If necessity is the mother of invention, then the parents in charge of the ‘slick period drama’ have been adopting like Brad and Angelina. With Boardwalk Empire you get cool gangsters with the hazy backdrop of Atlantic City in the 20’s. Mad Men has the sexy sleaze of 60’s businessmen on Madison Ave. Now comes Mitch Glazer’s Magic City.
The similarities between Magic City and these shows are obvious, but harping on that is too easy, and hopefully Mitch Glazer (Passion Play) is smarter than the cookie-cutter period gangster drama. So I will move past comparing Ike to Nucky, and the shitty overcast of A.C. versus the scorching sun of Miami in 1959. I will also leave alone the inevitable comparisons that come with setting your drama so close to the Mad Men era, both aesthetically and commercially. Perhaps that will allow a more objective review.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen) stars as hotelier Ike Evans. We open as Ike wakes from a nightmare with people chained to the bottom of the ocean to his waking nightmare of a union picket line threatening his New Year’s Eve celebration concert with Frank Sinatra. Fans of Grey’s Anatomy got what they wanted in the first five minutes when Ike showed off some of his white anatomy (backside only). They probably should have slow-played the gratuitous ass shot for later instead of blowing their wad with that lascivious group. The opening sequence reminds you of a James Bond film, minus the shitty pop song that usually accompanies it, with a simple sequence of ocean blue, bikinis, and sharks in the water.
Former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko (Casino Royale) plays wife to Ike and stepmother to his two sons: Danny, a bit of a romantic, and Stevie, a lot of a lothario. Ike must turn to his silent but deadly business partner Ben ‘the butcher’ Diamond (played by the chameleon-like Danny Huston) for some help with the union. Ben has just gotten married after his second wife in a row coincidentally (I’m sure) died in childbirth, to Lily (Jessica Marais). Ben is sinister in that I’m going-to-tell-you-a-story-that-is-actually-a-metaphor-for-my-wanton-cruelty kind of guy. When Ike balks at Ben’s demand that he give the rest of the hotel up for his help with the union Ben does his best Edward G. Robinson impersonation a la ‘Key Largo,’ he wants more, and only more will satisfy him, whatever more is.
Carl Franklin, who has pedigree experience with this period and style of storytelling with Devil in a Blue Dress directed the pilot. Like other shows, Magic City will interweave real-life events within the story, with the pilot episode taking place during the Cuban revolution by Che and Castro, something that effected many in South Florida during that time, and still does today. Just ask Ozzie Guillen. Yes, this show has taken the glam from this and the glitz from that along with a bit of the evil that goes along with doing the sort of business that must be done for things to get done. But the show itself is very well done.
There were certainly worse places in 1959 aside from Miami, and the period gangster drama is like sex, pizza, or Bruce Campbell: Even when it is bad it can sustain you, and I am feeling satiated.