‘Magic City’ Series Premiere Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated February 15th, 2014 at 4:25 pm,

Olga Kurylenko Jeffrey Dean Morgan Kelly Lynch Steve Strait Christian Cooke Danny Huston Magic City Starz Magic City Series Premiere Review

It seems that when creating a pilot for a new television series the creators have to make the difficult decision whether or not to skim the entire surface of a show’s concept in the first hour, or to plumb its depths at the risk of leaving some in the audience scratching their heads. When it comes to the pilot for the new Starz period drama Magic City, creator Mitch Glazer (The Recruit) clearly decided skimming was the way to go.

This is not a condemnation of the rest of the series, it is just meant to infer that, although we see a great deal of Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), there is no true sense of what, where or even when Ike’s run at the Miramar Playa actually took place. Sure, the beginning sequence tells us it’s New Year’s Eve 1958, but beyond that, all of the events carried out through the remainder of that first episode could have taken place anywhere or at any time in American history.

The fact that the era Magic City is hoping to depict is, for many reasons, a culturally rich one, yet only a hint of that is offered may be a telling one – or it may have been a victim of the attempt to insert a substantial crime element into the series’ early beginnings. Either way, it feels as though there was a glorious opportunity to detail the myriad cultures descending upon Miami at the time, and it was largely missed, overlooked for the purpose of establishing Ike as a kind of misbegotten family man who had made his deal with the devil, and the devil was coming to collect.

Yet for the entire plot set up in the first hour, there is quite a bit of mystery waiting to be resolved. And this, to an extent, is also troubling. If it was necessary that all of these little plot threads and potential storylines be established, there should at least be one significant enough for the audience to really sink their teeth into. After the first hour, however, Magic City leaves its potential viewers with a rather simple notion that Ike is more or less tied to organized crime, mostly through his partnership with Ben Diamond (Danny Huston), who helped fund the Miramar Playa to begin with.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan Olga Kurylenko Magic City Starz Magic City Series Premiere Review

The other notion we are left with concerns Ike’s two sons, Danny (Christian Cooke) and Stevie (Steven Strait).  it’s the latter who is more knowledgeable about his father’s underworld dealings. Apparently, apart from having a completely different mindset than his father and brother, Danny is also romancing a member of the hotel staff, while Stevie is engaging in a torrid romance with Ben Diamond’s new bride Lily (Jessica Marais). Stevie’s women troubles are compounded by the insinuation he’s having a hard time reconciling the fact that his father is now remarried to Vera (Olga Kurylenko).

This is all told against the backdrop that, on New Year’s Eve 1958, as the Miramar Playa is preparing to host Frank Sinatra, they are being picketed by union organizers who demand Ike unionize his workers, or they’ll eventually ruin his business. In addition to the union strife, all of Miami is captivated by the ongoing struggle of Fidel Castro to oust Batista from Cuba – the instability of the island country sees a huge influx of Cubans immigrating to southern Florida, and brings Ben Diamond with them.

So, despite all of the historical and social elements at play, Magic City chooses to focus mainly on introducing the Evans clan and their penchant for choosing the wrong women. Perhaps by playing more into Ike’s struggle and apparent history with union organizer Mike Strauss (Leland Orser, otherwise known as the unfortunate guy in the massage parlor from Se7en), the pilot could have better tapped all the aforementioned avenues of interest, saving the introduction of the Evans family for later episodes.

Not only does the pilot push these more compelling elements to the background, but they also relegate the face-off between Ike and Mike largely to off-screen dealings and a montage sequence à la The Godfather – particularly the one that saw Moe Green (Alex Rocco) take a bullet to the eye. Perhaps this was a nod to Rocco, who appears briefly as Arthur, Ike’s father, but paying an homage such as that seems like a poor way to eliminate one of the few stand out characters to be introduced in the pilot.

Danny Huston Steve Strait Jeffrey Dean Morgan Magic City Starz Magic City Series Premiere Review

Which leaves Jeffrey Dean Morgan and (the typically great) Danny Huston to fittingly demand most of the attention on screen. Morgan’s occasional affectless demeanor he perfected in Supernatural and The Losers effortlessly exudes the outwardly cool manner playing in stark contrast to the maelstrom of anxiety whirling within Ike as he struggles to keep his hotel afloat. Meanwhile, Huston brings the kind of menace he’s become so adept at portraying (to varying success) in films like The Proposition and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Clearly, the pilot is pitting Ike against Ben, which would explain the sudden dismissal of Mike, but at this point it certainly feels like there is plenty of room for both.

Perhaps the most impressive bit so far is also the impetus for the various underhanded goings on: the Miramar Playa itself. The sheer grandness of the hotel, all its luxury, from the shops, to Ike’s office, and most notably the darkened bar with a window to the Playa’s swimming pool –where Ike and Stevie appear to do their best thinking – lend an air of much-needed tangibility to the proceedings. Since 1958-59 Miami plays more of a role in theory, having the Playa to dress scenes in will extend the show’s credibility.

