Baltimore in The Wire and Los Angeles in The Shield: Urban Landscapes in American Drama Series

Alberto N. García


The Shield (FX 2002-08) and The Wire (HBO 2002-08) are two of the most ever critically acclaimed TV-shows and they both can be seen as the finest developed film noir proposals produced in television. The Wire transcends the cop-show genre by offering a multilayered portrait of the whole city of Baltimore: from police work to drug dealing, getting through stevedores’ union corruption, tricks of local politics, problems of the school system and some unethical journalism practices. On the other, The Shield offers a breathtaking cop-show that features in the foreground the moral ambiguity that characterizes the noir genre. Both series display complementary realist strategies (a neorealist aesthetic in The Wire; a cinéma vérité pastiche in The Shield) that highlight the importance of city landscape in their narrative. Baltimore and Los Angeles are portrayed not only as a dangerous and ruined physical places, but are also intertwined with moral and political issues in contemporary cities, such as race, class, political corruption, social disintegration, economical disparities, the limitations of the system of justice, the failure of the American dream and so on. The complex and expanded narrative of The Wire and The Shield, as Dimemberg has written for film noir genre, “remains well attuned to the violently fragmented spaces and times of the late-modern world”. Therefore, this article will focus on how The Wire and The Shield (and some of their TV heirs, such as Southland and Justified) reflect and renew several topics related to the city in the film noir tradition: the sociopolitical effects of showing the ruins of the centripetal industrial metropolis, the inferences of filming in actual places, the dramatic presence of what Augé coined as “no-places”, the bachelardian opposition between home and city, or the streets as an urban jungle where danger lurks in every corner.


television studies; landscape; spatial turn; city; The Shield; The Wire

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TV Shows cited


CSI: Miami (2002-2012)

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000-2015)

CSI: New York (2004-2013)

Dexter (2006-2013)

Justified (2010-2015)

Law and Order (1990-2010)

Lie to Me (2009-2011)

The Mentalist (2008-2015)

Rescue Me (2004-2011)

The Shield (2002–2008)

Southland (2009-2013)

The Sopranos (1999-2007)

True Detective (2014–)

The Wire (2002-2008)

DOI: 10.6092/issn.2421-454X/7144


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