‘Pretend It’s a City’ Perfectly Displays the Solace That Comes with New York and Fran Lebowitz

A still from TV Show 'Pretend It's a City'. Fran Lebowitz is sat at a table with a drink, her hands clasped in front of her, smiling. She has a large smile, dark chin-length hair and tortoise shell glasses.She wears a plaid suit and white shirt.

Living through a pandemic naturally allows for loneliness and frustration to flourish. In moments like these, where people struggle to find ways to decompress and feel less alone, comfort television shows are an imperative relief. Luckily for Netflix viewers, Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorsese accomplished that intention perfectly.

Pretend It’s a City is a beautiful display of Fran Lebowitz and pre-pandemic New York City, entwined with montages of Lebowitz’ fierce walks around the city. A seven-episode docuseries, director Martin Scorsese chats with Lebowitz about subjects that range from the subway and annoying walkers to Charles Mingus and the New York jazz scene. Documentaries are always more difficult to critique, since they centre around real life, and thus, mainly require the direction and cinematography to create an interesting watch. Scorsese manages to do so by centering the series on Lebowitz’ words, while also incorporating beautiful collages visually defining New York.

Almost the entirety of this series revolves around cutaways and interview clips of Lebowitz complaining, annoyed with anything and everything about the city. But this series really isn’t about Lebowitz’ hate for New York. Rather, it further explains her love for the city, its history, and its potential. Lebowitz, who has lived almost the entirety of her life in New York, describes the fundamentality of living in a city that is so beloved. But even in lieu of the New York-centered conversations, Lebowitz takes us through her mind, amusingly explaining her thoughts on just about any issue that frustrates her, whether it’s the concept of ‘wellness’ or simply Times Square.

A still from 'Pretend its a City'. Fran Lebowitz is stood in an archive with Martin Scorsese, he is laughing at what she is saying.

Lebowitz has a track record of being blunt and harsh, allowing many to form an adamant opinion about her personality. However, it can be argued that her personality is what makes this series so honest. The average television fan has probably seen an assorted number of docuseries, many of which probably centered around political or pressing issues. But a documentary about Fran Lebowitz? You can only be prepared for sincerity, taunting, and a cause for constant laughter. 

Of course, seven episodes of commentary about one city can leave room for boredom and dullness. Not every scene nor every topic keeps you engaged, and with recycled talk show clips of Lebowitz sustaining half the documentary, it felt as though Scorsese lacked enough interest and curiosity to properly present Lebowitz and her most current thoughts. Still, the convictions and views propounded by Lebowitz are enough to be invested in finishing this series. Her mind is perplexing and unique, and to spend even 200 minutes listening to her is a gift.

Pretend It’s a City is a love letter to New York, both inspiring and reminding viewers of what the city and this world still has in store post-pandemic. Watching this docuseries in a time of such distress and worry brings a much-needed sense of comfort. A vibrant soundtrack and nostalgic city collages, combined with the contrast between Lebowitz’ dry humour and Scorsese friendly laughter, this show accomplishes everything one would want in a quarantine binge-watch. With the persistent uncertainty and sorrow engrossing our lives, Pretend It’s a City illuminates the importance of admiring the place one calls home.

Pretend its a City is available to stream exclusively on Netflix now

by Cyna Mirzai

Cyna Mirzai is a journalism major at Virginia Tech and a staff writer for Gen Rise Media. She loves films that centre around music, and of course coming-of-age films. Her favourite movies are Lady Bird, Almost Famous, and Booksmart

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