Alibi V.28 No.24 • June 13-19, 2019 

Idiot Box

Boston Strong

“City on a Hill” on Showtime

Boston loves its townie crime sagas. The city is nearly as proud of its history as a bank robbing capital as it is of its hockey team. (Go Bruins!) Any Bostonian worth their clam chowdah can run down the movie list: The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Brink’s Job, Monument Ave., Southie, Mystic River, The Departed, Gone Baby Gone, The Town, Black Mass. Now you can add to that tally Showtime’s gritty crime series “City on a Hill.”

The series dumps us straight into the heart of Boston history. It’s 1989, in the wake of the infamous Charles Stuart murder case. Stuart was a tax attorney whose wife was shot to death. Stuart told police a black man robbed and killed her. Local police enthusiastically brought the full weight of the force down on African-American neighborhoods. This only inflamed Boston’s simmering racial tensions—particularly when Charles’ brother confessed to police that it was Charles who killed his own wife. Charles subsequently committed suicide, and the Boston Police Department spent years under increased federal scrutiny.

In the aftermath of this ugly incident, we’re introduced to veteran FBI agent Jackie Rohr (Kevin Bacon). Jackie is what one character calls a “classic Boston asshole.” Rohr’s a gleefully corrupt cop who loves his hookers and his blow. “What used to make this city great,” philosophizes Jackie as he takes a pull off his hip flask, “was that it was run by bad men who understood that they were bad.” Now, he bemoans the fact that you can’t throw around the “N word” or beat a confession out of a suspect anymore.

Jackie soon crosses paths with new district attorney in town (by way of Brooklyn!), Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge from TNT’s “Leverage”). Most cops dismiss him as “an affirmative action hire” and do their best to be unhelpful. Jackie one-ups that, asking Ward to dump an ironclad case against a junkie who shot a cop. (The shooter was one of Jackie’s confidential informants.) Needless to say, Rohr and Ward do not become fast friends.

Of course, a cops and robbers saga is nothing without some criminal types, and that is delivered in the form of working-class Charlestown criminal Frankie Ryan (Jonathan Tucker from “Parenthood”). Frankie runs a crew of armored car robbers just trying to pay the bills. But when one of their jobs goes wrong, it attracts the attention of crusading DA Decourcy Ward. He wants to set an example and crack Charlestown’s “unbreakable” code of criminal silence. His only hope in Hell? The toughest SOB he knows in law enforcement—Jackie Rohr.

That “City on a Hill” reads like the bastard offspring of The Town and “The Wire” is no surprise. The show is produced by none other than those famed purveyors of fine Beantown entertainment Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting, The Town). The solid cast (including ringers like Jill Hennessy, Cathy Moriarty, Kevin Chapman, Gloria Reuben and Rory Culkin) is anchored by Bacon’s gleefully nasty performance. (Snorting coke and wailing along to Rush on the car radio? Pure gold!) Sure, the setting and the characters have been done before. But who doesn’t appreciate a down-and-dirty Boston crime story—even if parts of it are wicked familiar?

“City on a Hill” premieres Sunday, June 16 at 7pm on Showtime.