Magic City: Season 1
The most obvious benefit from the perceptive of the audience with the trend of premium cable networks producing original weekly programming is the liberal levels set by their Standards and Practices Department. The inclusion of sexually explicit material, nudity, mature language and adult themes but there is a lot more to this practice than that. One factor is the ability to explore themes that appeal to smaller audiences. This trend for niche programming has opened up the stories to a whole different spectrum of story teller. This is not to imply that these series have miniscule audiences; some have achieved significant fan bases. The point is the cable networks are experimental, able to take a chance of something different and potentially incredible. The Starz network, like HBO and Showtime, started as a movie only channel but now that they have followed the others Starz has entered the fray with panache. Their shows thus far have exhibited certain off beat charm that is exceptionally entertaining. While the take widely utilized premises there is a certain Starz quality to the production. The series reviewed here, ‘Magic City’ is a reasonable example. The foundation of the series is a period production of one of the most enduringly popular genres in the history of entertainment; the crime thriller. Throughout history good, law abiding citizens crave the vicarious thrill of using an entertainment venue to take them on a journey in the shadowy world of the criminal. With the constraints and protection of civilized behavior and the codex of laws that define and frame it the outlaw’s life has allows held a certain glamorized forbidden appeal that seems to hold the audience enthralled. In this case the characters are fictionalized based on a mélange of actual criminals. If the characters are not literally true then the next best way for the writers to proceed is to set the action in a real time and place. ‘Magic City’ chose a particularly fascinating place, Miami, in one of its most pivotal periods in history, the dawn of the sixties, soon after the Communist revolution in Cuba. Less than ninety miles from this American city the political struggle of this tiny island nation would drastically affect the city’s structure and temperament.
The foundation of the story is a long lived favorite; a big time local operator, Isaac "Ike" Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is the owner and very public face of the luxurious ‘Miramar Playa’ hotel in Miami. The establishment is sufficiently popular to be able to book some of the biggest names in show business. This is rapidly demonstrated with the appearance of Frank Sinatra for their 1959 New Year’s Eve Gala. With a new decade now in site Ike is facing a serious set of problems. The town is on edge due to the Communist revolution a few miles away placing the Soviet lap dog literally in their backyard. Closer to home the hotel employees are threatening to unionize which if accomplished would destroy the upcoming event. He further complicates his life by bribing government offices to influence their decision to legalize gambling. This would permit him to open a casino and hopefully competed with the lucrative clientele of Las Vegas. To finance his dreams Ike made the notoriously bad choice in lending sources; Ben Diamond (Danny Huston). This mobbed up tough guy has the reputation of compounding the fractures instead of the interest and the penalties for missing a payment can be extremely painful if not outright deadly. His nom de guerre of ‘The Butcher’ is not a reference to popular cuts of meats. Ike’s personal life is kept full of their own issues. His much younger trophy wife, Vera (Olga Kurylenko) and pair of adult sons Stevie (Steven Strait), the rogue and more sensitive Danny (Christian Cooke), do their best to keep thing lively. Added to the mix is the free spirited daughter Lauren (Taylor Blackwell). Danny has fallen for one of the hotel maids, Mercedes Lazaro (Dominik Garcia-Lorido); creating some crossed ethnic plot devices awhile Stevie is enamored of Lily Diamond (Jessica Marais). With a name like that she has to be a gangster’s girlfriend which is, of course, the case here. Lily is with Ben.
There are an unusually large number of similarities with previous films and cable renditions of the mobster archetype. The gangster has been a staple of the American entertainment scene for a very long time gaining an unshakeable position during the Great Depression media fascination with the trope. In this series what they lack in originality they largely make up for in style. The setting, costumes and mood if not historically accurate, which it does frequently achieve, is true to the stylized look and feel expected by the audience. This is generally assisted by the premium tier channel status afforded to the Starz network by the FCC. It is able to compete with the more salacious elements of storytelling popularized by HBO and Showtime. The level of adult language, violence and sexually explicitness is comparable. It is not entirely gratuitous; this is mature programming fully intended for an adult audience. With that stated, the series is a compelling drama with extremely well defined and portrayed characters; Starz is maintaining a reputation for quality on that front.
The series was created by Mitch Glazer, perhaps best known for providing the screenplays for Bill Murray’s Scrooged’ and the 1998 version of Great Expectations’ that featured Gwyneth Paltrow this is a stretch of his resume but the indications based on this initial season are quite promising. The series will mostly appeal to the diehard crime family fan but the potential to achieve a broader spectrum of viewers.