Magic City is a lush TV drama about the life and crimes of residents living in Miami Beach in 1959. The characters, while stock in some ways, are detailed, but it’s the lifestyle and lush look of Miami Beach that may really be the Starz drama’s biggest appeal elements. Magic City should have come together as a big critical darling for the subscription cable network, but unfortunately for the storyline, the entire package hasn’t gone quite so smoothly.

If you want to get a sense of the sort of adventures Magic City gets into, go no further than the opening credits, which feature the characters and some skinny dipping in the pool (Opening credit nudity doesn’t pop up that often, people, enjoy it while it lasts!). It’s in the opening credits that we see the beauty of the Miramar Playa and we meet the hotel’s owner and proprietor, Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Years ago, Ike sold his soul (and part of his hotel) to Miami Beach crime leader Ben Diamond (Danny Huston), and the turn of events in Season 1 show the two men’s relationship beginning to crumble as the hotel struggles to thrive and some dead bodies get in the way of business.

Magic City is a true ensemble affair, with Ike at the top of the pyramid and Ben Diamond and Ike’s sons, Stevie (Steven Strait) and Danny (Christian Cooke), falling slightly below. The women in Magic City are secondary characters, but they dazzle onscreen as partners, partners-in-crime, and above all, lovely creatures. The personalities of the women in Magic City are very different. They range from Ike’s wife, Vera (Olga Kurylenko), whose easygoing elegance morphs into capable business sense toward the end of the season, to Judi Silver (Elena Satine), whose crass wit and callgirl profession constantly bring her trouble. The detail for each of the characters is pretty intense, with two extras “The Cars of Magic City” and “The Style of Magic City” in the set discussing how the fashion and the cars were chosen specifically to suit each character’s personality.

At the heart of the series is the Miramar. Most of the happenings somehow involve the hotel, whether it be through underground card games, luncheons for the ladies, beach trips, bedroom visits, crime sprees, business deals, or ordering the perfect martini. The Miramar is the hub for the series, and each of the characters and their storylines seamlessly float throughout the hotel. This is a bigger achievement than it seems on paper. I’ve mentioned six key players in my review, but there are another dozen or so who matter to the storyline, and by keeping the Miramar at the forefront, writer and creator Mitch Glazer is able to give each of the characters the onscreen time they deserve.

Magic City follows a time period marked by cool costumes and in a place affected by organized crime and the Cuban Revolution. The show takes these elements and wraps them into a nice idea that never quite extrapolates into something fantastic. Ike and Stevie never know when to quit and keep falling into the same sorts of traps, and the women keep getting into the same sorts of shenanigans. In fact, Ben Diamond seems to be the only truly unpredictable character on the show, and he’s so erratic, it’s a little disarming.

With only eight episodes in the first season, Magic City: The Complete First Season, isn’t so much as bad as it feels incomplete. Eight episodes is long enough to get to know Magic City’s characters, to begin to invest in their stories, and then to be dumped just before shit is about to hit the fan. In particular, I don’t understand why the series—when given so little time to invest an audience—waste’s precious seconds on recurring slow motion shots of people drowning, swimming, sinking, or hiding in bodies of water. Those are definitely the show’s “signature” stamp, but most of the time, it’s a waste of precious screen time.

Still, if you liked the period drama, the disc offers a lot of segments that take a look at how the past is recreated in the series. The extras on the disc serve to highlight all of the beautiful late 1950s details Magic City has to offer. “Building an Empire” and the making-of “ Starz Studios: Magic City” focuses on Glazer’s overall vision. There’s so much beauty in the bonus features, they become a constant reminder of how sharp the series looks, which I think is half the problem. I really wanted to fall in love with the story because I loved the look of the show, but it becomes really hard to invest early on. Hopefully, with a little more time to grow and a couple more episodes added for Season 2, more than the Miramar will get a chance to shine.

Length: 419 min.
Distributor: Anchor Bay
Release Date: 10/02/2012
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olga Kurylenko, Steven Strait, Jessica Marais
Directed by: Ed Bianchi, Simon Cellan Jones
Written by: Mitch Glazer

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