You can take Jerry Bruckheimer to Carnival, but you can’t take the Hollywood out of Jerry Bruckheimer. The blockbuster producer (Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Flashdance, Bad Boys, Pirates of the Caribbean, all the sequels, and CSI on TV), with a net worth of a billion bucks, isn’t going to reinvent the crime series for lesbians, Provincetown, or even the opioid crisis.
His newest offering, Hightown, an original eight-episode series for the cable network Starz (which can be accessed only by subscription), is set in Provincetown and follows the life lessons and crime-fighting adventures of fictional resident Jackie Quiñones (Monica Raymund), a Latina lesbian Marine Fisheries officer who parties hard with alcohol and cocaine.
Some exteriors were shot here last June, including a block-long re-creation of Carnival, which caused a bit of a stir, and locals have certainly been curious how the series would turn out. The premiere episode was aired on Sunday on Starz but was previewed all week for free on Xfinity cable on demand and online on Amazon Prime.
So, how was it? Not awful, not great, and pretty much what one might expect from Bruckheimer. Though the series’ creator and showrunner, Rebecca Cutter, and the premiere episode’s director, Rachel Morrison, are women, Hightown reflects the same patriarchal mindset and mores as most police procedurals on broadcast TV, with added helpings of tits and ass, lesbian and straight sex, swear words, and drug use. The production values, another Bruckheimer trademark, are consistently slick, with cinematography by Tangerine’s Radium Cheung and lots of aerial shots, crowd scenes, and a soundtrack full of pop.
It’s unfair to judge the entire series by the premiere episode, so I’ll keep my skepticism about future developments to a minimum. But even in that first hour, it’s easy to see why Hightown will never be more than safely mediocre and not much of a boon to Provincetown.
That’s because as much as it parades before us free-wheeling sex, drugs, and violence, it relies heavily on traditional moral judgments against them. And coming out as it does in the year of the coronavirus, it won’t matter much to curious tourists, whether they’re seeking a party haven or family fun.
“I have an amazing life,” Quiñones says to a doctor admitting her into rehab. “I live in Provincetown, for crying out loud. It’s like a fucking lesbian Shangri-la!” And despite the fact that she and a young male fisherman, Junior (Shane Harper), are both seen teary-eyed at AA meetings, she insists that “Everybody parties!”
The murder that sparks the narrative — a young woman addict shot point blank in the head in a beach parking lot in Truro — is casually brutal. Quiñones discovers the body after spending the night with a Wesleyan student she picked up at a bar. Waking up beside her in a Provincetown Inn room at 6 a.m., Quiñones grabs a nip of Jack Daniels from the minibar, goes outside, and squats on the beach flats to pee. (Doesn’t everyone?) There, lying within a black plastic bag, is Hightown’s reason for being.
Cutter is credited with writing the premiere episode herself, and she seems to be obsessed with oral sex. The examples abound. When Quiñones’s fish cop partner tells her she can’t hold her liquor, she responds, “Lick her? I don’t even know her!” (Her Wesleyan hookup might beg to disagree.) Junior, who is straight, teases a neophyte bartender with the tale of a hitchhiking fellatio quid pro quo, then labels the bartender’s shocked reaction homophobic. And finally, when tough young state cop Ray Abruzzo (James Badge Dale), who’s investigating the murder and opioid distribution on the Cape, gets a “private dance” from stripper Renee (Riley Voelkel) and sex is proposed, she asks to see his penis and, for $300 (pricey!), gets down to business.
That relationship, like other hookups in the series, are narratively interwoven in ways that exist only on TV, with the upshot being: wanton sex is bad, drugs and alcohol are bad, murder is bad — but aren’t they fun to watch? So much of Hightown is unbelievable, from the lesbian pickups to Quiñones’s coke habit, it’s clear that Provincetown’s LGBTQ community is just exotic decoration for dramatizing the opioid crisis, which might have been better set among straight young adults in Hyannis.
But why quibble with questions of plausibility? The best part of Hightown is the acting, which remains solid throughout, and well above the level of broadcast TV. And there’s something amazing about seeing all those familiar locations. It might even be worth the price of a Starz subscription ($8.99 a month, through Xfinity on cable or Amazon Prime online). Or maybe not.