Adapting books into movies or shows isn’t a novel concept. It’s a practice that has been going on since literary and audio-visual mediums have existed. Folks have gone to and fro about what’s lost and what’s gained when words are turned into moving images. But, regardless of the success of the movie (or show), adaptations have usually brought more attention to their source material. And I am inclined to say that in this digital age, if people are reading books, then it’s a good thing. However, of late, there has been an uptick in the number of bad book adaptations, and the problem seems to be the quality of the book itself and not the skill of the showrunners. Since it has happened with The Peripheral, Daisy Jones & The Six, and then The Last Thing He Told Me, something tells me that people are making bestsellers out of the worst stories, thereby prompting OTT platforms to adapt them and in turn leading to these infuriatingly awful adaptations. City on Fire is the latest to join this amazing list.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Mercer Gets Arrested For The Attack On Sam
Let’s do a rundown of the characters featured in the first episode of City on Fire. There’s Charlie, whose father died during the 9/11 attacks, and he goes to New York City to get therapy. He’s in love with an NYU freshman and his former senior at his school, Samantha (or Sam). Samantha is following a niche band called Ex Post Facto (later known as Ex Nihilo), which is made of Sewer, Nicky, Sol, and DT. William used to be a part of the band, but he left after their first album became a hit. William is in a relationship with Mercer. Also, William is Regan’s sister and a member of one of the wealthiest families in the city. Regan is married to Keith and has two children with him, Will and Cate. And Keith is having an affair with Samantha. So, you know, full circle and whatnot.
William and Regan are not on speaking terms, and Mercer tries to bridge this gap by getting in touch with Regan because Cate studies at the school where Mercer teaches. An anonymous letter confirms Regan’s suspicions about Keith’s infidelity, which he blames on Regan and her inability to satiate him. Almost immediately, Regan decides to break off the marriage. She goes back to Cate’s school to meet Mercer and tells her to relay her invitation to the Fourth of July party to William. Regan assumes that Mercer is on good terms with William, but William’s heroin addiction clearly doesn’t allow him to achieve stability when it comes to his relationships or his artwork. After a time jump of two weeks, we see Sol and Sewer stealing from Sam’s father’s pyrotechnics shop for their anarchist nonsense. Keith attempts to get back with Regan, but she shuts those prospects down and orders him to attend her family’s Fourth of July party. Sol and Sewer come across a drugged-out William and invite him to Ex Nihilo’s performance. Sam contacts Keith to let him know that she’s not the one who informed his wife about their relationship and that she wants to meet him. This is followed by some annoying conversations between Sam and Charlie and between Regan and Will.
Sam drops Charlie off at the concert and goes to meet Keith. Regan attends her family party, where we learn that her father is on the way to New York, but his private plane has been grounded due to a storm. We get to know that Regan’s uncle is Amory and his partner is Felicia, and both of them are incredibly frustrating. Keith arrives at the Hamilton Sweeney party, but as soon as he notices Sam standing across the building, he asks the driver to keep driving because he doesn’t want her to follow him into the party and create a scene. Mercer coincidentally meets Sam, and they have an incredibly awkward conversation. The writers and the director want to make it seem like a spontaneous moment. However, everything about it is so contrived and an obvious set-up for how their paths are going to collide that it’s maddening to watch.
Anyway, Mercer attends Regan’s party. Charlie drinks some coke with Nicky and William. Regan learns that the FBI is going to arrest her dad for committing fraud. So she exits the party. Mercer leaves too. While waiting for the bus, he notices that Sam has been shot in the head because she heard some ominous sounds and ventured into the park behind the bus stop. Charlie arrives at the scene of the crime almost randomly and wets his pants upon seeing Sam’s lifeless body. Hence, he discards his pants and makes a run for it. The episode ends with the insinuation that Keith or Will has shot Sam. But Mercer is the one who is arrested by detectives PJ McFadden and Ali Parsa because the jacket that Mercer used to cover Sam’s body had a packet of heroin in it. Technically, the jacket belongs to William and, therefore, the drugs.
