I know a lot of people watched The Wire recently in HD glory on the HBO re-run, perhaps discovering the show for the first time (when I was already singing along to the theme song while you were all in diapers.) So I decided to watch The Corner, also written by David Simon, and directed by Charles Dutton, which features many of the same actors in a variant of The Wire's setting. Public service announcement: WATCH THE CORNER.
The Corner, insofar as the first half I've watched, serves as a direct forerunner to The Wire, sharing the theme of the Baltimore heroin ecosystem, with a stronger emphasis on the forlorn users. The focal point is the dissolved Boyd family unit, consisting of Gary, the father, Fran, the mother, DeAndre, the eldest son, as well as his younger brother who watches television as Rome burns.
From The Wire you'll recognize the actors who play Lester Freamon as one of the more astute addicts, Leander Sydnor as one of DeAndre's friends, Marla Daniels as DeAndre's Aunt Bunchie, Jay Landsman and Prop Joe in minor roles, probably some other ones I can't remember from the top of my head. The prototypes for little details in The Wire are workshopped in The Corner. DeAndre is a handsome young slinger with a delicate younger brother, who struggles to stay in school and keep up with his heroin distribution. The police are always teasing him to cut his dreadlocks, which make him stick out from a distance. He has an aunt in a nicer part of town who takes care of them in Fran's absence, and is selected to give a speech as part of a school district competition. You could say the children from The Wire's fourth season are derivatives of DeAndre, that The Wire is a dramatic reinterpretation of a fundamental reality.
The Corner's construction is something a little different than what I'm used to. It's shot as a drama, but with little interludes at the beginning and end of each episode where the show's director interviews a key character in the style of Bergman's Passion of Anna. There is always a subject that goes too far, such as when Dutton-in-character asks Fran about her parents, whom she refuses to discuss. (Later, carrying all her possessions on her back on the way to rehab, Fran sees her father outside of a corner store. They stop and stare at each other in silence.)
Basic survival is the motivation of each of the Boyds and the impetus of the show. Fran and Gary are heroin addicts. Gary squats in a boarded-up vacant rowhouse with a woman who cheats him of heroin. Everyday is a struggle to find the ten dollars each for a colorful vial, which he obtains by selling stolen pipes, appliances, etc. If he's lucky he receives a tester vial for a new marque of heroin. Fran lives with her brothers and sisters in a subsidized apartment with her two children and nephew. Out of some sense of pudor she and her sister only shoot heroin in the basement. Deandre on the other hand is flirting with adulthood, struggling to stay in school when the threat of real imprisonment approaches with his 16th birthday. Everyday the streets are raided by the police, and frequently, addicts are beaten for trying to steal vials. Like in the film Irreversible, the tragedy plays in reverse: we see through yellow-tinted flashbacks that bleed into the present the history of the Boyd family and the slow decay of their once-prosperous household mirroring the death of the neighborhood.