Magic City Episode One: Water, Water Everywhere (Also, Blowjobs)

Jeffery Dean Morgan runs this place.
Jeffery Dean Morgan runs this place.
Courtesy of Starz

It's hard to talk about Magic City without discussing its place in the shadow of Mad Men. We watched the premiere of Magic City immediately after a new episode of Mad Men, which seemed counter-productive. Like eating a steak and then realizing you have to eat a cheeseburger as well. Or whatever the vegetarian equivalent of those two things are -- we want to be inclusive.

So, did we enjoy the series premiere of Magic City? Sort of!


Holding Magic City to Mad Men's standards is an unfair comparison at this point, but one that Magic City constantly invites you to make. It's more successful than other shows clearly modeled after the AMC drama thus far. (R.I.P. Playboy Club and Pan-Am.) However, it does fall into the trap of thinking that all you need to replicate Don Draper is a handsome white dude speaking very certainly and tersely in a low voice. And if you're gonna get into Magic City, you better love terse conversations in low voices. They are to this show what zombies are to The Walking Dead. Or as zombies are to Bravo's Watch What Happens, Live! Wait, those are real people? Cool.

Magic City Episode One: Water, Water Everywhere (Also, Blowjobs)

The first episode in a nutshell: Jeffery Dean Morgan is running a Miami Beach hotel circa New Year's Eve 1958. He's throwing a huge shindig with a singer named Frank Sinatra -- ever heard of him? -- but must deal with a workers' strike preventing him from getting booze to the party in time. Oh, and his mobbed-up silent partner now wants to be more involved in the biz.

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Also, his family is a pain in the ass; his daughter is throwing a fit about her bat mitzvah, his sensitive son is in love with a maid who turns down his advances because this is a drama and we need some stakes, and his other son has such an unmanageable libido that he's both trying to bed the mobster's wife (we think) and, more importantly, accidentally driving his car into a fountain while getting distracted by receiving road head. (We presume the crash was an accident. Maybe he's on another level and crashing cars is the only way he can get off, James Spader-style.) Nevertheless, everything works out, Sinatra performs, and order, not to mention booze, is restored to the hotel. BUT FOR HOW LONG?

One episode in and it's clear that the writers of Magic City want you to take notice of the water that constantly surrounds the staff of the Miramar Playa hotel on Miami Beach. You see, water can be fun and seductive, but if you find yourself underwater for too long you might drown. Ideally, this would be a clever analogy that the viewer would be pleased to make in a subtler show.

However, subtlety isn't Magic City's strong point, so they spell it out for you with underwater montage after underwater montage, people swimming, opening credits that show various things submerged in the ocean, a partially submerged bar, and a puppy that drowns in the pool. It's not just on the nose -- it's on the nose and flashing its breasts every three minutes, because this is Starz and you didn't pay seven extra dollars a month to not be inundated with constant nudity.

In fairness to the show, TV pilots are rarely fine pieces of art. There's too much to set up and too many introductions and characters who must immediately be defined. It's hard not to make everything seem sort of expositional.

Points to the series for recognizing Overtown as a part of the city's history, and thus exploring race relations more in its pilot than Mad Men did in its first two years. And the cast and stunning visuals do a fair deal of making up for the pilot's trappings.

It's a show that at least deserves a shot to see how it develops. Or a fine excuse to gawk at a dude getting blown in his convertible. Either way.

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