Two years ago, New Yorker writer Jonathan Mahler wrote a book called Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning. It was an entertaining, kaleidoscopic look at the tumultuous year of 1977 in the Big Apple, a year which featured riots, a citywide blackout, the serial killer Son of Sam and a raucous mayoral race. Not to mention an unbelievably chaotic championship season for the New York Yankees.
ESPN has made a mini-series out of the book, shortening its title to The Bronx is Burning. Two of the eight episodes have aired so far, and they’ve been pretty damn entertaining.
Two great actors pair off in the lead roles – John Turturro as the incredibly high-strung, self-destructive Yankee manager Billy Martin, and Oliver Platt as the equally high-strung, thin-skinned Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.
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Some of the player roles are less ably filled; the guys playing Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson don’t register as strongly as they should. Luckily director Jeremiah Chechik (only famous credits: Benny & Joon and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), doesn’t ask his actors to recreate the athletic feats, opting to mix in actual game footage.
The mix between the baseball events and the other happenings that year (Mahler’s book also looked at, among other things, the rise of disco, gay rights and Rupert Murdoch) can sometimes be a bit jarring, and maybe less than fascinating for those who weren’t living in the New York area at the time. (For those of us who were, it’s a fun nostalgia trip).
There are still six episodes to go (Tuesday nights, 9 p.m. CDT; repeats throughout the week), so it’s impossible to tell if the series can keep up the momentum, or if the baseball/real world mix will change.
So far, however, it’s been a kick. – Richard Connelly