‘Love on the Spectrum’ and ‘Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia’ review: Netflix adds more love and crime to its docuseries lineup

“Fear City” would appear to be the more marketable of the two, recounting the mob’s brazen behavior before the feds figured out how to dismantle the organization, whose “code of silence” and pyramid-like structure made prosecutions difficult. But the producers labor to build drama around a story that’s plenty dramatic without all the embroidery.

What former mobster Michael Franzese calls “The golden era of the mob” had the unfortunate side effect of leaving bodies and bloodshed all over the city, heightening pressure for a federal response.

As FBI veteran Jim Kossler recalls, the authorities had “no strategy, no plan” for dealing with the “five families,” until Cornell professor Robert Blakey conceived of using RICO law (that is, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) to connect foot soldiers to the bosses — who had been insulated from prosecution — and bring the whole enterprise tumbling down.

The centerpiece of the three-part project resides in access to audiotapes from FBI wiretaps, making the viewer privy to colorful conversations peppered with salty language that sound like outtakes from “The Sopranos.”

Those weaned on mob yarns of the period — from “The Godfather” saga to Martin Scorsese’s films — will surely find echoes from those movies. Yet “Fear City” doesn’t so much expand on that window as simply cannibalize it.

The documentary concludes with the corruption that surrounded the construction industry, before moving to the courtroom, mixing interviews with mob figures and those responsible for their prosecution. The latter roster includes Michael Chertoff (who went on to head the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security) and former New York city mayor Rudy Giuliani, who parlayed the high-profile cases into his political rise.

The main drawback involves the heavy-handed way much of this is presented, such as employing tight closeups on the faces of prosecutors and feds during the trial coverage, as if they’re waiting for these decades-old verdicts right now.

For those enamored with tales of the mob, “Fear City” weaves in enough previously unheard audio to marginally justify the three-hour binge. Beyond that, even from someone fascinated by the subject matter, it’s tough to deliver a favorable judgment.

“Love on the Spectrum,” by contrast, serves as an understated antidote to most of Netflix’s dating fare, which has tended to be of the loud and gimmicky variety, including “Love is Blind” and “Too Hot to Handle.”
Like the recently introduced “Indian Matchmaking,” it provides a window into the hunt for love and connection, with the key here being the added degree of difficulty and vulnerability that some on the autism spectrum experience.

The filmmakers follow along on dates, join their subjects as they meet with a counselor regarding do’s and don’ts of romance, and venture into their homes, capturing parents whose enthusiasm goes hand in hand with concern.

There are, not surprisingly, some uncomfortable moments, including a few times when the participants feel overwhelmed and essentially ask for a break from filming. (The director is occasionally heard off camera, checking how they are and offering reassurance.)

Unlike their posturing counterparts on most dating shows, the realness of these people provides a winning edge. And when 25-year-old Michael — obsessed with old TV shows — takes a date to a convention and gets to meet Dawn Wells of “Gilligan’s Island,” you’d have to be pretty heartless to resist.

More than anything, “Love on the Spectrum” exhibits empathy toward the featured players without condescending toward them, and quickly bridges any cultural barriers in a broadly universal manner. In the often-cynical world of TV dating, that combination provokes pretty strong feelings of like at first sight.

“Fear City: New York v. the Mafia” and “Love on the Spectrum” premiere July 22 on Netflix.

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