Saturday, April 7, 2012

'Magic City' fails to cast a spell

Starz's newest series is Magic City, which officially premiered last night with "The Year of the Fin." Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Grey's Anatomy, Watchmen) runs a successful hotel in Miami Beach. But on New Year's Eve in 1958, his business is threatened by striking workers. Refusing to meet their demands because, after all, Ike has Sinatra coming, he turns to a mobster named Ben Diamond (Danny Huston, John Adams, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) to clean up the mess. Ben does so, however, what is the true cost to Ike of such an arrangement?

First of all, the setting looks fantastic. Period buildings, cars, and clothing come across as pitch perfect, really helping to capture the spirit and tone of the piece. All of the cigarettes and cigars being smoked add to the atmosphere, and there is no shortage of eye candy, both males and females, often nude. Morgan is great as the complicated protagonist who is essentially a good man doing bad things when pushed into a corner. Huston chews the scenery like a pro, making his villain deliciously evil.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of negatives about "The Year of the Fin." For one thing, most of the dialogue and music points to a cheesy noir style. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, except that Magic City takes itself way too seriously for cliché or goofiness to resonate properly. Many of the characters aren't distinctive or layered, especially the women. This may change in time, but that's not how they appear in the first episode.

It's tempting to give Magic City the benefit of the doubt. Like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, the pilot is slow, setting things up with a few tasty bits to entice, but overall, not much movement, story-wise. And yet, those other series have established themselves as excellently made period pieces that grow in excitement, popularity, and quality with each season. Thus, one might expect Magic City to follow that path.

However, what's working against Magic City is the overall sense of a lack of depth. Much like the world the story takes place in, there is plenty of glitz and magic, but is there anything beneath it? Like hearing Sinatra but not seeing him, Magic City is like a facade of something great, but look behind it and you will see the sound stage. This is a first impression, and is subject to change (or not) depending on future installments.

Watch Magic City Fridays at 10 p.m. ET on Starz.
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