‘Mob City’ Series Premiere Review

Published 10 months ago by , Updated February 16th, 2014 at 9:25 am,

Jon Bernthal Mob City Season 1 Episode 1 Mob City Series Premiere Review

[This is a review of Mob City season 1, episodes 1 & 2. There will be SPOILERS.]

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The name Frank Darabont comes with a lot of history, following his successful adaptation of The Walking Dead for AMC, which was, of course, followed by his rather public dismissal from the show and, eventually, his comments regarding said dismissal and those who did the dismissing.

In between leaving zombies behind and having some biting remarks about it, Darabont returned to television to make the ’40s-set cops-and-gangsters drama Mob City, bringing along Jon Bernthal (Shane) and Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale) – which, among other things, demonstrated how any lingering hard feelings from his time at AMC did not extend to those he worked closest with.

What’s surprising, then, is that, despite having such a recognizable talent behind the camera, and such familiar faces popping up on-screen, TNT has essentially chosen to burn off the first six-episode season, by running it in three two-hour blocks from now until December 18th. Perhaps there were signs of this coming, as the news regarding the series’ production and its casting process – which managed to bring in Ed Burns, Neal McDonough, Milo Ventimiglia, and a guest appearance by Simon Pegg – went from a torrent to a trickle, and then hardly a peep was heard until the network announced the premiere date along with its generic new title, replacing L.A. Noir – which was too often confused with the video game L.A. Noire – with Mob City.

The thing is, though, this isn’t a series that necessarily deserves to be cast off and shipped to the no-man’s-land that is the pre-holiday television schedule. Now that’s not to say that Mob City is a misunderstood masterpiece, or that its quality far exceeds its unfortunate timeslot – rather, this is a show that, despite a somewhat clunky and unclear beginning, seems to be up to something that could turn into the kind of entertaining, gritty drama anyone who’s read L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City was likely expecting.

Mob City Cast Season 1 Episode 1 Mob City Series Premiere Review

The series begins with the kind of prototypical weary voiceover from the central protagonist, Det. Joe Teague (Bernthal), as he describes the three young criminals who would later go on to become legendary gangsters in the City of Angels. In this case, he’s talking about Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, and Sid Rothman. And while it opens the series with some loud bursts of violence and bright pyrotechnics, the set-up is, frankly, a little superfluous, considering the way the program then veers into an antiquated discussion of moral gray areas, by pointing out nobody wears white hats or black hats anymore; guys like Joe Teague wear gray hats. Again, parts of the series are clunky – the unnecessary voiceover being one of them – but they don’t completely overshadow the parts that do work right away.

And what works early on is the blackmail plot involving Simon Pegg’s down-on-his-luck comedian, Hecky Nash, and the series’ apparent femme fatale, Jasmine Fontaine (Alexa Davalos). There’s a well-written, deliberately and frustratingly opaque exchange between Nash and Teague that would have served as a much better cold open to the series than the lengthy and excessive intros via voiceover, especially since the show is interested in playing up the conflicting morality of its characters, positioning Joe ‘Gray Hat’ Teague between the morally bankrupt Bugsy Siegel (Burns) and his crew, and the morally upright Captain Bill ‘The Boy Scout’ Parker (McDonough) and the men on the L.A.P.D.’s gangster task force.

Early on, Darabont manages to weave all the various characters through the nexus that is Nash, and the damning photographs he has somehow acquired, which are worth $50,000 to Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke). The connections between characters only get thornier after Nash’s successful bid to leave Los Angeles and all his debts behind earns him two bullets in the back and one in the face from Det. Teague. As it turns out, Ned Stax (Ventimiglia), Teague’s former war buddy and current mobbed-up lawyer for Siegel, set up Nash’s introduction to his would-be protector, knowing what part Jasmine Fontaine played in Teague’s past and, perhaps, his future.

Ed Burns in Mob City Season 1 Episode 1 Mob City Series Premiere Review

For his part, Bernthal is an interesting choice as the lead; his coarse everyman quality lends Det. Teague a stony, rough exterior that’s part and parcel with his character who is part Sam Spade, part Wendell ‘Bud’ White. He’s a detective who’ll kill Nash to protect his ex-wife from a life on the run from a vicious gangster, but Teague’s also a “good cop” who won’t take a pay-off from that same criminal. As far as moral gray areas go, this one’s a doozy, and while Bernthal plays it fairly low-key, letting the bigger performances around him set the tone, Ventimiglia’s Ned Stax suffers a bit from laying the flashy sleaze of a powerful mob lawyer on as liberally as he does his hair product. Both characters could benefit from having their edges smoothed out, but with only four more episodes to go, it’s tough to see just what level of development can be worked into either one before the end.

