January 20, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Black Monday”


BLACK MONDAY:  Sunday 10PM on Showtime

Showtime and Don Cheadle didn’t look far afield for their follow-up after 5 seasons of the network’s House of Lies.  In that series, Cheadle played a fast-talking, rule-breaking business consultant whiz, while in the new BLACK MONDAY… he plays a fast-talking, rule-breaking Wall Street whiz.  (For its part, Showtime is triple-teaming itself, since the subject matter also inevitably recalls its current hit Billions.)

The shows aren’t identical.  Black Monday is a period piece that purports to be telling the story of the events that led to the October 1987 stock market crash, still the biggest 1-day drop in Wall Street history.  The tone is more broadly comedic than Lies, with cartoonish touches like having the show’s “Lehman Brothers” be identical twins (played by Ken Marino) who do non-stop twin schtick.  Still, the similarities are striking, and they go beyond Cheadle:  Regina King plays Dawn Darcy, a colleague for whom Cheadle’s Maurice Monroe has unexpressed feelings, not unlike the Kristen Bell character on Lies, and Andrew Rannells, as clueless sad-sack numbers expert Blair Pfaff, brings to mind Josh Lawson’s role on Lies.

The retread feeling is particularly odd since Black Monday was co-created by David Caspe (working with Jordan Cahan), the man behind the notably fresh Happy Endings.  (Monday features Casey Wilson, a Happy Endings star and Caspe’s real-life wife, in a prominent recurring role.)  Perhaps Caspe’s knack for weaving heart with slapstick will emerge as the series goes on, but the pilot–directed by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, not exactly known for their subtlety–plays up the 1980s silliness, with giant clouds of cocaine and a stretch Lamborghini as Maurice’s vehicle of choice.

Cheadle, King and Rannells are all worth a viewer’s attention, as is Paul Scheer, the show’s other regular as another of Maurice’s traders (he doesn’t have much of a character in the pilot).  So far, though, there’s little in Black Monday that seems worthy of them.  There’s no novelty anymore in 1980s references being milked for laughs, with the pilot alone invoking Michael Jackson, Michael Hutchence’s death, Marion Barry and Rae Dawn Chong, among others.  Nor do Caspe and Cahan seem to have anything to say about the era they’re depicting or our current one beyond the idea that unrestrained greed leads to disaster.

Black Monday aspires to a cocaine-rush energy, but before the first half-hour is over, its determined boisterousness and endless period references have begun to feel dull, and the big reveal that Maurice has a master plan that’s been guiding the events of the episode may make you groan.  One hopes that Cheadle, like his character, has something more interesting and exciting in mind than we can see, rather than another version of a character he’s already spent 5 years playing, especially since he’s an Executive Producer of the series as well as its star, and was doubtless a key reason Black Monday was produced.  If not, Season 4 of Billions–not just a smarter Wall Street story, but a funnier one–is only a few weeks away.

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."