Charlie Becomes A Suspect In Ali’s Eyes
The second episode of City on Fire starts with a flashback of Charlie and Sam going for a night of revelry on New Year’s Eve 2002 after consuming a bunch of mushrooms. Sam overdoses. So, Charlie takes her to Ex Post Facto’s or Ex Nihilo’s basement so that Sam can chill out. Sol advises Charlie to give Sam a cold shower so that she doesn’t feel as intoxicated. Charlie sees Sam semi-naked and immediately confesses his love to her. It seems like Sam is unconscious. But, in order to not make it seem that Charlie has sexually harassed a senseless girl, the episode shows that Sam isn’t asleep, and she hears Charlie’s confession. However, that only means she has been aware of his feelings for her all this time and has tagged him along. Yes, I know that every friendship that exists between a man and a woman doesn’t have to lead to something sexual or romantic. That said, if one party wants to keep things platonic, they should explicitly state it instead of enjoying the other party’s puppy dog behavior. It’s as simple as that.
By the way, while all this is going on, Nicky gives one of the most pretentious and hackneyed end-of-year motivation speeches I’ve ever heard. I’m not sure if the show is ironic about all this because if they’re not, this is unintentionally hilarious. In the present day, it is revealed that Sam isn’t exactly dead. She has a bullet lodged in her brain, but she’s still alive. We see Keith, Will, and Regan returning home. A pantless Charlie goes to the church to pray. I do want to point out that this is such a weird character decision. Why did he run from the scene? Why did he wet his pants? I understand the part where he discarded it. But why run? Is it linked to the trauma of his father’s death? But all of this doesn’t make any sense because as it is an attempted murder, and that was a terrorist attack. It’s not even confusing at this point; it’s stupid.
Through a conversation between Mercer and Detective Ali, the episode restates the obvious regarding Mercer’s innocence, the heroin in the jacket, etc. It’s such a boringly written and even more awfully acted scene that I refuse to go into the details. In fact, the main reason why this show is almost unwatchable is because of the poor direction and acting. I don’t know what the actors were told to do, but in every scene, they feel like they’re acting for the camera instead of inhabiting the skin of the characters. There’s no space for subtlety or nuance. I don’t mean any disrespect towards talented and ambitious theater kids, but the show actually feels like an amateur and glorified theater production.
Anyway, Mercer is allowed to walk and isn’t jailed for possessing drugs while being around a crime scene. Charlie tells the priest at the church where he slept all night that he wants Sam to survive. Regan tries to talk to her father, but she isn’t allowed to do so. So she calls her husband because he’s the only one he can talk to. Do you get why I’m defining this show as “contrived”? Mercer explains what went down at the Hamilton-Sweeney Fourth of July party and how he was almost locked up for good because of William’s heroin addiction. But William pushes Mercer away, literally and metaphorically, while Mercer is reciting a version of the witch incantation from “The Craft” (I am being serious). William does apologize, though, and Mercer apparently forgives him too. Before handing over the kids to Keith so that she can go and meet her father, Regan notices that the bird that was outside her bedroom window has been shot. By making Will act weirdly about it, the show continues to insinuate that he’s the one who has tried to kill Sam to probably get rid of Keith’s solitary problem. Yes, killing Sam won’t solve anything because Sam isn’t the problem; Keith is. I also have to point out that amidst all this faux seriousness, the show tries to crack an “Asian kids are so smart” joke.
We finally see Charlie’s mother, and Charlie obviously doesn’t tell her anything about the shooting. Instead, he heads over to the headquarters of the Ex Nihilo. The detectives go to Sam’s NYU dorm to talk to her roommate and look for any hints pointing toward the identity of the shooter. They get nothing from her, but I think the show wants you to think that she can be the shooter too because she jokes about how Sam never called her to her parties. Amory learns that Keith never showed up at the party. Bill Sr. gets arrested by the FBI as soon as he lands in NYC. While Regan is angry about it, Felicia and Amory are awfully casual about it. When Charlie arrives at the Ex Nihilo HQ, they find them making a bomb. Assuming that he’s some kind of a snitch, Sol knocks Charlie out. During the investigation of the crime scene, Ali comes across Charlie’s pants, his ID card, and an Ex Nihilo flier, thereby putting him and the band on the radar.
