Binge-r #145: City on a Hill + Sarah's Channel
CITY ON A HILL S1
Streaming Service: Stan
Availability: Nine episodes now streaming, new episode added every Monday
You have to let Stan’s new American crime drama get the Boston clichés out of its system: the gaudy accents, the producing credit for Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, the sneering insults, and hardboiled exchanges between two hard nuts that end with one declaring, ‘Oh, is that a threat”. Set in the early 1990s, when the city was infamously ridden by institutional corruption, racist cliques, and crime, this series is in debt to both Boston’s past and some classic crime dramas, notably The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Streets. The first episode even borrows a plot point from the latter when a police raid goes bad because the warrant has the wrong address on it.
But from the start Charlie McLean’s show, which is adding a new episode every Monday, cuts through with some pungent, enjoyable performances that get to what the writing sets up. A terrific Kevin Bacon plays Jackie Rohr, an FBI agent – and a “classic Boston asshole,” according to a local cop – whose unorthodox fixes bring him into conflict and then partnership with Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge), a black prosecutor caught between the system and his community whose increasingly strident hope is to gut Boston’s established inequality. An armed robbery crew, run by South Boston criminal Frankie Ryan (Jonathan Tucker), who leave bodies behind is their entry point to the city’s unofficial power structure.
Every time a familiar gambit presents itself it’s matched by something different or intriguing. Frankie’s screw-up brother, Jimmy (Mark O’Brien), is an obvious locus of trouble for his cunning, discreet sibling, but Frankie’s relationship with his wife, Cathy (Amanda Clayton), presents her as his consigliere, offering advice and laundering cash. By the end of the second episode, which explores domestic failings, there are wives who provide more than comfort at the end of the day for these men. The scumbag pithiness and execution of street power remains central, but there are some smart twists that presents the characters in a different perspective and no-one is as fixed in their rights or wrongs as first suggested. This is a variation on the crime genre’s established themes, not a radical reimagining, but if that’s your preferred scenario City on a Hill will draw you in.
SARAH’S CHANNEL (ABC iView, six episodes): For a beauty vlogger, Sarah (Claudia O’Doherty) has some unconventional techniques: her toner is made from boiled sleet strained through a piece of fabric, while her preferred texture blender is a piece of bread. Created by Nick Coyle, this breezily black comic ABC micro-series – just half a dozen five-minute episodes – crashes the tics, tricks, and approval clicks of online influencing into dystopian horror, with asides and interruptions revealing the terrible future the smiling star finds herself in. As seen on Netflix’s Love and her own online sketches, O’Doherty is a natural at conveying a deranged positivity, so that reality has to move to accommodate her self-belief. This slim initiative is not only very funny, it also digs into the cracks of Sarah’s personality as she comes to grips with her lost privilege and new circumstances. By the end “contour and highlight” takes on a whole new meaning.
>> Old Show/New Season: Grim quotes about fate’s inexplicable progress, regrets harboured across eras, time-travelling priests harnessing the apocalypse… Netflix’s brain-bending German sci-fi drama Dark is back with a second season. With a fourth age – a dystopian 2052 – added to its knotty plotting it retains a gloriously bleak tone. If you’re considering the show, start with my review of the wild first season [full review here].
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
New on Netflix: Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some (2016, 117 minutes) is frat house anthropology – a weekend of riffing, culture-hopping and misadventure amongst baseball players at a 1980 American college campus; The Girl on the Train (2016, 112 minutes) can’t quite connect its deeper gender themes to its mystery plot, but Emily Blunt is first-rate as a divorced wife pursuing a missing neighbour even as her own life spirals down.
New on SBS on Demand: With an impressive Barbara Sukowa in the title role, Margarethe Trotta Hannah Arendt (2012, 109 minutes) is a stringent, adult portrait of the writer who in the 1960s gave us the ever more relevant concept of the “banality of evil”; you’ll have to be as much of a Smiths fanatic as me to let the dire young Morrissey biopic England is Mine (2017, 91 minutes) run full length.
New on Stan: Ocean’s 8 (2018, 111 minutes) has a killer cast – Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter … – but it’s so tied up in being a complex heist flick that it sometimes forgets to be fun. The best scenes let the stars cut loose; Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton (2007, 120 minutes) is a classic Hollywood drama for this century, with George Clooney as a beleaguered legal fixer enmeshed in corporate malfeasance.
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