Based on looks alone, Starz's new show Magic City should go right to the head of the class. Trouble is, the look of the show about a Miami Beach hotel in 1959 is virtually the only good thing about the series, premiering Friday.
Let's dispense with this as quickly as possible. Jewish family owns a big hotel in Miami. Isaac "Ike" Evans is a widower who has married a sexy younger woman. One son is a party boy who's mussing the sheets with the sexy wife of a Jewish mob figure known as The Butcher. The other son wants to be Bobby Kennedy. Specific plot elements include Ike having to turn over half the hotel ownership to The Butcher to halt a labor strike.
The plot is one telegraphed event after another, so that the only enjoyment to be found in sitting through this thing is timing when a blatantly preordained event will occur. You might want to make a drinking game out of it, but be prepared to be blotto in 20 minutes.
A lot of money went into the exquisite set, period cars and music, and the costumes are stunning. Equally stunning, when they aren't speaking, are some of the cast members, who are often to be found romping around without any costumes.
But the writing is a painfully failed attempt at replicating the dialogue of a 1940s noir film or classic crime fiction. You could tell the show creator to can the writer, except that they are the same guy: Mitch Glazer. Even film director Carl Franklin can't breathe life into the first episode. Subsequent episodes are pushed grudgingly along by co-executive producer Ed Bianchi, among others.
Here's just a sampling of some of the groaners that grace this graceless dog of a show:
Ike making out with his wife, Vera, when they hear the rain start to come down outside the bedroom. Ike starts to break the embrace to head for the patio.
"The cushions are getting wet," he says.
"That makes two of us," Vera says ... heaving.
Bad son Stevie encounters The Butcher's wife, Lily, on the beach at night.
"Who are you?" he growls, their bodies grinding away.
"The wrong woman," she answers ... heaving.
Then there's the inspired moment when Ike has to go to The Butcher for help with the union problem and ends up having to give up half his hotel in the bargain. That reminds The Butcher of a story. Maybe you've heard it? The frog and the scorpion.
Really? What's next? The tortoise and the hare?
Anyway, after telling the all too familiar parable, The Butcher announces: "In the end, Ike, we are what we are. Think about that as we swim across the river of life together."
We listen ... hurling.
This kind of neo-noir stuff can be done well. Guys like Nick Pileggi, Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy manage to make the words not only sing, but mean something and sound credible. Glazer can't. As predictable and overused as the plot is, Magic City could have been at least minimally watchable with some attempt at realistic character development and conversations that didn't sound as though they came out of a '50s blue movie made in an Encino rumpus room.
The main cast, for the record, includes Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Ike, Olga Kurylenko as Vera, Alex Rocco as Ike's dad, Arthur, Steven Strait as bad son Stevie, Christian Cooke as good son Danny, Danny Huston as Ben "The Butcher" Diamond and Jessica Marais as his wife, Lily. Huston is so bad, he makes his half-sister look good chewing scenery every week in Smash.
The best performances are delivered by the set and costumes. They have the best lines, too.