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Magic City Review: Starz' Drama Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan Premieres Friday
One of the things I began to notice early on during the first season of Starz’ Boss is that the drama series has a rhythm. It may move a shade or two slower than something we might find on network TV, but as the series got going, momentum began to build as we got to know the characters and watched as numerous plot lines developed. The same could be said for Magic City, which gets off to a decent start and only grows more intriguing from there.
Even with Mad Men, The Playboy Club and Pan Am, I’m still not tired of the ’60’s on television. The Mitch Glazer created Magic City falls close enough to that era to qualify, taking place at the start of 1959 at a luxurious Miami Beach resort called the Miramar Playa Hotel. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Ike Evans, the owner of the hotel.
Ike’s two grown son’s Stevie (Steven Strait) and Danny (Christian Cooke) are also around to lend a hand. Danny is a law student and could be considered the more well behaved of Ike’s sons, while Stevie seems more involved in his father’s business, and has the tendency to get up to no good. Interestingly enough it seems like both sons may be set up to present problems for Ike, a man who already has his hands full with his own obligations, including being a supportive husband to his second wife Vera (Olga Kurylenko), keeping the huge hotel running and functioning up to the high standards he’s set for the place, and then there’s the money he owes to Ben “The Butcher” Diamond, a mobster who helped Ike finance his dream.
One of the things I loved about The Playboy Club was the glamorous way it portrayed the time period. We get a hint of that in Mad Men and Pan Am, but of all of the series, Magic City may top the rest in showing what fine living looked like back then, when people with money drove sporty little cars, and the women looked like beauty queens when dressed up for drinks and dancing. The series captures the beauty and glamour of the era nicely.
As for the story, things begin to unfold at a steady pace as we’re introduced to the characters, and soon see how complicated things can get for the lives of these mostly privileged people, especially when factoring in a mobster like The Butcher. Ike’s involvement with the man adds a layer of suspense as we begin to see the kind of pressure he’s under and how it affects his work and personal life. While I can’t say that the plot feels especially original, it’s fairly easy to follow and there are some dramatic developments that begin to unfold in the first few episodes, which could lead somewhere interesting.
I was already a fan of Jeffrey Dean Morgan going into this series, so I feel like there may be some bias in saying I like him as the lead. Ike Evans is certainly an interesting character for him. Evans comes off as a decent man with ambition. The hotel is his dream and in exchange for that, he’s had to make choices, which have taken some of the control out of his life. Morgan plays the part well, showing us Ike’s good side, as well as the stressed side, which ties into his relationship with the Butcher, and which he keeps mostly hidden from his wife and kids. It’s that side that’s the most interesting and could serve to make this series. I’m curious to see how far Evans is pushed and whether a real dark side begins to emerge. A part of me doesn’t want to see that happen, but the other part thinks that potential dark side could make all the difference in the quality of the show.
At this point, I’m on the fence about the series, though I'm intrigued enough to stick with it. The first few episodes sold me somewhat on a drama with potential, with a story that feels a bit familiar but is shined up well by the glamorous setting. And there’s also the pay-cable flexibility, which allows the series to show a slightly more risqué side to the era (expect some nudity and sexual content). The story just needs a bit more edge to build some intrigue. Much like Boss, with time to develop and build some momentum, Magic City could grow into something really good.
Magic City premieres Friday, April 6 at 10:00 p.m. ET on Starz.
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