April 3, 2012


More articles by »
Written by: Mitch Salem
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and production of episodes for the regular season:  a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover in the off-season) give plenty of notes, both helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads.  The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting and even story.  Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular episodes of this year’s new series as well.
Previously… on MAGIC CITY:  In 1959 Miami Beach, the women are gorgeous, the booze is potent, and the cigarette smoking is unrestrained.  At the center of it all is the Miramar Playa luxury hotel, operated and co-owned by Ike Evans.  He’s got his spectacular second wife Vera (Olga Kurylenko), loyal sons Stevie (Steven Strait) and Danny (Christian Cooke), a playboy and law student respectively, and soon-to-be bat-mitzvahed daughter Lauren (Taylor Blackwell).  Life is good.  The only problem:  in order to finance the hotel, Ike had to partner with bloodthirsty gangster Ben Diamond (Danny Huston), whose self-explanatory nickname is “Butcher.”  And while Ben has been a fairly silent partner, that’s because he’s mostly been concerned with his Havana investments.  Now that there’s some unpleasantness over in Cuba, Ben is back in town and while he can be useful at times (he made sure a strike didn’t disrupt Frank Sinatra’s New Year’s Eve shows at the hotel), he’s making no secret of his desire to take over the Miramar Playa.  And it can’t be good news that son Stevie has finally fallen in love… with the Butcher’s wife Lily (Jessica Marais).

Episodes 2 & 3:  Like all the other shows that partake of Mad Men‘s aesthetic, Magic City isn’t remotely comparable to Matthew Weiner’s complex masterpiece.  On the evidence of its first 3 hours, City is just a slow-burning melodrama, but reasonably diverting on that level. 

In the show’s 2d and 3d episodes (posted online and for VOD by Starz even before the series has its official premiere on April 6).  it becomes clear that the event that will overshadow the season is Ben Diamond’s permanent solution to Ike’s labor problems:  his murder of local union chief Mike Strauss (Leland Orser)  The repercussions of that act are everywhere:  the DA is investigating Mike’s disappearance in a bid to crack down on the mob (including trying to leverage Danny’s legal ambitions), and Ike, who was a friend of Strauss’, guiltily tries to help out his family.  Meanwhile, Ike both owes Ben and wants the gangster out of his life.  This leads him to contact his deceased wife’s sister Meg Bannock (Kelly Lynch), whose family had originally owned the land on which the hotel is built, and who Ike is hoping will buy out Ben.  (Meg may also be half in love with Ike.)  

Magic City remains visually wonderful even on its regular series budget, but the plotting is on the obvious side.  How bad a guy is Ben Diamond?  He’s so bad that he literally shoots the family dog in front of his wife because the dog’s barking was interfering with his phone call.  We’ve already had the scene where he sweats Stevie over some unexplained issue, and Stevie thinks he must know about the affair, but it turns out to be about something else entirely.  (And then the scene where Ben realizes Stevie is hiding something more serious than what they were talking about.)  Even though Lily has already told Stevie twice to burn the compromising photos he took of her, Stevie’s just letting them sit around so they can be discovered in a later episode.  Meanwhile, the hotel is hosting a “Miss 1959” beauty pageant that has all the story beats (drunken politician making a play for one of the contestants) you’d expect.  And while Ike’s wife Vera gets much more screen time in the post-pilot episodes, apart from being beautiful and loyal, there still doesn’t seem to be much to her. 

Magic City appears to lack the thematic and narrative ambition of TV’s other big-time period gangster show, Boardwalk Empire.  (It is, however, more quickly paced than Boardwalk sometimes is.)  It’s not clear if there’s going to be much of an audience for this–a “sneak preview” of the pilot after the season finale of Spartacus only managed a 0.2 rating, down 70% from the 0.7 for Spartacus, although in fairness it wasn’t widely promoted (and the show has already been renewed for Season 2).  Nevertheless, Magic City is fine viewing for Friday nights, a lusciously imagined, well-acted potboiler with little on its mind beyond providing a relaxing hour in its private cabana.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."