It’s somewhat of an understatement to say that the current TV landscape is a bit … anticlimactic. A lot of shows are up in the air because of the Writers Guild of America strike, as filming has shut down while the people whose words are the baseline of all the stuff you like try to get paid properly for those words. While we wait, we’ve been getting such thought-provoking fare as “Abbott Elementary” reruns, “Judge Steve Harvey” and the celebrity reality competition “Stars on Mars” (which is actually funny, although I could have done without noted cheat Lance Armstrong trying to dismiss doping as having “a complicated public life”).
If you’re looking for things to binge and stream in the meantime, why not look closer to home for some suggestions? Baltimore obviously is known — for good or bad — as the home of “The Wire,” but there are a lot more shows either filmed, based in or involving people from Charm City. So in between bouts of finding out what Harvey and his suits have to say about justice, check out some of these.
The ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’/‘Law & Order’ crossover episodes
One of the most maddening realities of my entertainment fandom is the sad fact that it is impossible to watch “Homicide: Life on the Street” unless you own a DVD collection or happen to catch any of the two-part crossover episodes with fellow cop show “Law & Order.” Frustratingly, you can only find the “L&O” halves of those shows online, but each is excellent. “Baby It’s You” is about a young model killed at her family’s Baltimore home; “Charm City” follows racially motivated attacks in Baltimore and New York; and “Sideshow” tackles politically charged assassinations and some sexually charged flirting between hot lady hitwoman Chesley Purcell (Delissa Reynolds) and hot lady detective Rene Sheppard (Michael Michele) that was revolutionary for the ‘90s.
If you’re still itching for the original “Homicide” iterations and can’t get your hands on the physical collection, email me. I’ll tell you what happened. (The “Law & Order” episodes from the crossover are available on Peacock and fuboTV.)
This love letter to working-class Black Baltimore isn’t talked about nearly as much as it should be. Centering on a city garbageman (Baltimore’s Charles S. Dutton), his patient wife (Ella Joyce), and ever-present father and brother (Carl Gordon and Rocky Carroll), the biggest impact of the early ‘90s TV show was its portrayal of a normal Black family living their lives. They weren’t the projects-bound Evans family from “Good Times” or the degreed Huxtables of “The Cosby Show.” They were just people, living their lives hilariously and thoughtfully. (Available on Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video and more.)
‘We Own This City’
Yes, this 2022 HBO limited series was based on a book by Justin Fenton, who I happen to work with at The Baltimore Banner. But that’s not why it’s on this list. (Nor is Baltimore native Josh Charles’ mastery of a city accent he doesn’t actually have, though it’s great.) It took me awhile to watch all six episodes that chronicle the city’s notorious Gun Trace Task Force, as I was still getting used to making sense of the realities of the native city I’d just returned to. The show was painful and stark, but important as it delved into the corrupt individuals that permeated the Baltimore Police Department. It’s a hard watch, yet worth it. (Available on Max.)
‘Ace of Cakes’
Each week, Baltimore baker Duff Goldman brought viewers a slice (see what I did there?) of the old hometown from Charm City Cakes, displaying a sweet, down-to-earth bit of the city with some out-of-this-world confections. The TV series always made me homesick and hungry, but now that I live here, I’m just hungry. (Available on Discovery Plus.)
‘Something the Lord Made’
HBO’s 2004 movie isn’t the only cable dramatization of pivotal Baltimore surgeons; TNT’s “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story” featured Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. as the titular doctor and eventual cabinet member of former President Donald Trump. But honestly, Carson’s dismissal of the current racial realities of this country has soured me on that whole film, so instead, why not check out “Something the Lord Made”? The story of the cross-racial partnership between Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman) and former janitor turned surgeon Vivien Thomas (Mos Def) is stirring and, like most honest portrayals of race in Baltimore, sometimes uncomfortable. But it makes me cry every time I see it. (Available on Max.)
‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’
HBO really likes Baltimore, huh? I admit to not having loved the Rebecca Skloot book the 2017 movie is based on: I was frustrated it centered writer Skloot and her quest to uncover the very human source of the important HeLa cells, treating the broken Black family at the root of it as oddities rather than people. But the Oprah Winfrey-led TV version brought home for me what the book did not — the never-ending damage that greed, racism and poverty have done to our community. (Available on Max.)