As I alluded to earlier this month, “Arrested Development” is my favorite television show of all time. I think it’s brilliant. I think it’s hilarious. And, of course, I think it’s entertaining.
But what’s No. 2, you ask? Well, for me, it’s “The Wire”. Granted it isn’t as funny as “Arrested Development”, but with that said, what it may lack in hilarity, the show more than makes up for in intelligence. I mean, my goodness. There are college professors who teach entire semesters around those five seasons. David Simon wasn’t just a writer. He was a genius (actually, he is still a genius — have you ever seen a minute of “Treme”, for god’s sake?).
The list of “Wire” alumni who have since carved out nice careers for themselves after the final season wrapped is astounding (a separate blog post someday, perhaps?). Amy Ryan went on to single-handedly make “The Office” watchable again, all while starring alongside such heavyweights as Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Matt Damon on the big screen. Tom McCarthy went on to write a little movie called “Up”. Lance Reddick found himself on both “Lost” and “Fringe”, two shows people seem to adore. And Idris Elba kept on being Idris Elba, one of the coolest dudes in the history of the world.
So when New York Magazine decided to drop this headline into the oh-so-fickle-and-expanding world that is the Internet, I immediately gasped out loud: “The Wire’s Michael K. ‘Omar’ Williams is headed to Community”. From the piece …
“Michael K. Williams, best known as Omar from The Wire, is joining the cast of the NBC series for at least three episodes this fall. He’ll be playing the Greendale gang’s new biology professor,” the website said. “The general idea with this season is to add … a certain amount of groundedness and reality to the series,” “Community” creator Don Harmon told the magazine. “Because the detractors of our show complain that there’s a distancing that takes place because we have such a silliness and far-fetchedness … So I asked myself, ‘What is the opposite of that?’ And it’s certainly The Wire.”
Chevy Chase just became a whole lot more interesting. My problem? How in the name of Detective McNulty will Williams be able to pull comedy off? Maybe the answer to that question can be found in Elba’s turn as Charles on “The Office” a few years ago. But then again, maybe not. Elba’s Stringer Bell was a force. He was loud. He was aggressive. He had flare. Omar, on the other hand, was far too reserved. His intimidation came without words. That character was so finely nuanced that Williams never really had to showcase an ability to shine. The greatness of Omar was his mystique.
My near and dear friend Nigel, a fellow “Wire” lover, mind you, had the following take on it:
“I know that actors get paid to play divergent, and varying, roles,” he wrote me. “However, when we the viewers see that an Omar-type character will be playing a community college professor, the viewer often makes the connection of ‘guest star.’ When, maybe, in more likelihood, the actor isn’t actually ‘guest starring’ but merely doing what actors do – ‘working.’ This happened last week on the ever-tiring ‘Wilfred’. Rashida Jones starred as a nurse. I immediately connected her with ‘Parks and Rec’ and had a difficult time separating the two.”
My point, exactly. How does Williams survive on a screen of an absurdist show that is most commonly centered around a type of comedy that isn’t necessarily known for its subtlety? How does he shed that Omar mystique? How do viewers who also watched “The Wire” interpret his performance? Will critics hold it against his portrayal as one of the most feared men in modern television? Or will writers and viewers alike simply be happy to see Williams back on TV?
Either way, Nigel put it best when he got to the end of his note.
“The bottom line — I hope that Omar’s character will be whistling ‘The Farmer in the Dell’ and toting a sawed-off shotgun,” he said. “Maybe that’ll put some of those smug ‘Community’ idiots in their place.”