August 10, 2013



Magic was one ingredient that MAGIC CITY lacked, and so despite its not-insubstantial virtues, tonight’s Season 2 finale also marked its finish as a series.  The low-rated show was a passion project of its creator Mitch Glazer, built around his own childhood memories about mostly Jewish gangsters in the lavish Miami Beach hotels of the JFK era, but it played as an uninspired collection of tropes from the Godfather movies, Goodfellas, Casino and any number of other works in the genre.

The finale, having been conceived as merely the conclusion to the season, lacked any real closure.  Written by Glazer (he wrote or co-wrote most of the episodes himself, and directed several of them as well) and directed by David Petrarca, it went in a Godfather II direction, with putative hero Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) on the verge of losing his sons Stevie (Steven Strait) and Danny (Christian Cooke) and his wife Vera (Olga Kurylenko) as he doggedly did whatever was needed to hold onto his precious Miramar Playa Hotel.  Most obviously, it didn’t dispose of psychopathic archvillain Ben Diamond (Danny Huston), keeping him alive even after Stevie had shot him through the one-way mirror he used to spy on Stevie and Ben’s wife Lily (Jessica Marais) having sex, because–ludicrously, in a house stocked with enough guns to defend the Alamo–Stevie was out of bullets.  That won the prize as most unlikely event of the hour, although close behind was Vera’s apparent, it not entirely resolved, response to Ike’s decision to take on ex-sister-in-law Meg (Kelly Lynch) as a partner in the hotel by jealously sleeping with Stevie herself.  And not far behind those was the much-postponed murder of prostitute Judi (Elena Satine), who had somehow survived multiple attempts to kill her over both seasons, when the crooked Assistant DA being paid off by Ben realized that Judi had ratted him out–the ridiculous part of this plot was that Stevie, who was at least half in love with Judi, knew full well that the ADA would want to kill her and exactly where she was, yet apparently waited hours before either going to her or warning anyone else about the danger she was in, resulting in his and the cops’ arrival just in time for her to die in his arms.  The only other storyline that was genuinely finished was the death of Victor (Yul Vasquez), until recently Ike’s best friend and manager of the Miramar Playa, who perished at the hands of an untrustworthy anti-Castro Cuban.

Magic City often foundered on its plotting.  Much of the second season revolved around the question of whether the Florida legislature would vote to allow casino gambling in Miami Beach (if it did, Ben would have taken over the Miramar Playa, so Ike was dead opposed to the bill).  There was no suspense about the outcome, since we know as a matter of fact that there are no legal casinos in Miami, but plenty of great thrillers have been built around known historical facts, from The Day of the Jackal to Apollo 13 to Lincoln.  What matters is how convincingly and compellingly the story is told.  On Magic City, the plot was resolved weakly, with Ike mobilizing a group of Old Money Miamians to express doubts about Ben, and a vote-day editorial ghost-written by Ike under Meg’s name instantly turning the legislative tide.

There were other problems.  Although Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Danny Huston are skilled actors, Morgan didn’t convey the undercurrent of sheer ruthlessness that Ike needed, and Ben was so one-note sadistic that Huston played essentially the same scenes week after week.  (You could have made a drinking game out of doing a shot every time Ben sadistically tormented his wife Lily.)  There were some strong performances in the supporting cast, notably by Kurylenko (who had a solid Season 2 storyline about coming out of retirement to dance in the hotel’s stage show), Satine and Michael Rispoli as Ben’s chief henchman, but other cast members were less reliable.

With all this, it’s hard to condemn Starz for pulling the plug on Magic City after giving it 2 seasons.  Yet the show was always watchable, with beautiful production design and cinematography to set the mood, and often a few pungent scenes in any given episode.  (Old pros like James Caan and Alex Rocco were among those who showed up for fun guest roles, although Caan’s character was blown up in the finale, so that was the last we would have seen of him in any case.)  It was a far worthier show than Da Vinci‘s Demons, that’s for sure.  But with viewership that was low and showing no signs of increasing, and little buzz or critical/awards attention, there just wasn’t enough upside to keep the series going.  Instead, Starz is going heavily into the costume-drama business, with White Queen and the upcoming Black Sails among those joining Da Vinci on the network’s air.  Magic City just wasn’t good enough or successful enough to change that bet.


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."