There’s a section of Jonathan Abrams’ All The Pieces Matter: The Inside Story Of The Wire about the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene in which the Wire character deputy commissioner of operations William Rawls (John Doman) appears at a gay bar. Doman kept wondering whether that reveal would lead to a major plot arc for the character but it never did. “In his brilliance, he never touched it again… He just dropped that little seed in there,” Doman said of the show’s creator David Simon.
All The Pieces Matter is filled with nuggets like this, tantalizing anecdotes about the dynamics of the show’s cast and crew that feel like they could be the subject of full chapters or even another book. Just one chapter contains stories about Wendell Pierce and Dominic West taking a young Michael B. Jordan to a strip club for “character research” and the actors judging a “pretty pussy competition,” before transitioning to a fascinating glimpse at their living arrangements. Seth Gilliam and Domenick Lombardozzi decided to rent an apartment together in hopes the closeness would give them the camaraderie needed to realistically portray partners Carver and Herc on screen and wound up playing marathon sessions of Madden with whoever dropped by. Meanwhile Clarke Peters, who seemed to embody his character, Lester Freamon, bought a five-bedroom house and rented it to actors who shared his distaste for television and enjoyed sitting around reading, painting, and playing music. All of these stories beg for follow-up questions, but Abrams quickly moves on.
To be fair, he has a lot of ground to cover. Abrams loosely organizes the chapters of his oral history by season, with breaks within for commentary on various themes like Baltimore as a character or the composition of the show’s writers’ room. Along with sometimes cutting away from a subject too quickly, it can feel like he’s jamming in a great quote he doesn’t otherwise have a home for or letting an actor repeat himself. But the amazing material makes up for the structural weaknesses.
Abrams shows the same ability to arrange an exhaustive list of interviews with major stars and bit players he did with his look at the NBA’s prep-to-pro generation in Boys Among Men. The author went back and forth with some subjects checking stories, which are sometimes denied, but otherwise he provides little commentary. The quotes show how much The Wire meant to different people, from the black actors who celebrated a show that gave them an incredibly diverse range of roles to the actual criminals, cops, and politicians who shaped the stories and played small parts onscreen.
While there are some references throughout to how being on The Wire shaped a person’s career, Abrams keeps his interviews focused on the show’s creation for most of the book. That immediacy makes the emotions feel fresh, whether it’s Jordan crying after filming Wallace’s death or the writers arguing with Simon about his desire to cover Baltimore politics. Simon comes across as both arrogant and prescient, fighting for his vision even as the show is ignored by viewers and awards committees alike.
The brief plot summaries of each season seem superfluous considering Abrams gives no explanation of so many other onscreen moments before launching into stories surrounding them. This is a book written for serious fans of The Wire who will keep up with Abrams’ constantly shifting topics and huge cast of characters the same way they did with the show. It’s highly unlikely that new episodes of The Wire will ever be made, so All The Pieces Matter is the closest fans can come to learning more about their favorite characters. Many of the actors came up with elaborate backstories and motivations and shared their ideas with Abrams. Other times, the writers give insights into things that were merely implied on the show.
Ten years after it wrapped, The Wire is widely considered one of the best shows of all time, but Abrams presents a number of views about its impact. Did it hurt Baltimore? Portend the death of Freddie Gray? Glorify crime and violence? Like The Wire itself, All The Pieces Matter doesn’t provide much in the way of answers. But the stories Abrams tells deliver the same mix of humor and despair that made The Wire worth writing so much about.