Because the show’s roster is a mix between real-life and fictional characters, Mob City feels at certain points a bit like a mix of Boardwalk Empire and L.A. Confidential – though it’s not quite as gorgeous as the former. Like its mobbed-up brethren, the most interesting characters here are the one’s created for the series. And while Bernthal and Ventimiglia are serviceable in their roles, the show benefits most from its supporting cast, especially DeMunn’s Det. Hal Morrison, who (along with Pegg) gets the chance to deliver many of the show’s best lines.

Ultimately, that’s the series’ one clear strong suit: Darabont plainly has a knack for writing hardboiled dialogue that doesn’t make the characters sound like they’re reading from a copy of Sin City. However, while the show sounds like a hardboiled noir, and looks like one too, aside from a few interesting characters, and a suitably twisty plot, Mob City‘s noir sensibilities wind up feeling like they’re just resting on the surface – there’s a lack of depth early on that makes the series difficult to endorse entirely.

This is something that could certainly change, as the series cruises through the next four episodes. And because there is some potential in what’s already been put on-screen, perhaps that’s reason enough to stick with the series to the end.

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Mob City continues next Wednesday with ‘Red Light’ & ‘His Banana Majesty’ starting @9pm on TNT.

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  1. I liked it. nothing special in my opinion but definitely worth a watch. good casting I thought Simon Pegg was fantastic and the guy who plays Mickey Cohen looks eerily like the real Cohen. as for the style, it was descent. I’m an old fashioned kind of guy who likes his Noir in Black and White with morally questionable anti-heroes with raspy voices and a strong right hook :).

  2. Atmospheric crime noir. Without the noir. Or really the atmosphere, either.

    Actually, even the crime part fell flat.

    Has all the elements you’d think it needs. Yet the writing, directing, and acting fell utterly flat & contrived. Like anxiously opening a can of soda when you’re thirsty, only to discover there’s no bubbles.

    And a really weak supporting cast.

    Simon Pegg was the one spot of brilliance in the whole thing; I can hardly believe he was doing that accent himself. Almost sounded like a dub. Great performance.

    • @Mardock.
      Everything except “brilliance” is spot on.

      Darabont plainly has a knack for writing hardboiled dialogue that makes the characters sound like they’re reading from a copy of Sin City.

      This was about as lame and contrived as “Magic City”, that was mercifully put out of my misery. And Meyer Lansky in LA? right. Bugsy is boring. and really, a cop who kills a guy in cold blood, in the back, no less? get the front door.
      this show might not be filmed in black and white, but it’s characters sure are.

      Never heard of no “Sid Rothman” either.

  3. Ed Burns KILLED IT in Alex Cross. Said no one ever…..

  4. i love the cast in this

  5. The show proves that writing noir is not as easy as it seems. If true noir is cool, this show is trying to be cool. The difference is that in good noir the viewer cares about the main characters in spite of their hard exterior. Below that exterior is heart. LA Confidential and Mullholland Falls meet this challenge. Mob City does not. At least not yet. It’s too forced and artificial. The setup of good, bad, with gray in the middle is noir, but to explain it to the viewer in so many words is not only not noir, but as close to a sin against the art form as I have ever seen. That stuff should have been left on the floor of the editing room. The show looks good, and I could smell the lit up smokes, but the bottomline is that Noir, without cutting edge editing, is going to miss the mark.

  6. Once I read that TNT had essentially wrote this off by changing it to a mini-series and airing it in early December I figured we were in for one big mess which was kind of heart breaking for me because I’m a card carrying member of the ‘I love Frank Darabont’ fan club.
    So maybe it’s because my expectations became so low that I though the 2 episodes that aired Wednesday were OK but I still am pretty bummed about it.
    The highlight for me was Simon Pegg. While I’ve loved his movies and TV with Edgar Wright and thought he was funny in the Mission Impossible movies and to a lesser extent Star Trek I’ve never been one to say he was a great actor.
    My opinion changed quite a bit after watching this though. His monologue at the end of the first episode was brilliant and the best “acting” I can ever remember from him.

    SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

    Sadly though once he was shot most of my hope for the series went out the window.
    Because there’s only 4 more episodes and most shows are taking the holiday break I’ll finish the series out but I imagine after that I’ll forget it pretty quickly.
    Maybe the silver lining after this will be that after his experience with The Walking Dead and now Mob City (god that title is really awful) Mr. Darabont will start making movies again. With a resume that includes Shawshank, The Green Mile and The Mist his time away from the big screen has been far to long.

  7. I would have preferred Mob City filmed in B/W-this was certainly not the caliber of the Godfather-I am of the age that appreciates real film noir-not attempts at trying to attain the classic film noir of the 1940′s with people walking around with Brylcreem doused in their hair, or smoking cigarettes, Think of the Burt Lancaster film The Killers, and you will understand- maybe even some of those noir films that Dick Powell made,and then you will understand.