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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Magic City fails to spark

Starz's Magic City brought its first season to a close this weekend with "Time and Tide." Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is arrested for murder. Vera (Olga Kurylenko) has to try to save Ike's business deal, after he is escorted out of a meeting in handcuffs. Mob boss Ben Diamond (Danny Huston) catches Ike's son, Stevie (Steven Straight), having an affair with Ben's wife, Lily (Jessica Marais). Victor (Yul Vazquez) and Mercedes (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) deal with the death of a loved one. And none of this really excites.

There is something lacking about Magic City that is hard to pinpoint. It certainly isn't the sets or costumes, because the series presents a rich, vintage environment that looks stunning. It isn't the acting. Jeffrey Dean Morgan deserves the Emmys he won for Grey's Anatomy, and he is surrounded by a believable cast. And it's not lack of plot twists, because there is murder, intrigue, sex, and secrets aplenty. Then what exactly is it?

The simple truth is, even with all the right ingredients, television shows can still come out lackluster. As mentioned in my review of the first episode, there is just an utter lack of depth. Everything feels false, or slightly off. The tone and mood presented in each episode don't quite add up.

Take, for example, the Ben Diamond story in "Time and Tide." This is a truly murderous man, who thinks nothing of piling up the bodies in a quarry. There is some serious suspense when naked pictures of Lily and Stevie begin circulating. But there is little chance that Stevie will be killed off, at least not so early in Magic City's run, not the way the series sets itself up. Then, Ben actually does see the pictures! Instead of killing Lily and Stevie, though, he makes them have sex while he watches. Now, seeing as how he gets off on this, it's an interesting twist for a complex character, even though this is something Lily's character should have touched on before. But the Ben Diamond that has been presented would then kill these two afterwards, rather than risk his secret being exposed, or allowing them to get away with the betrayal. He doesn't.

Another thing that's odd is when Mercedes decides to quit her job as a maid and become a Pan Am stewardess. Besides feeling like she's about to spin-off into the canceled ABC series Pan Am, it's something not set up for her character. Then she sleeps with Danny (Christian Cooke), even though she's about to leave. And instead of leaving before the end of the hour, she stays and grieves her mother's death. So her entire store in "Time and Tide" is just convoluted and nonsensical.

The best representation of what I'm getting at is when Ike is arrested. Vera takes over the presentation, in a show of strength for her character. But then she is asked if she is seriously going to continue with this, after they all just watched Ike be led away. It's not like there's anything else she can or should be, but the entire thing is surreal, and just doesn't add up to a gripping, driven scene, as it should.

These false notes are what kills the series. It's still interesting and somewhat entertaining, despite an often slow pace. But it just doesn't quite resonate the way it should, or the way its peers on other networks do. Magic City could be something great, and because it's been given a second season, it may still be. Yet, the lack of risk taking and true authenticity are hurting it, and there needs to be some reworking if it is to be great.

Will I tune in next season? Yes. There is a slight draw here, and it's one that will hopefully be built upon.  And it's still better than a lot of what is on TV. It just hasn't met expectations yet.

Magic City will return next year to Starz. If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Article first published as Magic City fails to spark @TheTVKing.com

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