Thursday, February 10, 2022

City on a Hill

 I have been less than flattering about my recent crime show experiences on both HBO and Showtime. (How American Rust keeps showing up on lists as Showtimes best crime show is beyond me.) Just as I was beginning to wonder if I’d reached the age where nothing new appealed to me, a friend told me to check out City on a Hill.


Now, this is a good show. Better than good, even.


The show is set in Boston, right after the Charles Stuart controversy. (Stuart was a white man who killed his pregnant wife, then called the police to say a Black carjacker shot her. Mayhem ensued when Boston police started rounding up Black males with inappropriate enthusiasm. More details here.) City on a Hill focuses on the racial tensions that flared after the Stuart case fell apart.


CoaH leaves this in the background, telling its stories through two main characters. Jackie Rohr (Kevin Bacon, in a stunning performance) is a corrupt FBI agent living off the reputation he built for taking down a Mafia crime family. It’s never made clear, but the implication is he was the beneficiary of information provided by Whitey Bulger as part of Bulger’s plan to take over Boston organized crime by working as a federal informant. Jackie is a detestable human being, but he’s also charming as hell, and Bacon plays him with a likeability that will often make you feel uncomfortable.


Jackie’s foil/partner/antagonist is DeCourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge), a Black state’s attorney despised by most of the Boston police for having worked on the federal task force charged with finding justice for BPD’s racist handling of the Stuart case.


Season One focuses on Jackie’s efforts to muscle in on an investigation of an armored car robbery that led to the execution-style killing of three guards. That leads us to the criminal side of things, where Frankie Ryan (Jonathan Tucker) runs a small crew with his wife (Amanda Clayton) as the money manager and his brother Jimmy (Mark O’Brien) as the fuck up. The dynamic there is fraught with tension, as is the relationship among the branches of law enforcement.


This could deteriorate into a sensationalistic soap opera pretty quickly, but the people in charge know what they’re doing. City on a Hill is a Tom Fontana/Barry Levinson production (Homicide: Life on the Street) created by Chuck Maclean that has all the elements one needs in a well-told story. Unlike the other shows I have recently been critical of, City on a Hill, for all its bleakness, is laugh out loud funny in places, just like real life. Jackie in particular has a sardonic, often inappropriate sense of humor that lends a feel of realism to the events. (Easter egg: Fontana got his start writing for St. Elsewhere. The primary hospital used in City on a Hill is St. Eligius.)


I could go on for a while, but I don’t want to inadvertently spread any spoilers. City on a Hill gets my highest recommendation. If you subscribe to Showtime, watch it. If you don’t subscribe to Showtime, look for a deal, get it, watch City on a Hill, then opt out if you want. That’s what we did. At least till Season 3 releases, when it’ll be time to start looking for another special.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

And I just got rid of Showtime after watching Yellowjackets. Too bad.