With half of the globe on lockdown, it looks like our travel plans for the year ahead may be quelled once again in the name of safety. With this, comes nostalgia for a more free age, for some - especially New Yorkers - comes nostalgia for blood to pump, instead of trickle, through the veins of their cities once again. For Fran Lebowitz, who is the quiet personification of the infamous "Hey, I'm walkin' here!" New York Era, her commentary on one of the globes most timelessly energetic cities - and America at large - is tireless and captivating.
Known best as an author, humorist and prolific complainer, the news of Lebowitz doing what she does best: having an opinion, encapsulated in a seven-episode collection of Netflix episodes entitled Pretend It's a City, was a welcome reprieve from doing my own complaining this week.
Created with long-time friend Martin Scorsese, the series is a collage of Lebowitz - who is consistently dressed in perfectly tailored menswear - making her way through a pre-COVID-19 NYC, a pastiche of interview snippets on panels and talk shows over her career, and an unscripted interview with Scorsese as they sit at The Players in Manhattan. They talk, Scorsese howls with laughter at Lebowitz's opinions as she relentlessly and without inhibition makes points on what she loves, what she hates, and her musings on abolishing guilty pleasures, "I think it's unbelievable that there's a phrase such as 'guilty pleasure.' Unless your pleasure is killing people. My pleasures are absolutely benign, by which I mean, no one dies" She says to Scorsese at one point.
There is inextricable comfort in Lebowitz's anecdotes - which span her life from teen-hood to the present - as though you are sitting next to a painfully cool gay aunt whose stories begin and end with hilarious, frivolous problems. You know what you're going to get. There is no surprise, only joy when Lebowitz's explains in both earnest and sarcasm why things bother her so much. She knows these are surface-level problems, but if she's not talking about them with such tact, who will? They are cerebral and witty, and Lebowitz is unafraid of her own candour. At one point, Scorsese asks, "does complaining change anything?", Lebowitz responds, "not so far. Of course, I'm a young woman." and Scorsese wheezes with laughter.
Without having seen it, one might be questioning what the point is in listening to a 70-year-old woman complain about things when we are living through one of the least desirable times in history. The answer lies in catharsis. How cathartic it feels to sit in silence and instead of doom-scrolling through social media, as one of America's greatest writers is rattling off about people carrying yoga mats. "About one-third of people in the street in New York City have a yoga mat. That alone would keep me from yoga. Carrying around a little rolled-up rug...you know, New York used to be a lot more fashionable than that." She says. It is like watching a Bob Ross painting video: completely unrelated to current life and therefore, madly comforting.
You can watch Pretend It's a City episode-for-episode via Netflix.