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Previewing City on a Hill 

Previewing City on a Hill

[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]

Full disclosure right out of the gate, y’all. The casting on this series is straight up trolling me so I was already in on the basis of that, and then on top of it, I’m happy to tell you it’s very good. Imagine if Tom Fontana‘s Homicide had been on cable, and in Boston. Here, he’s producing with Homicide partner Barry Levinson and Boston natives Ben Affleck and Matt Damon along with Jennifer Todd (who were last on Syfy with Incorporated) based on an idea by Affleck and showrunner Chuck MacLean and actual events in the city in the early 90s.

Kevin Bacon (in only his third regular series role, which should you give you a very good idea of the pedigree here–and he carries an executive producer title), Aldis Hodge, Jonathan Tucker, and Mark O’Brien lead an impeccable cast as three different flavors of corruption and the law in 1992 Boston.

Bacon is Jackie Rohr, an FBI agent eyeing the final stretch of his career, eight years out from his retirement. Funnily enough, we don’t actually ever see him in an office. What we do see is him breezing in and out of police stations, court houses, dive restaurants, and bars with the ease and bravado of a man who made his name on a very big case. Years later, he’s still actively riding its coattails even though it’s not entirely clearly which side of the law he now falls on.

City on a Hill

That changes when he meets Hodge’s Decourcy Ward, the new county prosecutor with coattails of his own. He’s transitioning from a federal role where he put the Boston PD on notice and now he’s got to work with them. He and Rohr get off on the wrong foot, and then realize they have more in common than they expected and can help each other when a new, potentially very explosive case presents itself.

Tucker (also a Boston native) plays Frankie Ryan, a blue-collar family man with a very dangerous side hustle. He’s carefully treading the line between both worlds until a chain of events leads him to make an irreversible choice that could jeopardize everything.

O’Brien is his brother, Jimmy, a drug-addicted, hyper-talkative sort who’s always on the edge of trouble, which Frankie does his best to keep at arm’s length. When Frankie lowers his guard, Jimmy sets off a potential shitstorm that will cascade all season.

City on a Hill

The series will run 10 episodes in its first season, with a throughline of the case that brings Rohr and Ward together. There are trickles of other things in and around the city in the early 90s that also thread through–racism, corruption, drugs, crime, and the mob, to name a few.

Jill Hennessy plays Rohr’s wife, Jenny, who is equally plagued by her husband’s laissez-faire attitude about her and their family, and her own mother, Non, who also gives her pro-league shit on the regular. Frankie’s wife, Cathy (Amanda Clayton), owns a salon and is looped into her husband’s business.

Lauren E. Banks is Ward’s wife, Siobhan Quays, a private sector attorney and Boston native who doesn’t understand her husband’s ambition to clean house and has to navigate the bad blood her community directs his way because of it.

The series is violent, profane, and although tackling fairly serious matters, wickedly funny. Bacon is a joy to watch (and Levinson directed him in Sleepers back in 1996 so he knows). If you grew up on him like I did, you’ll recognize that Ren twinkle when Rohr glides in and out of places he shouldn’t always be. He and Hodge are excellent apart, and even better together, playing two men forced to form an uneasy alliance that becomes a begrudging friendship as each recognizes a kinship and innate understanding in the other.

Tucker is always interesting to watch, and it holds true here. Frankie is equally a good guy and not-so-good guy. Early on, we don’t have a bead on exactly why he does what he does, but we can guess. O’Brien is one of my Canadian faves, and he’s perfect as the twitchy, jumpy Jimmy, who’s emotionally closer to 12 than 32, but who may also be smarter than seems.

City on a Hill

I’ll watch Hennessy anywhere, and am so glad to have her here. I hope we see Jenny tear into Jackie at some point for the complete shit that he is. Clayton and Banks are also solid as women who play very different professional roles alongside their husbands, but support them all the same.

Also look for a crackling Sarah Shahi as an investigator for the DA’s office who’s not afraid of being the lone woman in the Boston boy’s club. Jere Shea plays Ward’s colleague, Hank, and Shahi’s Person of Interest colleague Kevin Chapman plays detective J.R. Minogue, who unwittingly brings Rohr and Ward together

City on a Hill

City on a Hill premieres Sunday night at 10 pm/9c on Showtime. Here are a couple of a sneak peeks. You can also watch the entire first episode now on the network’s site and on You Tube (below).

Images and video courtesy of Showtime.

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