SERIES "Bridge and Tunnel"
WHEN|WHERE Premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on Epix.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT It's 1980, and recent college graduate Jimmy (Sam Vartholomeos) has returned to his Long Island home before he heads off to Alaska as a photographer for National Geographic. Problem is, he's still in love with Jill (Caitlin Stasey), who has big plans for a future in fashion design in the city. She wants her space but he wants her commitment. Meanwhile, their friends Tammy (Gigi Zumbado), Stacey (Isabella Farrell), Mikey (Jan Luis Castellanos) and Pags (Brian Muller) have opinions about this — and love problems of their own. The first four episodes of Edward Burns' first new TV series since "Public Morals" (2015) were made available for review. (Burns also stars as Jimmy's dad.) The title refers to New York City, to where some of the characters will gravitate, but COVID restrictions kept the show out of Manhattan in these early episodes.
MY SAY "Thin" and "light" are usually good things, if the things they apply to are (say) latkes, mints or traffic. But if (say) TV plots, then not so much. TV plots need depth and twists. They need to pull the viewer from scene to scene, episode to episode. Plots need heft. But returning to that turf he knows so well, Burns ("The Brothers McMullen") has made a contrarian anti-heft move here. "Bridge and Tunnel" is all about familiarity, comfort, throwbacks, and the sort of warmth that only Anne Murray's 1973 cover of "Danny's Song" could confer. It makes the case that lives aren't plot-driven so much as memory-driven, and that those memories trace universal outlines: Guy falls in love with girl. Girl pushes back. He's needy. She doesn't want to be tied down. In TV terms, it's all so basic that it's almost a trope. Strike the "almost." This is a trope.
A natural-born nostalgist, Burns has served up more of that old-time nostalgia, except the time here isn't all that old (1980) and the setting is right next door, in a generic Long Island town that's so generic it could just as easily be on Staten Island. Without ever naming the town, Burns re-imagines what the older kids in his Valley Stream neighborhood must've done on a Saturday night and the music they must've done it to. Seventies chestnuts from Steve Miller, Sister Sledge, Ambrosia and Gary Wright float in the background, as vague approximations of that 1980 time frame rather than firm anchors to it. In fact, walking into any bar in the tristate area in 1980 without "Big Shot" or "Rosalinda's Eyes" in the background was physically impossible but not a Billy Joel note to be heard here. Burns either misremembered some of the music or (more likely) didn't have the budget for the rights.
Sure, there's a sweetness and congenitally to all this. The cast is good. The memories are gentle. And to paraphrase Billy ("Glass Houses," 1980), Burns may be right or he may be wrong. Maybe world-weary viewers do want this. Me? Not yet one of 'em.
BOTTOM LINE A weightless and occasionally airless trip down memory lane.