Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorsese walk into a bar…
They come out with Pretend It’s a City, a biopic miniseries that feels tailored so directly for me that I’m a little upset I wasn’t invited to interview. No, I’ve never lived in New York City, and no I don’t have a best-selling book or multiple Oscars sitting on my shelf but for whatever reason, this series spoke to me in a way not a lot of things have.
Through quick-witted interviews and Q&A’s author, Fran Lebowitz reflects on her life in New York City with the help of several other New York greats including Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee. Over the course of seven episodes, Lebowitz bounces from every topic imaginable––from sky-high New York rent to smoking e-cigs with Leonardo DiCaprio.
When I think about what worked about Pretend It’s a City, I can’t separate my own identity from my enjoyment. Let’s face it––Fran Lebowitz is living every young writer’s wet dream. The woman wrote a couple of acclaimed books and spent the rest of her life as a professional complainer. This isn’t even a dig at her career––that’s basically how she describes her own life. A self-proclaimed snob (though only in the right ways), Lebowitz won’t hold back when it comes to just about anything.
If I’m being totally honest, I didn’t know I needed this series until it premiered. I mean, a seven-part limited series about Fran Lebowitz made by Martin Scorsese sounds like, to put it frankly, the most pretentious thing in the entire world. But the two offer enough self-reflection and genuine friendship that makes it an incredibly easy watch. The series isn’t trying to be anything it’s not. I don’t think it’ll change the way I think about life or guide me down some new path, but I do think it’ll give me something new to grumble about every now and then.
Watching this series was one of the few times I could stand to hear people reminisce about the good old days. Lebowitz and the people around her are well aware of the much needed social change that has occurred over the course of their career. This doesn’t stop them from remembering a time when rent was cheap(er) and New York City offered the unique opportunity of total self-expression. It’s a bit enthralling––especially in a time as bleak as now––to reminisce about a time where creativity wasn’t so entrenched in marketing and social media. (I say as I spend approximately 20 hours a day on my phone, but my point still stands).
Lebowitz has the abrupt countenance of somebody with strong opinions and the self-awareness to match. Though some of her points are certainly dated, they are never from a place of hatred or disdain. I would never want to be on her bad side, but Lebowitz jokes that she doesn’t understand why people care about her opinion when she’s not an authority on anything. Strong opinions from somebody with a couple of writing credits on her name? I’m here for it. Witnessing a conversation between Lebowitz and Scorsese about hot-button issues like the MeToo movement offered an incredibly unique understanding of the industries the two are deeply familiar with. The two––while intensely grumpy––offered thoughtful commentary about the world around them.
Pretend It’s a City is definitely up there with films and TV that make me want to drop everything and move to New York with a couple bucks and a dream. While, yes, Lebowitz spends the entire duration of the series griping and groaning about New York City, it’s clear she was meant for the city. From the books to the culture to the art to the (sometimes unbearable) people, this series is reminiscent of Walt Whitman’s urban affection.
Beyond sheer envy, the figures featured in this miniseries operate as elders in the artist community. I wasn’t alive to weave drunken tales of fragile masculinity with Ernest Hemingway in Paris and I never got to see Greenwich Village in its heyday. Instead, I get to watch Fran Lebowitz and Spike Lee engage in a passionate discourse about the importance of sports in front of a live studio audience. Lebowitz’s ability to foster a community of artists around her is something I thought was dead in the age of technology. However cheesy it might sound, Pretend It’s a City felt like a warm (if not a bit snarky) invitation to start creating with the people around me.