Ike Evans (Jeffery Dean Morgan) may own Miamiís luxurious Miramar Playa Hotel, but he relies on funds supplied by mobster Ben Diamond (Danny Huston) to keep it open. When union organizers threaten to shut the hotel down on New Yearís Eve, Evans is forced to turn to Diamond for help, and the ensuing deal sets in motion a series of events that threatens both Ikeís livelihood and his life.
Magic City is a well mounted, handsome series, but itís also as rote a mob tale as youíre likely to find. Thereís not a single gangster-story clichť it doesnít employ in this first season, leading me to wonder what creator Mitch Glazer (whose name is more recognizable than his output warrants) and his team possibly have left to do in the second (and beyond, if it comes to that). This is a watchable show, but itís the sort of thing you can watch with one eye while doing something else and have no trouble following. Some people have dismissed this show as nothing more than a lesser blending of Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, which is a bit reductive but still not all that far from the truth. Thereís some possibility here, but it has yet to be realized.
Thereís a fine line between employing tropes and falling back on clichťs. Thereís bound to be a sameness to mob stories; itís virtually unavoidable. GoodFellas contains familiar elements, but it uses them a springboard for a character study and detailed analysis of the inner works of the mob (as does Donnie Brasco, albeit to a lesser degree). Magic City contains familiar elements, but it uses them in familiar ways; rather than introducing them as a means to some sort of fresh end, they simply are the end.
Glazer (who wrote seven of the eight episodes presented here on his own and co-wrote the other) has said this series was inspired by his early life (he grew up in Miami during the time in which the show is set and worked in a luxury hotel as a teen), and heís able to bring some distinct Miami flavor to the proceedings, but the basics of the story being told are taken from countless movies and television series. You know how thereís always some dumb schmuck who sleeps with a woman only to later discover sheís the wife of a big-time mob boss? First episode. You know how thereís always some hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold who unwittingly gets caught in a dangerous situation and is forced to go into hiding? Fourth episode. You know how compromising photos turn up and a blackmail scheme follows? Sixth episode.
Castroís revolution plays out in the background of this story, and Glazer has stated that he intends to incorporate the CIAís efforts to take out Castro into the series, and also explore the role the people of Miami played in the Civil Rights Movement. That could possibly lead to some interesting storytelling, but only if everyone involved hurries the hell up. What Glazerís talking about sounds like whatíd you get if James Ellroy decided to try his hand at episodic television, or something that could possibly rival the promise Crime Story showed before it met its untimely death, which could really be something special, but all heís delivered so far is something that doesnít distinguish itself in any way.
In addition to trying to bring something new and interesting to the stories, Glazer and his team need to work on the characters. Everyone here is either an archetype or a stereotype. Eight episodes comprise this first season, meaning Glazer had nearly seven hours to tell the first part of his tale, but thereís almost no character development; in terms of their personalities and inner workings, the people you see in the first episode are the exact same people you see in the last. You donít know what makes these people tick, and you donít have a truly compelling reason to want to stick with them on this journey.
So what are you left with? Well, storytelling momentum, for one. Although itís never as engaging or smart as it should be, Magic City moves at a pretty fierce clip. I watched these eight episodes over the course of two days, and I was never bored, which is something, I suppose. The show is definitely well cast. Jeffery Dean Morgan and Danny Huston play off each other very well; their antagonistic chemistry helps compensate for their charactersí lack of depth (to some degree, anyway). Kelly Lynch (whoís married to Glazer), playing the wealthy sister of Morganís late wife, and Olga Kurylenko, as Morganís new bride (a character with a lot of untapped potential) are also very good. And as I mentioned earlier, the show looks great. Itís obvious Starz is spending a relatively large chunk of change on Magic City, as the period look of the show is seamless. And it appears all of the detail is achieved via practical means, as thereís no iffy CG (something which plagues even Boardwalk Empire) on display.
So the money is there, the cast is there, and some potential is (possibly) there. Now all Glazer (who would be wise to bring in some new writers, preferably ones who can write dialogue that isnít bogged down with exposition) and crew need to do is make something of it. I think itís a bit too early to dismiss Magic City, but too much more of the same old, same old and a dismissal will definitely be forthcoming.
The show is presented in its original 1.78:1 ratio; the 1080p transfers have been encoded with AVC, and the eight episodes are spread across three 50GB discs. As befits the setting and time period, Magic City has a slightly warm, slightly bright, slightly glossy, slightly soft look, creating an air of nostalgia.
The image here captures that look very well, and the slick presentation helps rub away any overly digital elements in the HD photography. Exteriors and brightly lit exteriors look excellent; theyíre clear, vibrant, and detailed. As is often the case with digital cinematography (particularly when it comes to television series), nighttime scenes and dim interiors are less refined, a little on the murky side and weakened by blacks that arenít as deep or stable as they should be.
Lossless audio comes in the form of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks. The mix is light on atmosphere, and the surrounds are silent in all but the noisiest, most active scenes. Dialogue sounds very good throughout. The period music (of which thereís quite a bit) sounds even better; itís been remixed to take advantage of the larger soundfield, and the bottom end has been punched up nicely.
Spanish mono subs are also included; English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available.
All of the following are presented in high-def:
Starz Studios: Magic City (14 minutes) is a catch-all making-of piece, briefly touching on such as aspects as casting, scripting, production design, costuming, etc.
The Cars of Magic City (2 minutes) looks at the various automobiles featured in the show.
The Style of Magic City (4 minutes) focuses on costuming.
Building an Empire (2 minutes) focuses on production design.
The Golden Age of Music (8 minutes) looks at the period music that plays an integral part in the show.
Miami Beach: The Real Magic City (4 minutes) offers some info on what life was like in Miami in the late Ď50s.
Magic City is a perfectly ordinary way to kill some time. If youíre thinking thatís the mildest, most cautionary recommendation possible, youíre right.