Everyone wants them some Don Draper...
As the recently-cancelled "Playboy Club" on NBC has shown and what ABC's "Pan Am" will soon learn is that it takes a little bit more than period clothing to capture that "Mad Men" magic.
The "Mad Men" formula is simple. The Emmy-winning AMC show is first and foremost a workplace show about advertising and the people who inhabit the office. The sixties era-coolness is just the setting. It's done so well, that we, as viewers, believe it to be a secondary character. That's the beauty of it.
Starz is getting in on the period action with their own ambitious new drama "Magic City." On paper, it sounds fascinating:
1959. Miami Beach. The heyday of cheap air travel brings the well-to-do cheaply and quickly to the region. Enter Ike Evans (that's a manly name, huh?), owner (or is he?) of the chic Miami hotel the Miramar Playa. He's forced to make some uncomfortable decisions not to mention some shady backroom deals with a local mob kingpin regarding the future of his joint. Five minutes in, it's easy to see there's no shortage of conflict here.
Throw in a backdrop of a falling Havana, union problems, the rise of The Kennedys and all the Rat Packy glory you can think of and it's easy to assume it sounds like a winner right out of the gate.
Not so fast.
It's obvious Starz knows what it's doing. "Boss" star Kelsey Grammer just scored a Best Actor in a Drama Emmy and the channel's "Spartacus" has been a solid performer for years. That all said, "Magic City" irked me a little bit. Not enough to stop watching by any means, but let's just say I'm going to keep my eye on it for some troubling aspects that I'll get into shortly. Think of the show as a dab of "Boardwalk Empire," a pinch of "Mad Men" and a healthy dose of "The Sopranos." Throw it all in a blender and the concoction will be this frappe.
* THE MAIN MAN. As Ike Evans, series star Jeffrey Dean Morgan has the heavy load here as the resident Don Draper. While most people liken the actor to a C-list Javier Bardem lookalike, I think he's much more of a poor man's George Clooney and that's NOT a bad thing. Morgan is pulling it off as the man who has to live with himself in his shady world. His life is his hotel and no one is going to take it away from him. Morgan easily has the charisma of an old-school leading man so I'm really hoping some other aspects of the show will do him justice. Morgan is a solid actor with solid TV and film credentials ("Grey's Anatomy," "The Losers" and "Watchmen") so it's no shock he can more than pull this one off.
* DELUXE SETPIECE. The "Magic City" sets are top notch. Gorgeous mid-century is everywhere and it's obvious that no expense was spared when it came to weaving the world of the Miramar Playa - both inside and out. This is catnip for retro junkies.
* TUNES AND THREADS. Showrunner Mitch Glazer didn't stop there. The authenticity is carried through with superb fashions and a soundtrack of REAL music from the era. In fact, we actually hear an off-camera Sinatra singing "I've Got the World on a String" towards the climax of the first episode (taken from the CD "Live at The Sands." In the first episode, 'Ol Blue Eyes was performing in the hotel's showroom and I just have to thank everyone involved that a Sinatra was NOT cast. Extra points for casting an actor to portray longtime Sinatra pal and saloon keeper Jilly Rizzo.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK
* 90210 SYNDROME. Part of the allure of "Mad Men" is that the cast looks TRULY like the could've lived and breathed in the sixties -- Jon Hamm aside, the ad men and women at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce don't exactly look like the leaped off the pages of a frikkin' magazine. That's my problem with "Magic City." Almost everyone is gorgeous. So much so, that a) it becomes distracting and, as a result, they all blend into one another. I know it's Miami where people are born gorgeous but ... it's just freakin' unbelievable. Give me the imperfectly perfect anytime...
* GETTIN' STALE? Every now and again, you're hit with some pretty bad dialogue...
"Rip out my heart and eat it -- I am yours."
"You built a palace, now it's time to be king...'"
"You only go around once in life and sometimes, not even then..."
"Who are you?"
-- "The wrong woman..."
A word of note to the writer's room: Less is more. What's unspoken is much, much more powerful. C'mon fellas...
* OH NO, NOT HIM. I'm talking about 'that' character... You know what I mean... Ike's screw-up, bad boy son (Steven Strait, above) who's ssooooooooooo dreamy it hurts and Ike's ruthless gangster partner (veteran actor Danny Huston, left) who a) is conveniently nicknamed 'The Butcher' and b) is juuuuuust the type to smash a bottle poolside and then act like it never even happened. These kinds of central-casting stock characters just even a few episodes in feel ridiculously one dimensional.
This all said, I'm very well aware that a new show has to find it's voice and the characters have to establish themselves so I'm willing to roll with it a bit because the production value is so high, the historical period is so ripe with possibilities and that "Magic City" star Morgan could be a compelling leading man.
This show has tons of potential. I'm pulling for it...