really only a major character in the first season. After that it was just a series of very memorable small cameos in the subsequent seasons. Great character Wee Bey, but Slim has him beat.
#2 Marlo Stanfield vs. #15 Wallace
My friend Eric suggested that I leave Wallace out of the bracket altogether, just so people could write comments along the lines of "Where the boy at, Mark? Where the fuck the boy at?" As memorable as Wallace was and as good a career as Michael B. Jordan seems to be building, Marlo is the clear choice.
#1 Tommy Carcetti vs. #16 Alma Gutierrez
Maybe the major Alma scene that sticks in my head is when she's trying to get a quote about a crime scene from Kima, who just brushes past her with barely a word. In the four previous seasons, we'd be like, "get out of Kima's way, parasite," but after we'd gotten to know Alma a bit, you felt for her since she was just trying to do her job. Fun fact: Lana "Alma" Paress is married to Larry Gilliard Jr., a.k.a. D'Angelo Barksdale. This has been all-Alma entry since obviously Carcetti wins this matchup and I'll talk a lot more about him later on.
#8 Norman Wilson vs. #9 Mayor Clarence Royce
I'm a sucker for basically any "sardonic wise aide" character, which may explain both Butchie's relatively high seeding and the fact that I'm giving Norman the win here. In fairness, Norman also had more to do than Mayor Royce, who I feel was maybe a bit under-utilized. Here was a guy who, in essence, was Tommy Carcetti several years down the line, once his bravado and enthusiasm for helping the city had been beaten down by years of politics. Had we gotten more from Royce in this vein, I would've voted him for the win.
#4 Clay Davis vs. #13 Marla Daniels
You kind of thought Marla would get a bigger role on once The Wire sheeeeeeifted focus to incorporate so much of city politics over its last three seasons, but nope, sheeeee just remained a background character. Sheeeeee's no match for the man with the golden catchphrase.
#5 Rhonda Pearlman vs. #12 Odell Watkins
Good ol' Ronnie Pearlman. To be honest, she didn't have much to do on the show in latter seasons other than just be "Daniels' girlfriend" (though, Daniels himself saw his role diminish as time went on) but it just wouldn't seem right not giving her the duke over Watkins, a character whose importance to the goings-on at City Hall never quite matched his profile on the show.
#3 Gus Haynes vs. #14 Theresa D'Agostino
The Wire's fifth season is the weakest since, for a show that revelled in showing many shades of gray, the newspaper setting was way too thin. You had the corrupt editors and the lying staff reporter against the totally honest, hard-working city editor and the more scrupulous rest of the reporting team. These weren't characters as much as they were David Simon's axes to grind from his own days at the Baltimore Sun. This all being said, Gus was still a strong character (very good performance from Clark Johnson) and he definitely has enough going for him to top Theresa D'Agostino. That's another great name, by the way. Not in the 'Stringer Bell' class, but just say it out loud…Theresa D'Agostino. Just rolls off the tongue.
#6 Scott Templeton vs. #11 Nerese Campbell
Upset! Nerese wins and, frankly, I'm not so sure it's actually an upset. If there was any non-criminal mastermind character on The Wire that you wouldn't want to mess with, it'd be Nerese, who runs over pretty much everything in her path at City Hall. Scott got a sixth seed because of his importance in S5 and the relative lack of depth in this bracket but let's be honest, there wasn't much to Scott besides "shitty journalist." His arc would've been much more interesting he had produced one actual good story (say, if he'd actually gotten a good piece from the Orioles game) just to show that he had some talent, rather than being an out-and-out liar that the editorial staff inexplicably supported. Thomas McCarthy, who played Templeton, is also a hell of a filmmaker, writing and directing such quality fare as Win Win, The Station Agent and The Visitor.
#7 Ziggy Sobotka vs. #10 Nick Sobotka
Oh man, here's another fun little coincidence of the brackets. Battle of the Sobotka cousins! Also, battle of two characters that I think most Wire fans would hope got knocked out early. I'm picking Ziggy here since I think he gets a bad rap as a weak link of both S2 and the series as a whole; it's a tricky character to master but I think James Ransone did a good job of keeping just this side of laughably incompetent. Also, while Nick was overall perhaps a more complex character, he was also at the centre of probably the worst-written and acted scene in Wire history --- him and his high school girlfriend, drunk on the playground. That scene, in comparison to everything else in the series, is the equivalent of mixing three seconds of Slipknot into Beethoven's Ninth.
#2 Frank Sobotka vs. #15 Judge Phelan
I'll save my comments on Frank since you know he's going on a deep run in this tournament, plus it's great that the entire Sobotka clan will be covered just in this one little segment of the bracket. Phelan really didn't have much to do after the first season and frankly, a case could be made for omitting him altogether, but since it was his relationship with McNulty and signature on the wiretaps to begin with, he earns himself a slot.