ESPN's eight-episode Yankees miniseries The Bronx Is Burning debuted last night and immediately staked out a claim in the world of cable-TV big-canvas storytelling. "This isn't just a sports movie," say the opening credits, flashing not just shots of stars John Turturro and Oliver Platt but newsreel images of the '77 blackout, David Berkowitz, Bella Abzug. "This is a movie about New York City! About history!" Unfortunately for the first hour, though, in practice that turns into a lot of the familiar tropes of quasi-historical TV: radio voice-overs in between scenes ("Ed Koch declared his candidacy for the office of mayor…") and out-of-context tidbits that serve little purpose other than scene-setting. Every time an anonymous co-ed shows up onscreen, for example, chomping her gum and teasing her hair, you know she's going to get shot by the Son of Sam within a minute.
Which is a shame, because every minute spent away from the scenery-chewing antics of Platt, as George Steinbrenner, and Turturro, as Billy Martin, is a minute wasted. (Daniel Sunjata is unmemorable thus far as Reggie Jackson; he has Jackson's corkscrew swing down, but not his swagger.) In fact, watching this miniseries is almost like watching a Yankee Stadium slugfest between the two actors!
Platt takes an early lead in this first hour-long inning, knocking three scenes out of the park from the very beginning: his berating of a weeping Martin after the Yanks lose the 1976 World Series, his shifty and hilarious denial that he threatened free agent Bobby Gritch, and his Central Park courtship of Jackson. But Turturro makes a game of it at episode's end, when in the last week of spring training, he blows up at a meddling Steinbrenner in the clubhouse, even getting a chance to perform the overactor's favorite signifier of rage: Sweeping a bunch of shit off a table.
The Bronx Is Burning: The Platt/Turturro Scoreboard
Related: Bronx Bomber [NYM]