The beaches of Miami, Florida and the lush colors and styles of the ’50s provide the backdrop for the new Starz’ series, “Magic City,” available now on Blu-ray.
The city in question is Miami, and the magic is in the details.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan headlines the cast as Ike Evans, a man who has worked his way from nothing to everything. He is the king of paradise. More specifically, he is the king of the Miramar Hotel which is quickly becoming the center of Miami. However, Evans has not reached his throne without a few bumps in the road … and some of those bumps he is still attempting to conquer.
One major bump is mobster Ben Diamond (Danny Huston) who has secretly helped finance Evans’ surge to the top. Now, Diamond poisons Evans’ clean business with his own lethal criminality. This brings … complications into Ike Evans life on top of an already complicated business and family and friends to attend to.
In its weakest moments, ‘Magic City’ is simply eye candy. In fact, it is one of the best looking shows on television. The style, the look, the sound, the cars are all captured in their vintage glory for us to feast our senses on. In its greatest moments, ‘Magic City’ is a near perfectly scripted television series that surpasses most of its competitor shows by not falling into less predictable stereotypes and conflicts that other writers feel the need to require in their plots.
Morgan and Huston are at their best here. If someone was meant to play an ambitious capitalist from the ’50s with suave, charisma and machismo then that someone is Morgan. Huston is given limited screen time, but he is given a role he was born to play. His voice burns with menace and his eyes are always ice cold. Even the supporting actors like relative unknowns Steven Strait, Christian Cooke, Jessica Marais and others dazzle in their scenes. They bring heft for such young actors. One would think the show’s momentum and emotional hold would die off when the story veers away from Morgan and Huston’s characters, but it is simply not true. If I was to name every supporting actor that stood out here, I wouldn’t have enough room to fit the rest of this review.
The performances awe because of the show’s greatest asset: creator Mitch Glazer’s writing. Glazer is credited with writing or co- writing all eight episodes of season one. Glazer provides his actors with words and characters that feel deeper than what we see and hear on the surface. However, such layers never feel forced. In fact, Glazer’s writing has the ambiance of always being organic. Shows on channels like Starz and HBO are almost predictable in their unconventional stories at times. We know the writers will simply do what will shock and awe and push the envelope … not Glazer. Glazer holds on and doesn’t let go and this is due to his very original and unpredictable script work.
‘Magic City’ deals with everything from social situations to hotel politics to murder, but the editing and transitions and pace of the show is always as smooth as the endless cigarettes Ike inhales in the first season. The direction and writing keep the show focused on the central characters and their dilemmas in these various situations. It all flows quite nicely, you see.
And on a quick side note, it is a pleasure to see a show make a capitalist its hero and make his ambition a thing of virtue rather than a flaw. Sure, Ike struggles because of the times and the law and his associations, but overall the show doesn’t do what a show on another network would do, which is turn Ike into Tony Soprano or Tom Kane. Glazer and Starz have more integrity than that.
In fact, Starz is quickly becoming the channel to watch and ‘Magic City’ only serves to prove it even more. Some may be turned off by the series pretty fast. As I said before, ‘Magic City’ does not throw the shock and awe at us every few minutes. Like a good novel or an old wine, it requires taste and patience. Believe me, it all pays off in the end.
‘Magic City’ deserves notice for many aspects. The show can simply be looked at and listened to and one can sense the aura of another time almost perfectly captured like lightning in a bottle. The performances are also worth noting. Every actor here from Morgan to Olga Kurylenko (finally playing more than the “dame”) are at their best. They understand their characters and the writing by Glazer only works to build on these characters’ relationships, bad or good, with one another by throwing everything from murder to Jackie Kennedy cancelling a lunch at them. Quite simply, ‘Magic City’ is must watch television.
“Magic City: The Complete First Season” Blu-ray edition includes many features delving into the clothes and cars and music of the era. Some are too short, but they are a pleasure to watch.