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Nostalgic escape: ‘Bridge and Tunnel’ focuses on six friends in 1980 Manhattan

Rebecca Gibel, Ed Burns and Sam Vartholomeos in a scene from “Bridge and Tunnel.” (Myles Aronowitz/Epix)

Given the year the world has had, Ed Burns wanted to create an escape.

It’s one of the main reasons he wrote, directed, produced and starred in the Epix series “Bridge and Tunnel.” The six-episode series debuts at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24.

“The show came from two different places,” Burns says. “It could either be dark and depressing stuff. Or we could create something that would put a smile on your face. It reminded you of a better time and place.”

“Bridge and Tunnel” is set in 1980 and revolves around a group of recent college graduates setting out to pursue their dreams in Manhattan while still clinging to the familiarity of their working-class Long Island hometown.

Joining Burns in the cast are Sam Vartholomeos, Caitlin Stasey, Gigi Zumbado, JanLuis Castellanos, Brian Muller and Isabella Farrell.

Burns plays Artie, a house painter who once dreamed of being a photographer. He loves his suburban life and supports the artistic dreams of his son, Jimmy. Yet he’s also dreading his son leaving the home.

Burns knew he wanted to create an ensemble cast.

He wanted it to follow a group of friends – three guys, three girls – who have just completed a part of life and are eager and scared of the next chapter.

Ed Burns plays Artie in the new series “Bridge and Tunnel,” which airs on Epix. (Myles Aronowitz/Epix)

“We also discussed the show being a period show,” Burns says. “The late ’70s in New York. I’ve always romanticized it. The city was still gritty, and you had the fashion scenes. I didn’t get to experience all of that. I was only 12 years old then.”

Burns drew from his memories growing up and wanted to write Artie as a calming force in the series.

“I grew up in a working-class house,” he says. “I felt like my friends and family were good. My sister and her friend would hang out and laugh. The guys in the neighborhood would get together and work on their old muscle cars. I just wanted to let the show be a reminder of those little things. Friends and family are important. It’s about the simple pleasures in life.”

Burns tasked himself to make the series universal.

“The idea that everyone could remember what it was like to be back home with your family and friends,” he says. “That’s what made it relatable.”

Burns also wanted Artie to be supportive of his son’s dreams.

The cast of “Bridge and Tunnel,” which airs on Epix. (KC Bailey/Epix)

“I’m a working-class kid who had a crazy dream (of being a filmmaker),” Burns says. “I got very lucky, because my parents supported my absurd dream. If they hadn’t been supportive of that, I don’t know what would have happened. Those first five years, things didn’t look like they were going to happen. I wanted Artie to support his son despite the conflict he feels.”

The show was greenlit by Epix in October for eight episodes.

The production planned to shoot in both Long Island and Manhattan.

Ed Burns in a scene from “Bridge and Tunnel.” Burns wrote, directed, produced and stars in the series. (Myles Aronowitz/Epix)

“When COVID hit, we took 20% of our budget and put that towards protocols,” Burns says. “We knew that was going to be a big chunk of our budget.”

Burns pivoted and turned the eight episodes into six scripts.

The production moved back to Long Island.

“If I could turn a scene into an exterior shot, then I did,” he says. “In a weird way, the idea of the simple pleasures theme allowed us to lean into that.”

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