Comparing Static & The Wire

originally from Jenkem Words by Andrew Murrell

At face value, the Static videos and the critically acclaimed HBO drama, The Wire, have little in common: one is a globe-spanning series focused on underground skateboarding, and the other is a chronicle of crime in Baltimore. I have no idea if Josh Stewart ever found the time to watch The Wire, and I highly doubt David Simon has ever seen a Static video, but the connections between their work run surprisingly deep. Stewart and Simon use five installments to take a hard look at inner-city life in a way that’s seldom done in their respective fields. What’s more, both series shed new light at the failing institutions they belong to, be it the disappearing art of street skateboarding in a time of stunts, or the dysfunctional establishments that keeps a city like Baltimore from thriving. We here at Jenkem are committed to exploring what else Static and The Wire may have in common. Main video parts and plot points have been included if you aren’t familiar with either work.

Season 1/Static

Parts: Forrest Kirby, Joel Meinholz, Sean Mullendore, Jake Rupp, Paul Zitzer, Jeff Lenoce

Main Plot Points: The Major Crimes Unit begins pursuit of Avon Barksdale’s drug crew.

The roots of a long-term project are always going to feel a bit dated, and neither Static nor the first season of The Wire are exceptions. It took some time for both Josh Stewart and David Simon to find a voice separate of their other works — Static has as much in common with Cigar City as the rest of the series, and some critics pointed out that The Wire initially retread on themes from Simon’s earlier work and other HBO programming. As such, some elements seem out of place in retroactivity, like pagers and vert skating. It’s jarring to see a dramatic flashback in an episode of The Wire (as per HBO’s request in the pilot episode), or a slam section of any sort in the Static series. Nonetheless, there are also moments in both beginnings that could be described as genius, be it the scene in which two Baltimore detectives survey and describe a murder scene using nothing other than variations of “fuck”, the infamous “where’s Wallace” scene at the end of the season, or Jake Rupp’s hidden part after the Static credits (after ending on a manual trick in a montage, for that matter). Neither the first season of The Wire nor Static is perfect, but they both manage to hold their own in the canon.

 

Season 2/Static II

Parts: Ricky Oyola, Bobby Puleo, John Igei, Kenny Reed, Paul Shier, Wayne Patrick

Main Plot Points: Stevedores in the Baltimore city ports struggle to find work, and turn to smuggling drugs and contraband in shipping containers; Stringer Bell takes the helm of the Barksdale drug operation.

This one was a difficult connection to make. Static II is arguably one of the high points in Josh Stewart’s career, whereas most hardcore fans of The Wire consider the second season of the show disposable. However, in terms of editing and content, Static II is a huge jump forward from the previous installment. The video features a number of parts from individuals who were seldom seen before or since, including John Igei, Kenny Reed, and Wayne Patrick (who’s inclusion is just as confusing as James Ransone’s role in The Wire). Static II also marks the moment Stewart took the series to San Francisco, Hong Kong, London, and Cairo, transforming it from a local video into a global production.

In The Wire, we don’t leave semi-fictional Baltimore, but we do meet the organized crime operation led by The Greek, along with Frank Sobotka, Nick Sobotka, Ziggy Sobotka, and a number of local stevedores. The dock workers are the center of attention for these ten episodes, tops, and The Greek stays relatively silent after this season. However, the inclusion of the drug trade expands the scope of the show from cops and robbers to the blue-collar network used to smuggle drugs and contraband. It also serves as background to keep the series moving at later points. In short, thanks to the inclusion of numerous one-time players, the second installments of both The Wire and Static served to widen the spectrum of what each series included, and redefined what each series was about.

 

Season 3/Static III

Parts: Pat Steiner, Tony Manfre, Soy Panday, Danny Renaud, Nate Broussard, Olly Todd, Mark Wetzel & Steve Durante, Jahmal Williams, Kevin Coakley & Lee Burman

Main Plot Points: Stringer Bell attempts to turn the drug trade into a legitimate business, with mixed results; a rogue major turns a blind eye to drug use in designated zones.

I once heard someone argue against Static III because it’s “too similar to Josh Stewart’s style.” I disagree, but he’s not wrong: this is, hands down, the most stereotypical (e.g. artsy-footage-of-people-pushing-through-the-streets-of-New-York-City-set-to-emotional-music heavy) Static video. It’s also home to numerous fan favorites throughout the series, including Nate Broussard, Danny Renaud, and Pat Steiner. Likewise, the third season of The Wire is popular for how “urban” it is — we’ve got the Major Crimes Unit’s hot pursuit of drug traffickers, duels between rival drug crews, and the dramatic showdown between Omar Little and Stringer Bell.

