There are times when imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and then there are times when it is something else entirely. Consider the preview of Starz’ new series, Magic City, following the concluding episode of the second season of Spartacus. Imagine what the series’ creators might have been thinking.
We’ll set the show in the past in a fancy beach resort. We’ll make the central figure a local big shot with a strong ethnic identity. We’ll give him connections to organized crime. We’ll make him the kind of guy who is willing to do whatever needs to be done to get what he wants. He’ll have a strong fatherly attachment to a morally corrupt young man. We’ll add some political and social issues. We’ll wedge in some racial tensions. We’ll make sure to find a way to use some of the glamorous stars from the world of entertainment. And we’ll call the series Boardwalk— oh, wait a minute.
Well we could set in the ’50s instead of the ’20s, and Miami is a lot more exotic than Atlantic City. We can make the hero Jewish instead of Irish. If he isn’t a local politico, he has connections with the right people; indeed he has connections with the wrong people as well, and he is willing to use them. His young protégé can actually be his son. Labor unionization can stand in for prohibition, and we can throw in a champion black boxer to connect him to the racial divide. Then there’s always the hot button issue of Cuba. Instead of an Eddie Cantor imitator, we can use the voice and reputation of an even bigger star. And we’ll call the series Magic City.
It is ironic that Magic City follows Spartacus, considering that it’s not all that far-fetched to wonder about that series’ debt to the 2005 HBO series, Rome. Spartacus, at least has something going for it. It glories unapologetically in violence and sexuality. It flaunts its defiance of good taste. Besides it is a rip roaring good story with heroes worth rooting for. Magic City — if the preview is any indication — in spite of the story’s Yiddish connection, doesn’t have the Spartacus chutzpah. There’s sex and nudity, but it doesn’t come close to the Roman debauchery depicted in Spartacus, and the violence is even less graphic.
The opening episode spends so much time introducing most all of the series’ characters that it doesn’t manage to create any great interest in any of them or their problem. Ike Evans played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan doesn’t have the charisma one might expect from a big time operator. Danny Huston as the ostensible villain of the piece doesn’t come across as all that threatening. Steven Strait, as one of the Evans sons, is handsome enough but one dimensional. There are plenty of beautiful young actresses, but the first episode gives them little to do other than look beautiful.
Unfortunately, the obvious comparisons with the material and the cast of Boardwalk Empire make Magic City look like a pale imitation. One can only hope that, as the series moves on, things will improve.