TV Club

Bonus Entry: Where “Sheee-it” Comes From

Isiah Whitlock as Clay Davis on The Wire

Dear Jeff,

Special bonus entry today, courtesy of our readers. We’re hardly alone in our worship of Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s portrayal of Clay Davis and our delight in his trademark “Sheee-it.” Reader Kevin Ray sends us thrilling archival evidence that Whitlock’s “Sheee-it” predates The Wire. In Spike Lee’s 2002 film The 25th Hour, Whitlock played DEA agent Amos Flood, who arrests hero Monty Brogan (played by Edward Norton). Twice during the movie—when he raids Monty’s apartment and when he interrogates him—Whitlock’s Flood utters the barnyard epithet with his signature drawl. Watch the arrest scene here and the interrogation scene here.

This morning I tried to find a copy of David Benioff’s novel The 25th Hour—Benioff also wrote the movie screenplay—to see whether he invented the special “Sheee-it.” I couldn’t track it down, so for the moment it remains a mystery whether Benioff imagined the pronunciation, whether director Lee dreamed it up, or whether it was purely Whitlock’s genius. Can anyone clear up the mystery? Also, if any of the Wire brain trust is still reading us, I’d love to hear how Whitlock and his brilliant profanity came to the show. Did you cast Whitlock with the explicit hope of using the “Sheee-it” again, or was it just lucky coincidence that the role you put him in required cursing?

A couple other bits of delightful Wire-iana. First, reader Brendon Shank notes an amazing moment of life imitating television: The Philadelphia Inquirer is running a multipart series about Philadelphia’s homeless, inspired by the gruesome death of a homeless man. This is delicious because the Inquirer’s editor is none other than Bill Marimow, former Sun managing editor, nemesis of David Simon, and Simon’s supposed model for managing editor Thomas Klebanow on The Wire. Klebanow, of course, is supervising the Sun’s special homeless investigation, inspired by the gruesome deaths of homeless men.

And, finally, let me point our readers to an obituary for Omar Little. Writing for Obit magazine, my friend Michael Schaffer composed the story the Sun should have written. It begins:

Omar Little, the veteran stick-up artist who inspired fear and fascination in drug-plagued neighborhoods across the city, was shot and killed in a west-side convenience store yesterday. Police said the assailant remained at large.

Famed for his brazen robberies of area drug dealers, Mr. Little had retired from what he called “the game” a year ago, moving to the Caribbean with a new romantic partner. But he apparently returned to Baltimore this winter to seek revenge following the brutal murder of a beloved business associate …