Thursday, February 23, 2012


Hidden City tries to uncover the essential character of a city by looking at its criminal history. If it sounds kind of like City Confidential--the true crime show that used to air on A&E back in the day--that's because it is, in theory. But whereas City Confidential took an in-depth look at one crime per episode, Hidden City usually covers three or four in the space of an hour.

marcus sakey in NYC

The real strength of the show is the host, crime novelist Marcus Sakey. He gets some great one-liners in ("I'm not a criminal... I'm a novelist." HELLS YEAH! I started watching the show just because of that line), and he looks like a detective out of a 1970s movie. I love him! The best moments of the show are where Sakey tries to "get into" the criminals' heads by doing things like being pepper sprayed, panning for gold, and tailing a spy. In the second episode, Sakey was criminally profiled and the psychiatrist was like, "Yeah, you're a borderline sociopath." That was weirdly fun.

Those moments are great because they're relatively original. The problem is, those original moments are few and far between. The crimes and events are, ones that are generally familiar to the general public. Take the premier Chicago episode, for example, which covered HH Holmes (subject of Devil in the White City by Erik Larson), the Democratic National Convention riots in 1968, and John Dillinger. All of these subjects are interesting, but they've been dealt with before, better and more in-depth. The strength of City Confidential was that, one, the stories were thoroughly plumbed; and two, they were about crimes that might be notorious within the city, but were relatively obscure to outsiders. Hidden City has neither of these things going for it.

I will, however, say that the last few episodes have been really good, probably because they went to less-covered locations: Seattle and Anchorage. So while this isn't the greatest true crime series ever, it's definitely improving, and I'd be interested in seeing what they do with a second season. Sakey does have a way with words. (And yes, I know the season's over. As usual I have incredible timing.)


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