Apple TV+’s ‘City on Fire’: Goodbye Seventies

May 12, 2023
Dimitris Passas

NOTE: This article is a republication- Source: Kirkus Reviews (by David Rapp).

Back in 2015, Garth Risk Hallberg’s Kirkus-starred debut historical novel, City on Fire, was one of the most anticipated books of the year. There was a lot of buzz around the 30-something author; he’d received a multimillion-dollar advance from Knopf for the massive, 927-page tome—a stab at the Great American Novel set mainly in New York City in 1976 and ’77. It’s now been adapted as an eight-episode miniseries, set not in the ’70s, but, oddly, in the early 2000s. Its first three episodes premiere May 12 on Apple TV+.

The show’s switch from 1977 to 2003 is a puzzler, at first. The most obvious explanation is that it’s simply cheaper to portray the New York of 20 years ago, when it looked pretty much like it does now. (The city also experienced a blackout in both years, which is convenient.) It’s easy to imagine the show’s creators, Gossip Girl’s Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, doing the math and thinking, Do we have to set it the ’70s? Surprisingly, the answer is not really—because the novel isn’t really about that decade. It’s not even about New York. It’s about Hallberg’s vast cast of characters, who are mostly White, mostly rich, and mostly bland.

Samantha “Sam” Cicciaro, a young fanzine writer originally from Long Island, gets involved with a punk band led by coked-up arsonist and would-be revolutionary Nicky Chaos. The band’s ex-frontman, artist and addict William Hamilton-Sweeney III (aka “Billy Three-Sticks”), hails from a super-wealthy Manhattan family, and William’s sister, Regan is married to the sketchy Keith Lamplighter, who’s having an affair with Sam. (It’s easy to play “Six Degrees of Sam” with this cast—surprising, considering they live in a city of millions.)

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