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City on a Hill

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
City on a Hill TV Poster Image
Gritty, violent crime drama explores racial tensions.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Explores issues like racism, homophobia, police corruption, other themes related to political and judiciary climate of Boston, Massachusetts, in the early 1990s. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Among law enforcement and prosecutors, it's sometimes hard to separate the good from the bad, thanks to political and social pressures. 

Violence

Assaults and shootings visible; pistols and automatic rifles used. Murders are frequent. Blood and injuries are shown.  

Sex

Simulated sex acts and nudity. 

Language

Lots of strong profanity and rude gestures, including "f--k" and "s--t." Racist and homophobic slurs audible. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking and cigarette smoking frequent. Marijuana and cocaine use visible. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that City on a Hill is a violent crime series set in 1990s Boston. It explores themes like racial tensions and classism stemming from the events surrounding a real-life murder case. Assaults, bloody injuries, shootings, and murders are frequent, and simulated sexual behavior (which sometimes includes nudity) is shown. There's a lot of profanity, which ranges from curses to racial and homophobic slurs, some of which were frequently used at the time. Drinking and cigarette smoking is often shown, and marijuana and cocaine use is visible from time to time. 

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What's the story?

CITY ON A HILL is a dramatic series about race, class, and the criminal justice system in early 1990s Boston. Months after a high-profile murder case, during which the police knowingly arrested an innocent black man for the crime, racial tensions across the city are at an all-time high. It is within these circumstances that Jackie Rohr (Kevin Bacon), an uncouth but talented FBI agent, finds himself dealing with ADA Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge), a prosecutor known for his tough stance against unethical police officers. The two are immediately at odds but soon realize that they're better off working together. 

Is it any good?

This gritty, well-written series is inspired by the real-life events following the murder of affluent tax attorney Carol Stuart in 1989, which intensified the existing racial tensions throughout the greater Boston area at that time. It highlights how these events challenged the existing culture within law enforcement, and the resistance to these changes. Each storyline, which ranges from marital and family dynamics to theft and murder, is set against this backdrop, highlighting the different and sometimes subtle ways the sociopolitical climate impacts each character. But while City on a Hill is set in the past, many of the discussions surrounding race, class, and police misconduct feel as relevant today as they were back then. Given the troubling subject matter, it's not always a comfortable series to watch, but it's always entertaining. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Carol Stuart case. How was it resolved? In what way did the media fuel the racial stereotyping that took place during the investigation? 

  • What does City on a Hill tell us about the history of racism in Boston? Why is this socially relevant today? 

TV details

For kids who love drama TV

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