A lot of great performances on this show but these were the ten best!!
10. Hassan Johnson – Roland “Wee-Bey” Brice
The beauty of an expansive cast that you can explore over the course of multiple seasons is that small characters can be given increasing texture and nuance the deeper the show goes. No one on The Wire benefited more from that than Hassan Johnson. His work as Wee-Bey was always compelling given how much he popped off the screen in the early seasons (and he will be forever immortalized with the Wee-Bey face gif). It was his work in season 4 though that solidified his character as one of the richest and most important in the show.
9. Andre Royo – Bubbles
Bubbles was always going to be an interesting character and performance to look at down the line. While it would be easy and understandable to focus on the “convincing” aspects of his performance, that would in it of itself cheapen Royo’s work (how many people besides Pablo Schreiber were unconvincing??) and potentially fetishize the performance of a drug addict character. Royo’s work was not brilliant because he convinced the audience he was a drug addict but because he convinced you there was a real person behind those eyes. There was a human being struggling with the world around him and constantly trying to just survive with the tools that he had.
8. Michael K. Williams – Omar Little
Omar would probably be the most frequent answer to the question put out to the general public regarding who was their favorite character. As a result though, the character kind of became a meme to a certain extent and the work done by Michael K. Williams has largely been almost simultaneously underlooked and overlooked. It would be fair to speculate that Omar was so popular because he brought a sense of moral clarity to world that many felt isolated from. In a setting defined by a certain sense of hopelessness, something about the throwback of a character like Omar embodied a false hope that people clung to. Much like Bubbles though, the work done by Williams was so brilliant in how he captured the humanity of the person. While much of the bravado and cockiness was genuine, it was also based on a lie that Omar is an innocent by claiming to understand that he is not innocent. The tragedy of Omar is not that he died or lost himself in his final weeks but that the ending of Omar was fair. Yes, Maurice Levy was a parasite in West Baltimore as well and preyed on the citizens as a lawyer to high-powered drug dealers with his briefcase, and it was great to see Omar take him down a peg. Omar though preyed on people too, and his ability to recognize that the game was rigged and that it was “either play or get played” made him if anything less likable. He saw that the game was rigged and instead of going after the riggers, he went for the other players.
7. Aidan Gillen – Tommy Carcetti
Starting with season 3, Tommy Carcetti essentially became one of the 2-3 main characters for the rest of the run of the show. It was one of the most predictable arcs the show did (politician grows a heart, wins a election, sells out when his personal ambition comes into conflict with doing the right thing) but Gillen sold the fuck out of it to make it work. Carcetti encapsulates the total and utter failure of the Democratic Party for the last fifty years. No matter how much they claim or even believe that they are doing what they have to do, they have sold out the people time and time again and have left the people to die.
6. Chris Bauer – Frank Sobotka
Probably no other character made a bigger impact on the overall quality of the show while doing just one season than Frank Sobotka. Besides the expected great work from the always-excellent Chris Bauer, Sobotka captured so much of the tragedy of The Wire and thus the poisonous institutions of the country. Here was a man than should be in a position where there should be no need for him to have compromise the lives of thousands by assisting in major drug trafficking but when people are pushed into a corner, they will cut corners and compromise themselves and their communities.
5. Sonja Sohn – Kima Greggs
Must like Clarke Peters, Lance Reddick, and Wendell Pierce, Sonja Sohn was one of the steadier characters on the show in that their presence often brought a sense of calm and order to the careful chaos that the show presented. They were reliable characters and always performed well. Sohn often took things to the next level though due to the nature of her character. Unlike the other three, Kima was not entirely sure who she was and what she wanted to be. Not in her job, but what kind of person she wanted to be in her job. There’s always something in Kima’s eyes that tells you she’s growing and trying to navigate the world around her and never settling to just exist as is. It was nuanced work that was not celebrated enough.
4. J.D. Williams – Preston “Bodie” Broadus
One of the biggest tragedies on the show was the fate of Preston “Bodie” Broadus. No death hit me harder than his and no moment is harder to watch than his final one. There are so many young boys and men like Bodie out there. Full of charisma, intelligence, and social skills. If the system allowed them to grow up surrounded by love and support, they would actually get to live the type of lives that do not get targeted by police gangs that run so much of the cities of this country. Instead though, they are presented with few if any options and end up on a path they have little control over. It’s no coincidence that Bodie’s end came after we spent a year with Michael, Dookie, Namond, and Randy. Bodie was like them once, and it was completely random who escaped and who did not.
3. Lawrence Gilliard Jr. – D’Angelo BarksdaleWhile Bodie was a tragedy for being placed on a path that has no happy endings, he was actually cut out for the lifestyle. Someone like D’Angelo though was born in the wrong country, in the wrong city, on the wrong block, to the wrong family. D’Angelo did not have the unlimited abilities like so many caught up in the West Baltimore drug trade. His number one skill in fact was actually a hindrance to success there: empathy. Gilliard was the performance that season one hinged on. He had to be believable as someone who would follow his mother and uncle into hell while simultaneously being someone who could look around when he got there and know something was not right.
2. Idris Elba – Russell “Stringer” Bell
Stringer never knew. Stringer never knew that he too was just a pawn caught up in a stupid game. He thought he was better than it all. He never understood that there was only two endings for someone like him if you never escaped. And that complete and total commitment to that belief that he was bigger and better was the key because he never even recognized that that was his belief. He would delude himself continuously about why he did things. He never processed that just like Jimmy McNulty ego, vanity, and insecurity were driving him. Like Omar, he understood the rules of the game and thus knew that the game was rigged and thought he could exist above it. His death should have been predictable and not shocking but he sold that belief about being above it so well that no one saw it coming.
1. Dominic West
There is nothing particularly exciting or sexy about selecting the series lead (no, Baltimore is the fucking SETTING of The Wire – it’s not a fucking character, Sepinwall) as the best performance on a television show. By definition they get the most screentime and the most to do. West is truly worthy of it though because he really delivered big time in his role. Jimmy McNulty had to simultaneously noble yet vain and lovable while stubborn. You had to accept that yes Jimmy did everything in his life for his own ego but at the exact same time he thought the world would be a better place if the people who were responsible for murders in his city were not free. There’s a tragedy to the uselessness of that mindset that the show was not willing to explore in any optimistic sense. The tragedy was there all the same though in everything West did on screen and it was the type of lead performance all classic television shows need.