Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia

TV review by
Matt Cabral, Common Sense Media
Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia TV Poster Image
Keen look into 1980s FBI mafia takedown has foul language.

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Positive Messages

A strong focus on the various law enforcement organizations responsible for bringing criminals to justice. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Federal agents and prosecutors work as a team to bring down the mafia. They display resourcefulness, ingenuity, courage, perseverance. 


Physical violence and murder is referenced. Some graphic crime scene photos show victims' bullet-riddled corpses. 


Mafia-run prostitution rings are referenced. 


The "F" word is heard frequently in audio recordings. Other strong language, including "c--ksucker," "balls," and "s--t," also used occasionally.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

People are seen smoking in surveillance footage. Drug dealing is referenced. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia is a true crime documentary series about the FBI's efforts to bring down five major mafia families in the 1980s. The "F" word, and many variations of it, is heard frequently in audio recordings. Other strong language, including "c--ksucker," "balls," and "s--t," is also used occasionally. Prostitution, drugs, and murder are discussed, and the latter is sometimes accompanied by graphic, bloody photos of the victims. 

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What's the story?

FEAR CITY: NEW YORK VS. THE MAFIA offers a deep dive into the FBI's pursuit and conviction of New York's five major mob families during the late 1970s and early '80s.The three-episode documentary focuses on the federal agents' use of wiretaps, video surveillance, and the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act to bring these crime families to justice. In addition to interviews with former FBI agents, federal prosecutors, and members of the mob, the true crime documentary leverages archival news footage, audio and video surveillance, and reenactments to tell its story. 

Is it any good?

While its sensationalized title might suggest a broad, gritty look at New York's mafia problem in the '70s and '80s, this true crime documentary actually offers a granular, tamer peek into the methods used to bring down the city's most influential criminal organizations. Particularly, the three-part series heavily focuses on the FBI's use of audio surveillance to implicate the bosses of the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese families.The agents responsible for planting the bugs, dubbed "Black Bag Men," recount their stories with absorbing detail, while reenactments ratchet the tension of their tales.

Interviews with other FBI operatives, as well as with federal prosecutors, also offer an engaging look at how the RICO Act was used to essentially bring down the mob as a corrupt corporation rather than a violent criminal organization. Conversations with a pair of former mobsters add some gangland flavor -- as do audio clips of the bugged exchanges and video surveillance of meetings -- but this story's more about the good guys than the wise guys. The occasional, graphic crime scene photo of a bullet-riddled murder victim is as violent and lurid as the series ever gets. If you're expecting another romanticized take on the mafia, you may want to rewatch your favorite Scorsese flick. If you're a true crime fan craving an insightful look at how these tough guys were outsmarted by surveillance tech, however, Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia offers a compelling binge you can't refuse. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the federal agents who brought the mafia families to justice. What were the agents' various roles? What tools did they use? How did they work as a team? Do you think Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia portrayed them accurately?

  • How was New York City different during the 1970s and 1980s? How did the city change after the mob families were convicted? What laws and regulations are in place today to help keep the city safe?

  • How did the federal prosecutors go about convicting the mafia bosses? Why was it beneficial for them to view the criminal organization as a business? What nonviolent crimes ultimately undid the mafia families?

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