Many major American cities have stories of how they’ve transformed themselves — or at least attempted transformations — from periods of economic downturn, crime and corruption into better approximations of the mythical, idyllic “city on a hill” that these metropolises may aspire to be.
In the case of Boston, a change began in 1996 with the implementation of Operation Ceasefire (informally known as the Boston Miracle). The program was aimed at policing and curtailing group-related gun violence as part of a larger-scale problem. It ultimately helped reduce youth homicide, and variations of the approach have evolved into similar programs across the country over the years.
Showtime’s compelling new 10-episode drama, City on a Hill, (beginning June 16) offers a riveting fictional account of how the Boston Miracle began to transpire. The series takes place in 1992, a time when criminals in the city were emboldened by the corruption and racism that was the norm among law enforcement. (Befitting the time period and location, brace yourself to regularly hear racial epithets casually uttered by some characters.)
Assistant District Attorney Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge, Underground), recently arrived from Brooklyn, finds his idealism immediately tested by the city’s circumstances. But when a family of armored car robbers from the Charlestown neighborhood, led by Frankie Ryan (Jonathan Tucker), embark on a crime wave, Ward forms an unlikely alliance with corrupt yet venerated FBI veteran Jackie Rohr (an incredible, Emmy-worthy Kevin Bacon) to take them on. As the case grows, it involves — and ultimately subverts — the entire criminal justice system of Boston.
“From the first time I read the pilot, Jackie’s voice was something that I heard,” Bacon shares. “His manner of speaking, the way that (writer) Chuck MacLean constructs dialogue in this world of ‘90s, sort of cops and robbers, had a kind of gritty vibe to me that was reminiscent of the movies that I loved in the ‘70s, from (Martin) Scorsese and Sidney Lumet. And I felt like there wasn’t much on television that was really in this pocket … nothing that quite felt like this.
“I don’t really feel like I’ve been Jackie before, not quite in this kind of way,” Bacon added. “(In) ‘The Following,’ a lot of what that was about was a very internalized kind of character who said very, very little and had a lot of secrets. Jackie can’t shut up. I start talking from the beginning, and I keep talking all the way to the end.
“I look at these scripts, and we highlight them in yellow, and I go, ‘That’s too much yellow. That’s too much yellow for a 60-year-old guy to learn,’ and yet that’s one of the things that I love about it, because it’s this kind of verbosity that he has, which is not something that — at least in recent times — I’ve really been exploring.”