The Origins Of Keith And Sam’s Relationship Are Revealed
The third episode of City on Fire starts with a rundown of how Sam became a fan of the band in question. Ali questions the receptionist or bouncer about Charlie and asks him to come to the station for a facial composite. Charlie regains consciousness and meets the members of Ex Nihilo, and the episode proceeds to recap everything that has happened till this point. If anyone doesn’t get how repetitive and cyclical the writing pattern in the show is, you need help, or you need to watch better shows where the dialogue isn’t strictly expository in nature. The writing is so bad that the actors fail to elevate it in any way. Wyatt was pretty good in “It,” and even he seems to be struggling with the material. As if that’s not irritating enough, we return to William and Mercer’s insufferable arcs as they meet William’s gallerist, Bruno, and Bruno’s assistant or colleague, Jenny, at a restaurant. They go on and on about William and his talent and whatnot before heading to William’s workstation, where they see his subpar work on display and come to the conclusion that his brain is being fogged by his drug usage. After Bruno and Jenny leave, William and Mercer almost have yet another argument, and it seems like William wants to end their relationship.
Nicky and Charlie have a conversation about forgiveness, and it’s as surface-level as you can imagine. Regan learns that Bill Sr. has retired from his position at the family company, so the FBI can’t prosecute for the crimes that have been committed in his name or by him. Regan has no option but to accept this course of action because of how forcefully Amory and Felicia are implementing it. On her way out of the building, she comes across Mercer, who wants to conduct an intervention to stop William from having drugs and push him towards therapy, and he wants Regan to be a part of this meeting. Joe Yeung (Sam’s father) helps Ali go through Sam’s stuff and Ali leaves with the zines on Ex Post Facto (or Ex Nihilo, I can’t keep track). Sewer assigns some tasks to Charlie to prove the point that the band is a cover for their anarchist work. Anarchy against what? We’ll come to that in a bit. Ali finally realizes that Charlie is the guy that the bouncer is talking about, and he puts out an arrest order for him because he’s a suspect.
Regan and Keith seem to be together. Yes, they pretend that they’re going to continue with the divorce, but Regan is so dependent on Keith that she just can’t let go of him. Keith clearly enjoys this, as he stays back to look after the kids while Regan goes for the intervention, which goes as badly as you’d expect it to go. By the way, amidst all this nonsense, we see flashbacks of Keith going to the Ex Nihilo headquarters to deposit envelopes of money while having a revolver on his waist. Apparently, that led to his meeting with Sam; they fell in love, and they had an affair. In the present day, Keith revisits Sam’s dorm only to come across her panda-loving roommate, and he weirdly expresses shock upon learning that Sam is a freshman. Are we supposed to assume that he didn’t know he was fooling around with someone who had just graduated from high school? The levels of stupidity in this show’s character writing are astounding.
Is Amory Responsible For Sam’s Attack?
At the end of episode 3 of City on Fire, we see that Amory has made himself the “interim” CEO of the Hamilton Sweeney company, which means that this was his plan all along. Regan obviously understands that, but she can’t do anything about it. The members of the Ex Nihilo and Charlie have a rooftop conversation about monogamy being a way to promote patriarchy, thereby justifying cheating on one’s partner, and then a vague oath about doing something for Samantha. Without understanding what this oath (or the mission around it) means, Charlie says that he is “all in” and is ready to do whatever the Ex-Nihilo wants him to do. What do they want him to do? Set fire to an abandoned building. Why? Apparently, these doofuses think that the city is being taken over by someone and that the only way to fight back is by setting abandoned buildings on fire. Since Charlie is an idiot, he commits arson.
The problem I have with this kind of portrayal of anarchy and rebellious behavior is that it’s so childish that it furthers the stereotypes around actual anarchy and rebellious behavior. It looks like the showrunners,’ and the writer’s intention is to malign anyone who doesn’t act like a sheep. It’s like they want the populace to think that this is what modern revolutionaries do on a daily basis. They sleep around, they do drugs, and they think causing damage to public property sends a message to capitalists or the government. Well, I just hope that people who are watching this show are smart enough to understand that those who revolt against the system aren’t the stupid ones; those who have made this show are.
During the final moments of the episode, Keith and Amory meet up to talk about the attack on Sam, and it seems like Amory insinuates that Sam is in this situation because of Keith. Again, the show probably wants us to think that Amory is yet another suspect. However, the truth is that Amory is just highlighting Keith’s guilty behavior and warning him that if he keeps doing shady stuff, the police are eventually going to connect him to Sam and send him to jail. There’s a good chance that that’ll happen because, after Keith’s visit to the NYU dorm, we saw Sam’s roommate calling the police. Therefore, it’s only a matter of time before Ali and/or McFadden get to Keith.