After the sex, violence and political intrigue of Ancient Rome in Starz’ Spartacus series, it seems odd, yet somehow appropriate to find the same ingredients put to more nuanced use in the network’s Magic City [Fridays, 10/9C] – a series about hotelier Ike Evans and his family and their efforts to bring the magic with a legendarily luxurious hotel, the Miramar Plaza [modeled after the famous/infamous Fontainebleau Hotel].
Ike Evans [Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Supernatural, Watchmen] has sunk his life into – and gone deeply into debt to realize – his dream of owning the most luxurious, most popular hotel in Miami. A dream that is threatened, in the Magic city premiere, by a strike that could cost the hotel two shows by Francis Albert Sinatra – Ole Blue-Eyes, himself – on New Year’s Eve, 1958. The potential resultant financial failing would cost him his hotel, and he’s not about to let that happen – which leads him to consider making a deal with Ben ‘The Butcher’ Diamond [Danny Huston], Miami’s mob boss.
The show revolves around Ike and his family – second wife Vera [Olga Kurylenko], sons Danny [Christian Cooke] and Stevie [Steven Strait], and daughter Lauren [Taylor Blackwell] – and the colorful characters that surround them.
The premiere episode, The Year of the Fin, deals with New Year’s Eve Day, 1958. That strike is in the offing and the union boss won’t back down – their actions forcing Ike to come up with a white poodle on the shortest of notice; Stevie suffers a case of love at first sight with, in her own words, ‘the wrong woman’ [Jessica Marais]; Danny attempts to persuade his best friend, Mercedes [Dominik Garcia-Lorido] – a maid in the hotel – to the festivities with him; many of the staff aren’t doing their jobs because of the fear that Castro will overthrow Batista and put their families in danger, and Sinatra’s representative runs down a list of conditions that would make some of today’s spoiled celebrities look normal.
The script, by series creator and executive producer Mitch Glazer, sets up the series well – deftly introducing more than a dozen characters and giving us exactly what we need from each to understand what’s going on and what’s of the most importance.
Carl Franklin directs with an eye to taking the grandeur of the Miramax Plaza and balancing it against the many colors of the city and the activities of the people who flow through the hotel’s doors. The pacing is deliberate, the violence muted/implied for the most part [the opening and closing sequences play into that beautifully], the sex more discreet and the politics more subtle.
Of the rapidly growing number of one-hour dramas now airing on Starz, Magic city may well be my favorite if it develops in most, or even any of the ways suggested by the premiere. It’s a classy, sneaky-smart effort with first-rate production values, a superb cast and much better than average writing.
Final Grade: A-
Photos courtesy of Starz Entertainment