Back in the 70’s, New York was held in the iron-clad grip of five untouchable crime families. The Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese, Colombo and Bonanno’s all managed to infiltrate and rule the New York state and were, for a while at least, untouchable. Overseeing all of this was Paul Castellano, who pulled the strings and kept the families in check.
With law enforcement on the back-foot and out of ideas, some ingenuity and thinking outside the box presented a new way of taking control of the city back from the Mafia. Step forward the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Or RICO for short. Essentially the gist of this sees law enforcement turning their attention to a whole family rather than pinning crimes on individual foot soldiers.
The first episode essentially sets the foundations for this, as law enforcement fights back and begins systematically bugging each of the families, gathering evidence to use against them. What follows across the subsequent two episodes is a methodical waiting game as the FBI try to remain undetected while tapping the Mafia and gaining evidence to use in a court of law.
For anyone well-versed in this time period, Fear City doesn’t offer anything particularly new or revelatory. There’s a distinct tone and style to this that’s geared primarily to those who don’t know a lot about the fight. In that respect, Fear City works as a decent gateway into what happened in New York.
There’s a balanced perspective here too, with eye-witness accounts from Michael Franzese and Johnny Alite helping to paint a portrait of what happened given they’re both former-Mafia men. For the most part though, the series follows law enforcement officers as they work to take down the families.
It’s here that Fear City actually adds a slight comedic edge to proceedings akin to something like McMillions. Hearing the officers discussing their tape sessions as mini soap operas and learning about Paul Castellano’s affair with his maid are some of the highlights that perfectly walk that fine line between serious drama and comedy relief.
If you watched Don’t F**k With Cats late last year, the style here mirrors those same ticks and stylistic cues (partly thanks to the creators being the same for both projects). Expect plenty of split screens, archival footage, expository text and quirky music that sometimes projects the feel of this being a heist movie. For some, this may be a bit over the top and stylized but to be honest it works well to keep you engaged through some of the heavier material.
Fear City: New York VS the Mafia isn’t a particularly new or groundbreaking series but it is a highly engaging and fascinating one nonetheless. The run-time is disappointingly short, with two episodes around 45 minutes and an hour for the third, and I can’t help but feel a few more episodes may have helped. Despite that though, Fear City is an enjoyable, well written series and certainly worth a watch.