Tuesday, 06 November 2007

The Munch Paradox Frequent commenter Todd. and I spent Saturday afternoon watching [redacted for Todd.'s peace of mind]. The conversation turned to David Simon's Homicide: Life on the Streets, then to the storied history one of Baltimore's (fictional) finest: John Munch. Munch, played by comedian Richard Belzer, will make television history when he appears on an episode of Simon's current show, The Wire , as it will mark the tenth separate program in which he has appeared as a character. In addition to being a principle on Homicide and Law & Order: SVU, Munch has appeared on: Law & Order Law & Order: Trial by Jury The Simpsons Arrested Development The Beat The X-Files Sesame Street What is it about Munch that people find so compelling? The conspiracy theories? The serial monogamy? The counter-culture radical turned cop? Whatever the reason, the ubiquity of Munch obscures an important fact: namely, that Simon's Homicide is an adaptation of his book of a similar name and that he based Munch on an actual murder police named Jay Landsman. I've taught Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets before, so I'm familiar with Landsman, of the sidelong smile and pockmarked face, who tells the mothers of wanted men that all the commotion is nothing to be upset about, just a routine murder warrant. Landsman, who leaves empty liquor bottles in the other sergeants' desks and never fails to turn out the men's room light when a ranking officer is indisposed. Landsman, who rides a headquarters elevator the police commissioner and leaves complaining that some sonofabitch stole his wallet. Jay Landsman, who as a Southwestern patrolman parked his radio car at Edmondson and Hilton, then used a Quaker Oatmeal box covered in aluminum fol as a radar gun. The pockmarked face and sneering at authority is vintage Munch. The drinking and fake radar guns? Reminds me more of this detective from The Wire. His name? Jay Landsman. He looks like this: Who looks nothing like this: And even less like this: Who is that? Why, that would be a retired Baltimore murder police by the name of Jay Landsman, playing a character named Dennis Mello on The Wire. The mind boggles. For those of you keeping score, it's possible that an upcoming episode of The Wire might now incorporate: John Munch, a character inspired by Jay Landsman Jay Landsman, a second character inspired by Jay Landsman the real Jay Landsman I should be able to draw some sort of conclusion from this, but honestly, the situation seems unprecedented. Have there ever been two fictionalized versions of the same guy and the guy himself running around the same television show? There must be a meta-meta-meta-point to be drawn from this—something more sophisticated than "David Simon, he loves him some Landsman"—but I'm at a loss for what it might be.

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