Meet the Fauxpranos

Starz's "Magic City" is just the latest show that looks like quality TV -- but is really empty-headed pseudo-drama

Topics: Magic City, TV,

Meet the FauxpranosOlga Kurylenko and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in "Magic CIty"

“Magic City,” a period drama about Jewish gangsters and fancy hotels in 1959 Miami, sidles up to your television tonight in a pretty dress and with an empty head. Like “The Playboy Club,” “Hell on Wheels,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Killing” and “Boss” before it, “Magic City” is part of a new subgenre of shows — let’s call them pseudo-dramas; banality TV, The Fauxpranos — that have the ambitions of quality TV, but come up short in actual quality.

“Magic City’s” premium cable credentials are well in order. It’s got the period setting, the slick set design, the stylish costumes, the giant convertibles swimming down the street like elegant whales. It’s got a morally conflicted, guilt-ridden leading man who turns a blind eye to violence. It’s got big themes to grapple with, like the making of Miami, Judaism, the fall of Cuba and union busting. And, for good measure, it’s got naked chicks, gangsters and Frank Sinatra. But throwing disparate parts of “Mad Men,” “The Sopranos” and “The Godfather” into a blender and pouring the parts into an up glass does not a delicious or nutritious cocktail make.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars as Isaac “Ike” Evans, a handsome, tanned middle-aged patriarch and the face of Miami’s Mirador Playa hotel,  a luxury establishment built on what six years ago was only sand. (Fun fact: Before going shirtless, Morgan has to spend two hours in makeup to cover the crucifix tattoo on his chest.) Ike has three children — a “bas mitzvah”-aged daughter, a goodie-two-shoes son straight out of “Leave It to Beaver,” and a sex-crazed one straight out of “The Red Shoe Diaries” — and a young second wife he adores. To finance the hotel, Ike has gotten himself in debt to Ben Diamond (Danny Huston), who, as his last name suggests, is the hardest gangster this side of a deranged Joe Pesci character, the sort of sociopathic killer who shoots dogs before trying to quiet them. Even if Ike remains vague on the particulars of Diamond’s bloody behavior, he still dreams of men he knows sleeping with the fishes when he goes to bed at night.

On “Magic City” this passes for subtlety: A man wracked by a guilty conscience dreams in mob clichés. (Presumably on other nights, Ike wakes up in a sweat, having dreamed his family members were walking around sun-soaked Miami in cement shoes.) These sorts of hackneyed developments pepper the script. Speaking to Ike about his mother, one of the sons asks, “Was it like that thing in the movies where you just knew?”  Flirtatious banter begins with, “Fact or fiction: Somebody once told me that whatever you’re doing at the stroke midnight on New Year’s  tells you what your whole year will be like.” And at one point, Diamond tells Ike the inexcusably overused fable of the Scorpion and the Frog, wherein the scorpion kills the frog because “it’s in his nature.” (At least telling this tale prompts Huston to put on his best growly Batman voice and expound, “I want more.”) Next time a TV character asks another, “Have you ever heard the story of the scorpion and the frog?” let the answer be “Yes.”

What’s really disappointing about “Magic City” is that if it weren’t so desperate to be “Mad Men” in Miami Beach or the Jewish Godfather it could be an energetic, escapist hour of television. The show “Magic City” should be modeling itself on is  Showtime’s “The Borgias” which just began its second season last week. “The Borgias,” which takes place within the papacy and Rome in the late 15thcentury, is also a big-themed, swanky period drama starring an antihero — the corrupt pope Alexander VI (Jeremy Irons) — but it’s got too much self-awareness and good humor to be a pseudo-drama. Propelled by Irons’ arch, knowing performance as the oversexed, over-scheming, over-everything pope, “The Borgias” has a campy streak and a sense of humor about itself. Its ambitions are to be entertaining, a romping costume party and not the latest middling show to make a misguided bid to become a part of the Serious Television Canon. If “Magic City” could stop chasing after the meaty, thoughtful cable shows it will never catch, it might notice it’s a good-looking program in the perfect position to have a good time. It’s set in a sun-soaked Miami, after all. There has got to be something fun to do there.

Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>