Article of the Month

”It’s Fran Lebowitz’s New York…and she wants you out of it” – TV Review: Pretend It’s a City

Ben Ofungwu

If there is anything that New York does not lack, it is an impressive catalogue of chroniclers that have sought to explain its allure. It is increasingly difficult to tell anything new about the city, and so, older inhabitants choose to pontificate about how cool it used to be, instead. On first glance, you would be forgiven for believing that Fran Lebowitz’s Pretend It’s a City is an embodiment of that, but the show, like its creator, is far less self-important.

Fran Lebowitz is a writer, of dubious merit. Her well documented writer’s block has relegated her to the role of public intellectual. True fans of hers favourably view her as a New York relic, portraying the sort of iconoclasm that represents the city she loves.

And so, the demand to see this city through her eyes – as Netflix’s promotional poster unsubtly suggests – is obvious. Also, in recalling her pal, Martin Scorsese (who had made a film on her a decade prior), a man who isn’t unfamiliar with the Big Apple, the seven-part series maintains a certain gloss through his directorship.

Now, as much as Lebowitz wants to tell us how much the city keeps changing, how enjoyable it used to be, and how sick she is of millennials and their current culture and technology, these are not the reasons to love this show. The commentary on old New York is not a new or profound one, nor is that of this generation’s tendency to annoy anyone above 60 groundbreaking. But, Lebowitz is funny – undeniably so.

She is funny in the way we’ve been told they used to be back then. Fast-talking, witty and delightfully grumpy, she is refreshingly original and loose in a way that is anachronistic. Her quips on various topics such as her perceived pseudo-importance of money, wellness, and transport systems, are amusing, yet incredibly piercing.  Not to mention, she boasts a very impressive list of friends and acquaintances, which she unselfishly divulges several interesting stories about. Breakfasts with Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington, seeing the ‘Fight of the Century’ with Frank Sinatra, and her truly beautiful friendship with Toni Morrison, are highlights, amongst many others.

For the entire series, she upholds an insouciant disposition

Lebowitz has never been one to shy away from more serious topics though, and her astute remarks on social issues like Women’s rights are worth noting, once all the laughter settles. For the entire series, she upholds an insouciant disposition, and as someone that admittedly does not take herself too seriously, the audience pool expected by Netflix must be fairly niche, but for those that do engage, they will be duly rewarded.

Fran appears from another time, and that is why hearing her speak about that time, in connection to this, is fascinating.

Those familiar with her beforehand, through her scant writings or public talks, will react to this show with a knowing grin and nod that she regularly engenders, and newbies would be upset that they hadn’t met her sooner. We may be slowly losing touch with New York as it once was, but characters like Lebowitz and shows like this, gift us timely top-ups every now and again.

Ben Ofungwu

Featured image courtesy of thenails via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @pretenditsacity via No changes made to these images.

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