As the series progresses, it will hopefully deliver more on the possibilities hinted at in the pilot – there’s a lot going on in terms of change in culture and diversity, but it has hardly found its way to the screen just yet. Instead, what we are left with is a fairly serviceable crime story that likes to hint at larger societal implications, while giving them little more than a cursory glance. What the larger story is in Magic City is unclear, but there seems to be no shortage of ideas floating around – as long as the writers are willing to venture beneath the surface.

Since the series has already been greenlit for a second season, Starz seems to think Magic City will be doing just fine.

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Magic City airs Friday nights @10pm on Starz.

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  1. I’ve seen the first 3 episodes, and to be honest it’s kind of mediocre. The main characters just don’t work, you have the father played by Jeffery Dean Morgan, and the guy just creeps me out. He’s always smiling like he loves himself, and his acting is just aweful. Then you have the mob boss, can’t remember his name, but he just comes across as a tool, he’s not even scary, not sure if he’s hamming it up or just…. f##k it he’s just crap.

    Well, as I said 3 episodes in and already considering stopping watching it, the story (if it has one) is to thin, no real continuity and bad acting throughout.

    My advice, you wanna watch a good crime drama, go out and rent the last 2 seasons of Boardwalk, it pust this show to shame.

    • Wooooo..I agree with you so much. You basically said what I wanted to say. It’s basically porn and like you said TERRIBLE ACTING. I just think ppl like the way the characters look and style rather than actually looking at the horrible storyline. Cudos to you my friend. Boardwalk Empire is such a good crime drama cant wait til Season 3.

  2. I can’t decide about this show. There’s only been 1 episode shown so far so I’ll give it a couple more before deciding.

  3. The series reminds me of the movie Casino.One of my favorites by the way and the music is just awesome!!

  4. First off that shot of all the people in cement overshoes at the bottom of that quarry was urber creepy. It’s one thing as a bad dream, but then you catch on that it’s more than that…..

    I kind of liked the dirction this appeard to be going…Sort of a Sopranos type series, but time will tell. One thing I wasn’t too crazy about was so many of the side stories with the differen’t relationships or quickies that really had nothing leading up to them. They were like a quickie themselves that left me wondering who the hell this or that person was and what the hell was that all about? Hopefully they progress in a manner that makes things clearer.

    As for that mob bosses new wife…Ya right? It’s obvious she’s part of a set up, but that really should have played out a while so it could be sprung all at once and maybe catch us by surprize….Kind of makes me wonder what the director thinks he’s going to achieve here….

  5. I saw the first 3 episodes its deff entertaining I love that era…watching the trailer I was expecting something like Mad Men meets Boardwalk Empire meets Sopranos but its not as good as I thought it would be I’m not sure if its the writing or the characters but something is keeping it from being a cohesive hit, hopefully it gets better they need to delve more into the Mafia dealings all the s*** with the two sons is boring as hell the only real interesting plotline is Ben Diamond although I might be biased cuz Danny Huston is great.

  6. I watched the premiere after the Spartacus finale and it was such a change in pace and mood that I had to watch it again a few days later. I liked the opening scene of the bodies in the ocean. I think this has potential but will take a few episodes to pick up and get into.

  7. Finally: a believeable, historically accurate show, written for adults, set in magnificent fifties Miami Beach! I grew up on a street off Biscayne Blvd, was in my early twenties in 1959, so I can tell you the series very well represents Miami during that period. It was the most sought-after destination for beautiful people all over the world. The hotels were fabulous beyond description, and the hoteliers demanded the highest order of quality and fine service in every lavish aspect, nothing less was acceptable. The world’s greatest entertainers performed to packed hotel ballrooms and clubs nightly. This series is exceptionally reminiscent of better times, and serves to transport those of us who revere and respect the past to a better place!

  8. Having spent lots of time in Miami in the 50s, I can attest to the show’s authenticity and attention to detail with impunity; Miami is beautifully, tastefully, perfectly depicted. And, get over it – historical accuracy shouldn’t be altered for the PC crowd. The actors are superb – excellent casting. Something refreshingly new [yet "old-school"], captivating, super-cool and entertaining to look forward to, appealing to those of us who aren’t interested in police procedurals, vampires, sci-fi/fantasy and/or inane attempts at sit-com silliness [nor politically correct nonsense.] Many thanks to Mitch Glazer for creating something interesting and worth watching!

  9. I must say, after 4 episodes, I find this one of the betrer series on TV. Not sure why all the critics here? Show is great!

  10. Inaccurate. 13 yr old girls did not have Bat Mitzvahs inthe 50s. They had confirmations at age 15. other details wrong too.

  11. I just got into this show last weekend, and I must say I am presently surprised. It is way better than I thought. I love any shows/movie with a mob like story. Especially when the characters are sexy and good looking. Ben Diamond is creepy and twisted and I think it makes for good television. He is not your typical mob boss. I am almost done with the 1st season and about to start the 2nd.