August 26, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Public Morals”


PUBLIC MORALS:  Tuesday 10PM on TNT – Change the Channel

Unless its pilot turns out to be misleading, PUBLIC MORALS looks to be fairly woeful stuff.  The show’s auteur–its star as well as the series creator, writer and director–is Edward Burns, who’s become the forgotten man of American indie film.  Burns’ The Brothers McMullen won the drama prize at Sundance just a year after awards went to films by Kevin Smith and David O. Russell, but Burns’ career has languished with titles like No Looking Back, Purple Violets, Nice Guy Johnny and The Fitzgerald Family Christmas that barely saw the light of release–and not without reason.  He’s beaten the drum of dysfunctional Irish-American families so often that his ear has become tinny, and as his occasional thrillers like Ash Wednesday have shown, adding crime to his mix doesn’t help matters.

Public Morals is technically set in the mid-1960s, but aside from brief references to Bob Dylan and “hippies,” its heart is firmly in Warner Brothers gangster movies of the 1930s.  Everyone in Burns’ script, from the cops to the skells to the children, talk in exactly the same faux-hardboiled style, and it pulls down the curtain of suspended disbelief we need to accept the temporary reality of scripted storytelling.  The actors all seem to be playing dress-up.  The action revolves around an extended family with roots both in policing and crime.  Terry Muldoon (Burns) is a member of the NY Public Morals squad, charged with keeping control of the city’s gambling and prostitution.  He, like his fellow cops, aren’t so much concerned with stopping these activities as with keeping them below the public’s radar–and wetting their beaks along the way.  There isn’t much in the way of plot in the first hour, as a new young cop joins the squad, one of Terry’s cousins proves to be too trusting to an old friend who’s fresh out of jail and eager to get back into the gambling business, and Terry’s partner Charlie (Michael Rappaport) is moronic enough to believe that a young hooker (Katrina Bowden, from 30 Rock) really is a moonlighting schoolteacher.  On the home front, Terry attempts to school his class clown son by calling him an “asshole” as many times as TNT’s Standards & Practices will allow.  The first hint of an overarching storyline comes at the end, when Terry’s mobster uncle (Timothy Hutton, around just long enough to be horribly miscast) is shot down.

Burns has the veteran indie filmmaker’s skill at squeezing a a budget, and Public Morals is shot with style on genuine New York locations.  At times it can be pleasant to listen to the cast mouth their synthetic dialogue, when it comes from actors like Rappaport, Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Robert Knepper.  Nothing here, though, has any sense of reality, and there are none of the pleasures of a well-told crime saga, either.  Characters to be played by Brian Dennehy and Neal McDonough have yet to appear, so perhaps things will improve, but for now the show just sits there, looking pretty.

TNT has been trying to upgrade its portfolio with talent like Steven Bochco and Burns, but Public Morals, like Murder In the First, is weaker than its resume would suggest.  Of course, it took years for USA to find its Mr. Robot, so the process will undoubtedly go on.



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."