Monday, May 28, 2012

The Show that Could...Not

I know it's jumping the gun a little bit to write a review of a show when the season is not quite over yet, but I figure giving it 90% of a season to turn into something is enough.  To that end, here are my thoughts on Starz's Magic City.

I was frankly excited to see this show proposed because it's a near-perfect premise: Boardwalk Empire meets Mad Men.  Honestly, what could possibly be more watchable than that?! And the trailers that Starz bombarded me with seemed to back that up.  It looked slick and thrilling and snazzy and exciting...all the things I've come to expect from a Premium-Channel Series.  But, I guess HBO set the bar too high or Starz just can't seem to find the quality of writers a show like this absolutely requires.  Let's face it: a Boardwalk Empire/Mad Men show needs and deserves a Martin Scorsese-caliber expertise; anything less is just sad.  That's why Magic City is just..not there.

First up, the main character Ike Evans:

this guy is dull-as-toast, despite the sharks he's swimming with.  Evans is written as a stand-up businessman--at least when he's not taking money from gangsters--who just wants to have the most successful hotel in Miami.  We're supposed to see him as a poor-boy-made-good who is trying hard to keep his nose above water and navigate the seamy-personalities that are attracted by success.  It's just too bad that Evans seems to be failing at that all of sudden.  We're given the impression that he's been amazingly successful up until now, but for some very hazy reason he's borrowed $100k from a crazy local gangster.  Is it to pay a mortgage? Is it to pay the taxes on the giant, white, post-modern monstrosity he's built?  We don't know.  But we do know that whatever Evans needed the money for, it only required $55,000, because he blows $45,000 on a boxing match he thought was rigged but actually wasn't.  Being in debt to the tune of $55k to a violent nut-job is bad enough..why voluntarily make it $100k?
     And almost as an aside, the writers seem to want to make his (and other characters') Jewishness a "thing"--as if they're trying to say, "it's Florida, you know *wink wink*".  Unfortunately, Jeffery Dean Morgan and the actors who play his sons are all about as Jewish as bacon on white bread...and thus, the writing for that is half-hearted, a bit confused, and never comes off (see also, Cubanness as a "thing" that never happens).
     And since we're on Jeffery Dean Morgan: this man is unarguably a really tasty piece of eye candy (I mean, just look at him up there!), but he has the Keanu-Reeves Disorder--the man emotes like a block of wood.  When I found that out, I became a little depressed.  Morgan's so nice to stare at, but if this piece of work is anything to go by, he's a crappy actor!  Maybe he should stick with overblown action flicks with miniscule plots. You don't really need emotional range for overblown action flicks with miniscule plots--something Keanu learned (hello, Matrix!).

Next up, is that crazy gangster loan shark I mentioned above, Ben "the Butcher" Diamond:

This is actually an interesting character; someone with the moniker, "the Butcher", can't help but be diverting..I would hope.  This character is an attention-getter because the writers made him as mentally balanced as Henry VIII. He's filthy rich, locally powerful, and a dangerous pervert with a weird kind of God complex.  Ben Diamond is quite obviously under-medicated, so you've got to wonder why someone as level-headed as Evans is supposed to be would borrow a huge chunk of change from THIS guy.  It's also obvious that Danny Huston is having a lot of fun playing this role and is to be congratulated for shaping an unbalanced, larger-than-life, yet still believable character prone to petulant outbursts of violence from the precious little good writing dedicated to Diamond.  ..And now I no longer want to run into Danny Huston in a dark alley.

Another major character is Ike's wife, Vera Evans:

overly gorgeous, though oddly approachable/relate-able (a feat if ever there was one), and you gotta love the Russian accent on a Romanian character--because on tv it's all the same...but, at least it's not an English accent.  Vera Evans was a showgirl Ike met in Cuba (pre-Magic City backstory) and now she's playing Miami first lady with visions of state dinners that she just can't seem to pull off because Jackie Kennedy keeps ducking the invites.  This subplot is flimsy, a bit silly, and entirely unimportant to the main story; but Olga Kurylenko manages to carry it with a pleasant bit of classy dignity (she was a Bond girl, after all).

Next we have the Evans boys, Stevie and Danny: there's nothing much here at all.  First up, Stevie Evans

The oldest one, Stevie, is selfishly dumb, a definite fuck-up, and possibly a sex addict--what other explanation could there be for his engaging in a torrid (not to mention, mortally dangerous) affair with Ben "the Butcher" Diamond's latest wife?  The writers made this character head-shakingly stupid and this "affair" subplot gets launched with all the subtlety of a pie to the face: their eyes slam into each other..and then they slam into each other--in dressing rooms and hair salons--for the rest of the season.  Apparently, the point of this is to keep us waiting around for these two to be caught and tortured to death by her insane husband, while being entertained with gratuitous soft-core in the meantime. This has been going on since the very first episode. Yawn.

Then there's Danny Evans, who is as boring as khaki pants.

He's the "good one" and is smart only compared to suicidal Stevie. Danny's in college with aspirations of law school because he doesn't want to do things the street-way that Ike and Stevie follow; and so the brothers clash.  This trope is so used up, it's a hollowed out husk of its former dramatic self.  Not to mention the fact that the writers have made Danny so virginally Boy-Scout you half expect him to sprout Captain Marvel's costume at any moment.   

The last important character is Jack Klein:

here is the only other character actually worth watching (aside from "the Butcher").  Klein is your standard ruthless prosecutor, which could have been tedious--and very nearly was--except for the inconspicuous nuance that Matt Ross brings to this role.  Ross portrays Klein as cutthroat, instead of as a hard-hitting do-gooder.  The writers can be credited with making this character competitive, but smart enough to play the game very well.  This is possibly the only rather well-written (comparatively speaking) subplot.  Klein goes after Evans to get to Diamond and is using Danny--and everyone else--to do it.  Klein doesn't just want power, he wants to win.  I get the feeling that Klein knows it's all a giant chess game, but he's the only one that sees the board. He'll do whatever it takes to beat his opponents, but not to an idiotically self-destructive extent. He obviously believes he's smarter than everyone around him and he's proving it.  At this point, I'm willing to keep watching just to see this guy win.  *and, not to put too fine a point on it, Big Love's Matt Ross was the perfect choice to play a competitive control-freak*

After all of that, I hope I managed to illustrate some of what is to blame for this sadly lackluster show.  Starz has tried--and failed--with other overtly serious shows that couldn't deliver (Camelot comes to mind). And Starz has also delivered a mystifyingly successful, though embarrassingly gratuitous, MMA-trainwreck of a series (*ahem* Spartacus).

Magic City was supposed to be the network's introduction to serious adulthood/intelligent entertainment, but the one-off premium channel just can't seem to pull in and hire the great writers necessary to accomplish this.  This is yet another example that Starz is not yet a generic HBO (unlike Showtime, with its Tudors and Borgias successes).  I really and truly wanted to love this show.  I hung on after the dreadfully dull pilot in the hopes that I would just come to like the show.  Then I hung on because I wanted to see Diamond go completely off the deep end while Klein cleaned house.  I was not hate-watching this (that was Spartacus), but I was watching this.  *shakes head*  Maybe that's Starz's secret: it's not what it could be, so you stick around to see what all it wasn't supposed to be.    

1 comment:

  1. Were we watching the same show. I loved it and can't wait for season 2