7 film and TV series set in the exciting world of municipal government

Something deep and dark. Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in True Detective. Image: HBO

One of the big TV hits of 2014 has been True Detective, a beautifully shot HBO series which saw Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey investigate a string of murders over a period of 17 years. In between all the police procedural stuff, the series explores themes such as family, faith, and the nature of the universe.

The reason we bring this up is that, as it turns out, season 2 is going to be about municipal transport policy:

“According to a breakdown obtained by TheWrap, the second season of “True Detective” will follow the death of a corrupt city manager of a fictional California city who's found brutally murdered amid a potentially groundbreaking transportation deal that would forever change freeway gridlock in the state.”

Thrills! Terror! Traffic management!

Actually, the new series, which looks set to star Vince Vaughn, has a very good chance of being awesome. As unlikely as it might sound, TV and film about local government has a surprisingly good track record. Here are seven more examples.

Spin City (ABC, 1996-2002)

Sitcom set in New York City Hall. Started off as a rather good vehicle for Michael J Fox, as the smart young deputy mayor; later became a substantially less good vehicle for Charlie Sheen as his replacement, and promptly got itself cancelled. Includes such exciting municipal plot lines as a subway train breaking down, pollution in the city’s rivers, and garbage collectors going on strike.

Our Friends in the North (BBC Two, 1996)

Possibly the best television drama ever to be largely about British social housing policy, Our Friends stars an amazing cast led by Christopher Eccleston and Daniel Craig (pictured), and takes in everything from police corruption to the Zimbabwean boycott to the rise of New Labour. It also features some amazing haircuts.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988 movie)

Gritty political thriller about a corruption scandal in which car companies buy up Los Angeles' streetcar network, purely so they can rip it up, thus forcing the public to buy more cars. Also features a cartoon rabbit.

The Wire (HBO, 2002-08)

Without wanting to sound like one of those people, The Wire is one of the few things in life that's as good as everyone says it is. Over five seasons it explores many aspects of the decline of the American city (policing, education, labour relations, the media). From season three onwards a major character is politician Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen, pictured), who successfully runs for mayor, only to learn that the job is actually amounts to "eating shit all day long, day after day, year after year". This show basically offers a comprehensive explanation of why nothing works.

Chinatown (1974 movie)

Classic noir starring Jack Nicholson, which begins with the murder of Los Angeles' chief water engineer. One of the few films of the genre which is fundamentally about water desalination.

Parks and Recreation (NBC, 2009-present)

Mockumentary about municipal officials working in a pseudonymous department in the fictional Indiana town of Pawnee. Contains a plot about turning a big hole into a nice new park. The series made a star of Chris Pratt (pictured), who's since sold out and lost a load of weight, mostly so he could appear in movies.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB/UPN, 1996-2003)

Okay, it's mostly not about municipal government at all, it's about vampires and teenagers. But the villain in season three is the mayor of Sunnydale (Harry Groener), who's secretly plotting his "ascension" – that is, his transformation into a giant snake-like demon who feeds on people. Remember that, next time Boris Johnson or Bill de Blasio appear on your TV screen.

Images credits: Our Friends in the North: BBC; The Wire: HBO; Parks and Recreation: NBC.

 
 
 
 

The Delhi Metro: How do you build a transport system for 26m people?

Indraprastha station in 2006. Image: Getty.

“Thou hath not played rugby until thou hath tried to get onto a Delhi Metro in rush hour,” a wise Yogi once said.

If you’ve never been on New Delhi’s Metro, your mind might conjure up the the conventional image of Indian trains: tawdry carriages, buckets of sweat, people hanging out of windows and the odd holy cow wandering around for good measure.

Well, no. The Delhi Metro is actually one of the most marvellously sophisticated, affordable, timely, and practical public transportation systems out there. On a 45C day in the Indian summer, many a traveller has shed tears of joy on entering the spacious, air-conditioned carriages.

Above ground, Delhi is a sprawling metropolis of the scariest kind: 26m people, three times the population of London, churn and grind through Delhi itself.

The National Capital Region, an area which includes Delhi and its surrounding satellite cities – now victim of its never-ending urban sprawl – has an estimated population of almost 50m. So how do you tie such a huge population together?

The map; click to expand. Image: Delhi Metro Rail.

Motorised vehicles won’t do it alone. For one, air pollution is a horrific problem in Delhi, as it is across India. Last November, the government declared a state of emergency when the Indian capital was engulfed by a toxic, choking fog so thick that you could barely see several metres in front of you, drawing allusions to the great Victorian fogs in London.

Then there’s Delhi’s famous traffic. Twenty-five years ago, the travel writer William Dalrymple observed that you could reduce the Delhi’s road laws to one simple idea: the largest vehicle always had the right of way. The traffic has tamed somewhat in the 21st century, but the number of vehicles has multiplied again and again, and it’s not uncommon for people to be stuck in four-hour traffic jams when they try to traverse the mighty city.

Enter the Delhi Metro – a huge network of 164 over- and underground stations – and by any account, a titan of civil engineering and administration.

The numbers are simply colossal. Every day the metro serves on average almost 3m people. Annually, it carries around 1bn.

In a country where intercity trains still turn up a day late, the Delhi Metro is extraordinarily timely. On the major lines, trains will come every several minutes. The trains are extraordinary speedy, and you’ll reach your destination in a fraction of the time it would take for you to drive the distance.

The minimum fare is 10 rupees (12p); the maximum fare, to and from the airport, is 50 (60p).

The evolution of the metro. Image: Terramorphus/Wikimedia Commons.

Construction of the metro system began in 1998, with the first section completed in late 2002. Keen to avoid the catastrophic corruption and bureaucratic mismanagement which plagued eastern city of the Kolkata Metro, developers took advice from Hong Kong’s high-tech system There have been several stages of development to add extra lines; more is planned. By 2020, it is hoped that the 135 miles of line will have increased to over 300.  

One thing quite striking about the metro is its women’s only carriages at the rear and the front of the train, marked by pink signs. Sexual assault and harassment has been a horrific problem on Delhi’s transport systems. Women can of course go anywhere on the train – but men who violate the carriage system will have to deal with the scathing anger of the entire pink carriage.


One of the under-discussed impacts of widespread and well-used public transportation systems is their propensity to break down social and class barriers over time. As the London Tube began to be used more and more in early 20th century London, people from completely different walks of life and classes began to brush shoulders and share the same air.

The story is similar in Delhi. The necessity of the metro helps to break down old caste and class divisions. Of course, many elite Delhiites would not be seen dead on the metro, and choose their private chauffeur over brushing shoulders with the common man. But slowly and surely, the times are a changing.

What’s more, the Delhi Metro system is one of the greenest around. Six years ago, the Metro was the first railway system in the world to be awarded carbon credits from the United Nations for helping to reduce pollution in the capital by an estimated 640,000 tonnes every year.  

All praises sung and said, however, at peak times it’s less mind the gap and more mind your ribs – as a fifth of humanity seems to try to get on and off the train at once.

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