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'The City And The City' is Sci-Fi…and Something Else
November 21, 2018  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

Crank your weird-meter up to 10 before you watch The City And The City, a BBC production now imported to the colonies by BritBox.

The City And The City lies somewhere between sci-fi and fantasy, anchored by a police procedural that could live comfortably on prime-time CBS. As that may suggest, it takes the concept of hybrid to a level of its own.

The four-part series becomes available Wednesday on the BritBox streaming service. Based on the popular 2009 novel by China Miéville, who consulted on production of the TV adaptation, it skitters at will over any lines between what seems entirely ordinary and what requires full suspension of disbelief.

David Morrissey (top) stars as Inspector Tyador Borlú, a cop in the fictional European city of Beszel. We soon realize he’s tormented, which is a requirement for any television cop these days, and on the surface, the cause seems familiar. Something happened to his beloved wife, and he’s struggling to cope with that burden while tracking down perps who did things to other people.

Borlu must deal, however, with an additional complication. In his world, Beszel has a sister city, Ul Qoma, which is right next door but partitioned by a serious border. Think East and West Germany in the Cold War.

And wait, there’s more. There may also be a third city, Orciny, somewhere between Beszel and Ul Qoma. We don’t actually see that city. We just get hints that the Mrs. Borlu situation might be tied to the potential existence of these multiple cities.  

No one says that out loud, because this turns out to be a regimented and paranoid world. Wall posters and stern conversations warn about The Breach, which may mean illegally crossing between Beszel and Ul Qoma and may also have a broader, more shadowy significance.  

Despite their proximity, the cities look very different. Beszel has a ‘70s Middle Eastern earth-tones look, while Ul Qoma could be a dozen real-life modern cities, with steel and glass and bright colors.

It takes a while to figure all this out since the cryptic dialogue often gives us little help. When we do finally start to get a sense of the players, it comes as little surprise that we find greedy business executives and self-serving political leaders with hidden agendas.

That’s one reason we not only like Inspector Borlu but breathe a sigh of relief when he comes on-screen. Tormented or not, him we understand.

He’s investigating the murder of a college student named Mahalia Geary, whose body was found in Beszel, but who has ties to Ul Qoma. Her parents come over to Beszel and seem skeptical that the law there will be able to find the killer. They also drop hints that Mahalia was involved with some aggressive activists, a red flag because these cities are jammed with both activists and public officials vowing to stop them.  

Fortunately for Borlu, he has a secret albeit often unappreciated weapon: Constable Lizbyet Corwi (Mandee Dhillon). Assigned to help Borlu with the investigation, she’s the best new TV cop in some time. She’s smart and efficient. She also swears like a sailor and ignores Borlu’s condescension.

The Twilight Zone element somehow meshes reasonably well with the cop-show part of The City And The City. Its obvious target audience is sci-fi fans, but it’s got something for mainstream audiences, too – once their heads stop spinning.

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It took me until the next morning to realize it was really good. Episode 1 was exasperating to watch. However, if you hung in there, episodes 2,3 and 4 delivered. Thank you for suggesting this title. I was about to cancel my Britbox subscription, I'm glad I didn't. If you have any other suggestions for that platform, I'd be very interested. The typical crime and mystery shows offered have gotten stale and boring to me. Thanks again.
Nov 26, 2018   |  Reply
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