Thematically and content-wise, the third installment of both Static and The Wire is what most people think of when they think of the work in question. The main characters in later installments start to pop up, as well. Vivien Feil has guest tricks in Soy Panday’s part, Mark Wetzel shares a New Jersey minute with Steve Durante, and Jahmal Williams has a mini-part; in The Wire, we’re introduced to Marlo Stanfield’s gang, councilman Tommy Carcetti, and Howard ‘Bunny’ Colvin, as well as a number of street-level dealers (who I suppose could be likened to the guy who only has tricks in the montage — maybe Curtis Rapp?).

 

Season 4/Static IV

Parts: Aaron Herrington, Dustin Eggeling, Mark Wetzel, Jake Johnson, Quim Cardona, Snowy, Vivien Feil, Ben Gore, Pat Steiner, Jimmy Lannon

Main Plot Points: Tommy Carcetti’s mayoral campaign promises a new beginning for Baltimore; Marlo Stanfield continues the drug trade relatively unabated; viewers get to examine the city’s failing school system.

Stepping back into the real world for a moment, the most obvious parallel between the final segments of The Wire and the Static series was the huge gap in release dates. HBO toyed with cancelling The Wire after weak third season ratings, keeping fans waiting a full two years for a fourth season. Meanwhile, Josh Stewart’s pet project grew beyond his control, and what was supposed to be out immediately after Static III instead took seven years to premiere. Anyways, the fourth installments both focus on the group that was clearly shaped by the series’ ancestors. Josh Stewart’s influence on a generation becomes apparent with great east coast skating from Aaron Herrington, Dustin Eggeling, and Ben Gore (who all ride for Theories companies). In Simon’s Baltimore, we see how the corner culture so prized by Avon Barksdale led to Marlo Stanfield’s ruthless tactics. Marlo’s crew, in turn, plays a huge role on Namond Brice, Randy Wagstaff, Duquan Weems, and Michael Lee, the four middle school students who comprise our newest additions to the extended Wire family. Interestingly enough, these late additions to both series assimilated so flawlessly that you’ll struggle to imagine the Static series without full Jimmy Lannon or Jake Johnson parts, or The Wire without the corner boys.

 

Season 5/Static V

Parts: Yonnie Cruz, Jahmal Williams, Brendan Carroll, Yaje Popson, Kevin Tierney, Brian Clarke, Joel Meinholz, Vincent Alvarez, Charlie Young

Main Plot Points: Budget cuts force detectives to take desperate measures; the Baltimore Sun struggles to provide the city proper coverage.

For their fifth and final installments, Stewart and Simon both found it appropriate to include numerous callbacks to their series’ roots. Joel Meinholz goes full circle with his second full part in a Static video, the Charlie Young footage Stewart alluded to pre-Static III is finally revealed, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reminds us that Static V is the final entry in the series. Most notably, regular montage inductee and Tampa native Steve Brandi finally gets his retribution by way of second-to-last part in the series, making him the Bubbles of Static.

Newcomers such as Kevin Tierney, Brian Clarke, and Yonnie Cruz are perfect fits, despite only appearing in a single chapter of the Static series. Brendan Carroll, in particular, is more or less a Theories poster boy after this part.

In Simon’s Baltimore, we finally see what key players in the earlier seasons, such as Avon Barksdale, Wee-Bay Brice, Sergei Malatov, and some of the stevedores, have been up to in the past few years. We’re also acquainted with key members of the Baltimore Sun staff, and Simon manages to make the antagonistic relationship between Gus Haynes and Scott Templeton as complex and meaningful as any other in hardly ten episodes.

The final shot of The Wire is Baltimore from a distance, symbolic of the American city and the key unifier for all the stories just told. The outro of Static V is full of fence hopping, subway rides, and sidewalks – oft-forgotten emblems of real street skating in any metropolis. Static isn’t just about skateboarding, and The Wire isn’t just about the Major Crimes Unit, or the drug dealers. Rather, the two series are about the modern city.

Throughout five installments, Stewart and Simon both cycled through a number of key characters, but the city’s influence on individuals, be it Ricky Oyola in Philadelphia, Tommy Carcetti in Annapolis, Olly Todd in London, or Omar Little in West Baltimore, was always the driving force behind the action. We’re not sure if the Baltimore depicted in The Wire can be saved, but we’d say that Josh Stewart’s work was instrumental in keeping inner-city street skating alive and well.