Three icons collide in Netflix’s Pretend It’s A City: Martin Scorsese, Fran Lebowitz, and New York City. The first two hang out to lovingly skewer and gossip about the third. From public transport to ‘lawn chairs’ in Times Square to the general existence of people, Fran is easily annoyed by everything and everyone. Everyone except, perhaps, Martin. Their friendship dates back to the 70s and it shows.
If NYC is the city that never sleeps, then Fran is the woman who never misses a beat and Martin the man who never misses a shot. The series is seven episodes, each one loosely following a theme like ‘money,’ or ‘sports.’ But they don’t really have that much structure.
Pretend It’s A City is essentially Martin hanging out with Fran while she riffs on New York. They’re hanging out on the streets of Manhattan, in lecture halls, or some of Gotham’s finest eateries. He also mixes in a little archival footage. He cuts from venue to venue while staying on the same topic. It help keeps the pace and gives energy to the show which, again, is basically a couple of lifelong friends and quintessential New Yorkers doing what quintessential New Yorkers do: hang out with friends and bitch about New York.
Fran moved to the city in 1970 when she was 19, fell in with the Warhol crowd, and met Marty a few years later. New York may have been in its Horror City phase but being young and trying to escape suburban New Jersey, she didn’t know any better and/or didn’t care.
Now the writer-humorist-actress can’t stand most of her surroundings. She’ll go miles out of her way to avoid Times Square (the most un-NYC part of NYC), isn’t a fan of shutting down subway stations for months at a time to do art installations, and wishes Delta had more than two planes serving LaGuardia.
It’s funny because it’s true. But all her complaining comes from a place of love. She says she doesn’t go on vacation. How would life be better squeezing into a plane to be somewhere else? In the end, Fran loves her life, love her friend Marty, and loves her city. And that’s what makes Pretend It’s A City heartfelt: Love.
The Before Time
What makes the show even more poignant is that it was shot pre-pandemic. Crowded streets, crowded theaters, indoor dining! The city is shown still bustling and breathing and beating. Many of the things that annoy Fran are still gone.
Something tells me she can’t wait to be annoyed again.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Obviously, I’m having a Manhattan. It’s classic, bitter, and I’m annoyed if it’s not mixed properly.