by Brad Nelson 1/26/18
I’ll tell you right off the bat that I’m probably going to hell for watching this series. It’s a dark, somewhat pornographic, gangster-violence series. You may need to take a shower after watching it.
For those with a stronger stomach, there are some compelling elements to it. There is the essential of all such series: the great villain. Danny Huston plays Ben Diamond who is otherwise known as “the butcher.” By far he is the best character and actor in the troupe.
The series is set around a fictitious hotel set on Miami Beach. It is one so prestigious that it has a Frank Sinatra suite where no one but Sinatra is allowed to stay. The sets themselves are lavish and, I’m guessing, are gorgeous reproductions of the early 1960’s.
This series ran for two seasons and was cancelled. It may have become too expensive to produce and/or the ratings dropped. To some extent, I can understand the latter. The central character, Ike Evans — who conceived, built, and runs the Miramar Playa — becomes a conflicted and weak character as the series goes on.
But he doesn’t start out that way. He’s a handsome Jew with a gorgeous wife who, until her marriage to Ike, was a famous dancer. That’s how they met. Olga Kurylenko plays Vera Evans who is another compelling character in the series. Unable to conceive a child with Ike, she’s somewhat conflicted about being a stay-at-ritzy-hotel mom. She even has a fling with inviting Jackie Kennedy to the hotel. But I think the primary character of this series is the general elegance and richness of the hotel itself, and Vera Evans is a symbol of that and of what money can buy.
Ike plays the generally honest businessman who has necessarily had to make some compromises in order to fulfill his dream of taking an empty lot of sand and turning it into an earthly paradise for the moneyed set. His silent partner is Ben “The Butcher” Diamond. In the first part of season one, Ike Evans is walking that line between doing what he has to do to keep the Miramar Playa open without becoming one of the bad guys himself.
That is how his character is set up. He is to remain a good man while occasionally doing some dodgy things. He’s the smart guy who can, by his own wits, sidle up next to a guy such as Ben Diamond and not be the dog who gets up with fleas.
Unfortunately, in just one scene the supposedly school-of-hard-knocks Evans is turned into a mere puppet to drive the plot along. In one telling moment, he went from being Ike Evans the savvy (although sometimes dodgy) businessman walking the razor’s edge of success, to just an idiot. The Miramar Playa is hosting a title fight. Ben Diamond has leaked out that he has rigged the fight. And he does so in order to get everyone to bet on the supposed winner when, in fact, Diamond has rigged the fight for the other guy to win. Diamond hopes to clean up by then betting on the guy with the long odds.
Ike Evans, like everyone else, hears the rumor. His hotel is currently struggling with cash-flow problems, but not dangerously so. Hotels have slow seasons. But for some inexplicable reason (even though he is partners with Ben Diamond and knows the guy can’t be trusted and is always running a scam), Ike grabs all the spare cash he has in the safe and bets on the fight….and loses it all.
It seemed somewhat obvious at the time that Ike would know that Ben Diamond was up to something and thus would know the leak was a deception. But, no. He immediately went from savvy Ike to stupid Ike.
And if that wasn’t bad enough for your central character, in much of the rest of the two seasons Ike Evans becomes Dr. No. His role in the series seems to be to tell everyone else why they can’t do what they want to do. It gets old and gets boring. And this is your main character.
Thankfully, there is enough going on that doesn’t directly involve Ike. One of Ike’s sons gets involved with Ben the Butcher’s wife which a constant source of tension and danger. The younger son, Danny, is a goody-two-shoes and is thinking about interning with the local district attorney who is another very good character. You would remember Matt Ross as the tech giant and Jobs-like evangelist of Hooli in the HBO series, Silicon Valley. In Magic City, Ross plays the district attorney, Matt Klein, who is playing the long game to snare Ben Diamond and plans on doing so by first catching Ike Evans in something and then strong-arming him to give up Diamond.
Several characters get caught up in this struggle including the gorgeous hooker, Judi Silver, who is a member of the bevy of girls on-call at the Miramar Playa. Whether or not the Miramar Playa is what life was like in 1960’s Miami Beach, I have no idea. But the elegance of the hotel combined with the sleaze of prostitution and the undercurrent of the mob probably isn’t that far from the truth.
There is lots of gratuitous nudity and sexual situations in this series, so it’s not for everyone. I think the writers failed the main character and I can’t blame this failure on the actor who plays Ike Evans, Jeffery Dean Morgan. I think he’s crisp and sharp in the first several episodes before they make him stupid as well as turn him into Dr. No.
Even though the series is cut short, it does end in a way that doesn’t leave you hanging too much. It concludes in a marginally satisfying way while still leaving story lines open had there been another season.
But two is more than enough. I don’t recommend this series as such. But if you like good 60’s period pieces and gangster films, it does have that. And if you watch this, you may have Judi Silver’s body burned into your retinas. Magic City is currently streaming on Netflix but is scheduled to be off the service in early February, so now would be the time if you wanted to check out a couple episodes.
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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