December 19, 2013

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Mob City”


Frank Darabont has had a busy couple of weeks, although not necessarily in a good way.  He launched TNT’s MOB CITY, his first project since being thrown off AMC’s The Walking Dead after less than two seasons as creator/showrunner, to ratings that started out as disappointing and only got worse.  Then, earlier this week, he (and his agency CAA) filed suit against AMC, claiming that in licensing Walking Dead to itself as production studio and network, AMC had artificially incurred massive deficits that would at the very least delay any profit participation payments to Darabont for years to come–even though the show is the single biggest hit in the history of cable television.  (Essentially the allegation is that AMC as a network is paying AMC the production company a far lower license fee for the right to air the series than any outside network would be paying for it.)  In addition, he claims that the reason AMC cut him loose from Walking Dead is to avoid having to make payments to him that would have become contractually due had he served two full seasons.  These kinds of claims aren’t unknown when a network’s in-house production company produces a giant hit, and the odds are strong that like the other similar lawsuits, this one will  never see the inside of a courtroom, since the parties will settle before either side risks a jury decision on such precedential issues.  Then again, AMC is new to these kinds of cases (it’s never had a hit like this), so who knows.

On the plus side, sort of, Darabont won’t have to worry about the profits on Mob City, because there probably won’t be any.  Although the series technically aired its “season” finale tonight–and it concluded with a cliffhanger that would be picked up should there be a second season–ratings for Week 2 were so low that it’s hard to imagine any additional order.  Cancellation wouldn’t be an injustice, either–Mob City wasn’t terrible, but it was familiar, bland and a little dull.

The final two hours were its most compelling, sparked largely by a pair of stylishly shot scenes of violence, an attack on a witness in Hour 1 (written by David Leslie Johnson and directed by Guy Ferland) that turned into a bloodbath, and an extremely graphic restaging of the killing of Bugsy Siegel in Hour 2 (written by Darabont and Johnson and directed by Darabont).  That latter sequence also revealed the chief conceit of the series:  in this version of the story, Siegel wasn’t killed by the mob because of his wild overspending (and questionable ethics) in the building of the Flamingo, Las Vegas’s first mega-casino hotel, but rather by Mob City‘s fictional protagonist, LAPD detective Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal), who was seeking to protect his ex-wife (and still the love of his life), the equally fictional Jasmine Fontaine (Alexa Davalos), who’d taken incriminating photos of Siegel personally shooting someone.  The cliffhanger had Siegel’s friend Meyer Lansky (Patrick Fischler), knowing full well that he hadn’t ordered the hit, sending Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke) on the trail of the killer.

That was a fairly interesting turn of events, but coming in the last half-hour of a six-hour miniseries, it wasn’t enough.  Up until then, Mob City was a tired mix of the same LAPD vs. the mob story that we’d had in LA Confidential and Gangster Squad, among other places, plus any number of cliches about tough, world-weary cops with their own personal codes of honor, the seductive women they loved, and the slick gangsters who had to be stopped at any cost, on the neon-lit streets of the post-World War II big city.

Casting might have helped, but Bernthal didn’t prove himself a charismatic leading man, and Edward Burns was all facade as Bugsy Siegel; Davalas was better, yet still walking in the footsteps of too many great femmes fatale with good hearts.  Nor did Darabont supply an ensemble that was at all engaging, even with old pros like Jeffrey DeMunn and Neal McDonough among the cops, and Milo Ventimiglia as Bugsy’s smooth fixer (who naturally was a wartime buddy of Teague’s).  Even the sets and costumes looked as though they’d been borrowed from other, better film noirs.

Frank Darabont will need some time to devote to his litigation, and with the likely demise of Mob City, he’ll have it.  Perhaps when he comes back, he’ll have a new spin on the courtroom melodrama genre to offer.



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."