Are City on Fire’s Charlie and Sam Based on Actual People?

Apple TV+’s crime drama series ‘City on Fire’ revolves around Samantha “Sam” Yeung, who gets nearly killed at Central Park while New York City celebrates the 4th of July. Sam’s near-death experience shakes Charlie, her best friend. To deal with the unforeseen tragedy, Charlie joins Sam’s friends and members of the band Ex-Nihilo. The series progresses through the efforts of Sam’s closest acquaintances, most prominently Charlie, to unravel the truth behind the murder attempt on her. Intrigued by the intricate togetherness they share, we dived deep into the origin of the two characters. Let us share what we found regarding the same!

Charlie and Sam Are Not Based on Real People

No, Charlie and Sam are not based on real people. The two fictional characters were conceived by Garth Risk Hallberg for his novel ‘City on Fire,’ which serves as the source text of the series. Hallberg was inspired by the aftermaths of both the New York City blackout of 1977 and the 9/11 attacks, which were similar in his view, to write the novel. “The [9/11] attacks had opened up all these questions about community, safety, freedom, life, and death — about what really mattered in life, and how, exactly, to keep faith with that. I think those remain deep questions for everyone, whether living in cities or elsewhere,” the author told The Clarion-Ledger.

The aftermath of the 9/11 attacks reminded Hallberg of what really happened in New York City in 1977. “[…] the New York blackout of the ’70s — the sense of both chaos and possibility at that time — and it struck me that all the blazingly urgent questions of 2003 were also the blazingly urgent questions of 1977. Like, the city was still burning, just in a different way,” he added. The author seemingly created characters who encapsulated the aforementioned confusions and uncertainties, which are the foundations of the characters Charlie and Sam. In their own way, in both the novel and the series, Charlie and Sam try their best to deal with the ambiguity of their lives.

In the show, Sam is a budding artist without a clear known direction for her life and career ahead. She seeks comfort in the zines she creates for herself and the music concerts in which local and non-conformist bands perform. Charlie, on the other hand, is someone who hasn’t moved on from the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks, which took the life of his father. He even starts to suspect whether loving Sam is his way of escaping from the haunting memories of his father’s death and the other misfortunes caused by the attacks. Through their complex lives, the show explores the aforementioned questions that inspired Hallberg to write the source material of the crime drama.

Among Charlie and Sam, Hallberg connects most to the NYU student who gets nearly killed. “Sam is an imaginative projection of what I would have been as a teenager if I just risked everything,” Hallberg told Vogue. To conceive her zines in the novel, the author went through the ones created by his high school friends to ensure authenticity. A real-life shooting incident didn’t inspire the author to conceive the murder attempt on Sam, which is the heart of the novel and the show’s narratives. Rather, Hallberg conceived the same to “draw everyone together.” All the major characters of the novel and its television adaptations interconnect through the shooting.

Although fictional, Charlie and Sam show us how two young individuals might have reacted when they had to confront the aftermath of the 1977 Blackout and the 9/11 attacks, two real-life occurrences that rewrote the history of New York City. Therefore, it is safe to say that they are rooted in reality despite being two fictitious characters.

Read More: Where is City on Fire Filmed?