The Corner

It's only been a week or so, but are you feeling it yet? The itch, the yen, the jones, the empty hours staring you in the face with no more episodes of The Wire to give you the kind of complex urban narrative you've come to depend on? OK, so there probably aren't that many devastated fans out there, given the show's always-modest ratings. Still, for those of you who got hooked, we feel your pain. Allow us to suggest something to help wean you off: Wire co-creators David Simon and Ed Burns' previous HBO project, the 2000 mini-series The Corner.

Based on the Simon/Burns book of the same name, The Corner delves into the hardscrabble life lived in and around the intersection of Monroe and Fayette streets in Baltimore with the same blend of realism, complexity, and unflinching humanism that became The Wire's trademark. But The Corner is a much more intimate affair, concerned almost completely with the true story of the splintered McCullough family. Dad Gary (T.K. Carter) and mom Fran (Khandi Alexander) once enjoyed an upwardly mobile life, but heroin addiction has left them just steps from the gutter. Gary applies his considerable smarts to various hustles to feed his habit, but he's a little too soft for the street. Fran smokes, snorts, and acts as if nothing's wrong, although her inability to steer teenage son DeAndre (Sean Nelson) clear of bad decisions highlights the depth of her denial. Some are saved, some are lost, and some just live another day.

The Corner may lack its successor's scope and high drama, but its tight focus on a handful of small people buried under big problems devastates thanks to brilliant performances from Carter (who should be in everything if he's really this good) and Alexander; Wire favorite Clarke Peters jazzes up the secondary cast as a misshapen junkie/sage. It's not just a passable substitute; it's more of the real thing.

—Lee Gardner