Bearing little resemblance to the 1995 movie and 1990 novel of the same name, Get Shorty, premiering Aug. 13 on Epix, is an intriguing, curious new show. It stars Chris O’Dowd, no one’s idea of a tough guy, as a tough guy who wants to go legit, if you call producing screenplays for Hollywood movies legitimate. O’Dowd’s Miles Daly is an Irish thug who strong-arms people who stiff his clients; these include a Nevada crime ring. He’s also estranged from his wife and daughter (he calls the latter “Shorty”), and would like to win them back. That’s part of his motivation when he gets the idea to make a movie from a script that falls into his lap. And I mean that last phrase almost literally — it’s a script he’s holding when its author is executed by Miles’s partner in crime, Louis (Sean Bridgers).
Unlike the 1995 Barry Sonnenfeld-directed film, there’s no Chili Palmer in the episodes that I’ve seen of the TV series, and therefore no ’90s-era John Travolta cool factor. Writer-producer Davey Holmes went back to Elmore Leonard’s source material and has worked on capturing Leonard’s tone: one of fond bemusement and hard-boiled succinctness rather than irony or sarcasm or cynicism. (Not for nothing does the onscreen credit tell us that this show is “based in part on the novel by Elmore Leonard.”) Ray Romano shows up as Rick Moreweather, a producer specializing in straight-to-video cheapies. Miles pitches him his script, a costume-drama romance, in hopes of breaking into showbiz, about which Miles knows almost zilch. His education in the devious ways of movie finance is also meant to be ours.
Get Shorty is a little wobbly in the quality of the writing. Moreweather is occasionally so desperate and exasperated that the character compels Romano to dip back into his Everybody Loves Raymond sitcom voice, something Romano has studiously avoided doing. And I had a hard time believing that the smart studio executive played by Megan Stevenson would fall for a guy like Miles so quickly. There are moments when Get Shorty veers too dangerously into a satire of a thriller, or into wacky-comedy territory — it takes the firm hand of director Adam Arkin to steer a couple of the episodes he oversaw onto better, stronger ground. As it stands, Get Shorty is certainly the best piece of original programming Epix has produced, and maybe it will hold the attention of the book- and movie-lovers who come to it out of curiosity.
Get Shorty airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Epix.
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