While a slow burner, 'City on a Hill' is nonetheless a daunting and impressive crime drama set in the 90s
Ambitious and gritty in tone, this Ben Affleck and Matt Damon-produced series deals with the crime and corruption in Boston
'City on a Hill' takes its time to set the tone, but does so quite clearly and scrupulously. The crime drama is audacious and formidable and from having watched three episodes, it's tough to say what may happen in and to the series over the course of ten episodes. However, they are enough to tell you, what you can expect is nothing short of a gripping tale about corruption and crime in Boston in the early '90s.
The title cards at the start of the series reveal a real-life case from 1989. A man named Chuck Stewart murders his wife and pins the blame on a black man. The cops use various means including coercion, to eventually haul up and charge a black man. At this point, stars Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge make an appearance as veteran FBI agent and assistant District Attorney, Jackie Rohr and Decourcy Ward, respectively.
They team up reluctantly and take on a family of armored car robbers hailing from Charlestown (Jonathan Tucker, Mark O'Brien and James Michael Cummings) as their first mission. The biggest test for viewers here is to be patient as the crescendo builds slowly. The narrative is interesting but needs constant attention.
It is perhaps for this reason that Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, the executive producers and yesteryear TV era icons, are the men behind the series, as they are known for their inclination towards lending depth and perspective in their projects. The drama was created and written by Chuck Maclean ('Boston Strangler') known for his riveting screenplay. Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Jennifer Todd, James Mangold, and Michael Cuesta round up the team of executive producers.
The tone is downright gritty as it showcases crooked cops, politicians, and a Boston city that has a lot of unrest. Bacon shines in his role as a corrupt and racist FBI agent deeply invested in maintaining the status quo, while Ward plays a no-nonsense, hard-hitting black assistant DA who firmly believes anyone negligent has to be put behind bars - be it cops or robbers. For reasons still not known, the duo team up and take on a gang of thieves.
Each episode throws up new characters. Jill Hennessy as Jenny Rhodes, Jackie's wife, Seth Gilliam as an obdurate pastor and more. What's clearly established very early in the series are the traits of both the lead characters - Hodge as Ward looks like he's never unnerved, no matter how grim the situation, while Bacon's Rohr is more of a shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of a guy.
Simply put, the only thing that may pull 'City on a Hill' down is the turtle pace it moves at, but if you are someone who loves a show that takes its time but impresses at every step, then this one's for you. The series definitely looks like it has a good number of installments coming up in the near future.
'City on a Hill' premieres on Showtime Sunday, June 16, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.