Anthony Campos, Ras Baraka,
Street Doctor, Jayda, Creep
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All photos © HBO
Reviewed by Will Harris
eality programming” is one of the world’s great misnomers, since most shows which are described with that term are, in fact, pretty darned far away from what the average viewer generally perceives as reality. As such, let us begin our review of “Brick City” by clarifying that, despite where it may be housed within the Bullz-Eye.com archives for purposes of convenience, it is not a reality show. It is a documentary series…and you’d best believe that everything you witness within its five parts is about as real as it gets.
Newark, New Jersey is a city which has come to be known more as a punchline than anything else. Indeed, Conan O’Brien ruffled some feathers in one of his opening monologues when he offered this joke: “The mayor of Newark, NJ wants to set up a citywide program to improve residents' health. The health care program would consist of a bus ticket out of Newark.”
Newark’s mayor, however, didn’t think it was very funny.
“Conan, you failed to understand that our city is one of the fastest growing cities in the northeast,” said Mayor Cory Booker, in a YouTube-posted response. “We have strong neighborhoods, strong people, record reductions in violent crime…we have a city on the rise. According to the powers invested in me by the people of the city of Newark, I'm officially putting you on the Newark, New Jersey Airport 'no fly' list. Try JFK, buddy.”
This went down in early October. If only Conan had watched “Brick City” when it aired on the Sundance Channel in September, he could’ve saved himself a lot of grief – or, at the very least, he would’ve known that Booker is a man who loves his city and is doing everything within his power to make it a better place. It’s no small task – Newark is infamous for its high record of violent crime – but as you watch him interacting in the same forthright manner with both his constituents and those within the city government, you’ll find yourself swayed to his side and believe that Newark truly is on the mend. The mending process, however, is one that takes a great deal of time, regularly reminding one of the old adage about taking one step forward only to take two steps back.
Critics were quick to throw around comments about how fans of HBO’s “The Wire” would be similarly intrigued by “Brick City,” and while that compliment feels uncomfortably like a local newscaster playing off of the program that preceded his broadcast (“You’ve seen how they handle murder in ‘Twin Peaks,’ now see how they do it in Newark!”), it’s undeniable that the two programs share some similarities. Documentarians Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin show Booker’s plight as he attempts to clean up his city, the pressures that Police Director Garry McCarthy has to deal with whenever there’s another murder, and, for a more human (i.e. non-governmental) side of the story, we meet Jayda and Creep, whose Blood-meets-Crip romance is one which is undeniably Shakespearean in its nature.
“Brick City” is a series which cannot have all of its loose ends tied up in a pretty bow, and viewers will likely find themselves frustrated at the trials Booker must go through as he attempts to save his city but is stymied by political infighting, but there’s no question that, by the end of these five episodes, you will find yourself treating Newark as a far more serious subject than you did going in.
Special Features: The miniseries is fleshed out with 25 additional scenes, a look behind the scenes with executive producer Forest Whitaker, and interviews with Benjamin, Levin and Whitaker.