City on a Hill Recap: Something’s Rotten In Boston

By Tyler Howat
Published: June 21, 2019 (Last updated: 5 weeks ago)
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City on a Hill Episode 1 recap: "The Night Flynn Sent the Cops on the Ice"


“The Night Flynn Sent the Cops on the Ice” kicks off the Showtime series City on a Hill by strongly establishing the show’s premise question: is there anything worth saving in 1990s Boston?

This City on a Hill episode 1 recap for the episode titled “The Night Flynn Sent the Cops on the Ice” contains spoilers.

City on a Hill takes on the web of cops, corruption, and criminals from 1990s Boston. It stars Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge, as two men who are about as far apart on the law enforcement spectrum as two people can be, trying to tackle a string of armored car robberies. It dredges up memories of The Wire and NYPD Blue with a heavy dose of The Town and The Departed. Even more, it’s heavy on the Boston accents – exactly what you want from a Ben Affleck and Matt Damon-produced series.

Heavy tension between the District Attorney and the Cops permeates City on a Hill, with a bog of racial tension weighing down every aspect of the situation. The intertwining storylines of the cops and attorneys, as well as the criminals, tells us this will be a long-form cat-and-mouse tale. We know who the crooks are – we just don’t know how they’ll be caught.

Kevin Bacon’s FBI agent Jackie Rohr is a dirtbag, plain and simple. There’s just about nothing redeeming to find in his character, except that he wants to catch bad guys. He’s running around on his wife (one thing I never realized I didn’t want to see: a Kevin Bacon sex scene – it hurt my soul), he’s deeply racist (he mentions Ward as an “affirmative action hire” half a dozen times in the first 20 minutes of “The Night Flynn Sent the Cops on the Ice”), and he’s corrupt (of course).

By contrast, Aldis Hodge’s clean District Attorney Decourcy Ward makes Harvey Dent look corrupt. He’s deeply idealistic about the justice system, even though he’s perpetually frustrated by its mangled inner workings. He turned down a lucrative job with a private law firm in favor of this job with the District Attorney, but he can’t catch a break active without becoming a dirty attorney.

Frustrated, Ward exclaims, “I like what my job should be,” to which his wife counters: “But that’s not the way things are.” He lives in a deeply flawed, gray world that won’t let him be good. But when he decides to ally himself with Rohr to catch the armored car killers, he takes one step toward compromise. Hodge tells him that “it’s just not that complicated what we’re trying to do here. It’s just a matter of how far you’re willing to go. How much s**t you’re willing to eat.” Ward replies, “I can do what I gotta do.” This is the central conflict of City on a HIll: Hodge stands against the world. But will the world destroy Hodge while he’s trying to save it?

Every time Bacon and Hodge are onscreen together is just about great, while City on a Hill‘s strength comes from its deep bench of supporting stars. Amanda Clayton (who I foresee will be a much stronger component of this series in future episodes), Kevin Chapman (who’s in every single crime show, and you could flip a coin to see whether or not he’s going to be the cop or criminal), Kevin Dunn (fresh off of Veep), Jonathan Tucker, Rory Culkin, and Lauren E. Banks all lend a sense of authenticity to the tapestry of characters and stories here.

It’s a well-constructed, well-shot, well-acted series. I think that the only problem is its lack of originality. Its roots lie firmly within the orchard of the cops-and-robbers genre. It feels too familiar, too easy – safe, even. I hope that “The Night Flynn Sent the Cops on the Ice” is simply laying the groundwork for something greater to come, that it will bust out of its tried-and-true trappings and into its own.

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