'Magic City': How It Compares to This Season's Other Period Pieces

Angel Cohn

"Magic City" is the latest of the recent attempts to create a great period drama, but sadly, this Starz show falls short. While it may looks as pretty as "Mad Men" or "Boardwalk Empire," it has a lot more in common with the short-lived "Pan Am" and "The Playboy Club." And while those were fun while they lasted, there's a reason they failed to attract much of an audience. But Starz already renewed "Magic City" for a second season before it even aired a single episode. Let's hope no horses, or other defenseless animals, have to suffer in order for this cable network to see the error of their premature decision.

This new show focuses on Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a hotel owner in early 1959 who is dealing with a strike, handling talent, and making deals with some of Miami's seedier residents in order to keep his business booming and his family living in the lap of luxury. But the specific time period aside, it borrows liberally from these other shows thematically.

"Boardwalk Empire"
What "Magic City" Borrows: The nudity. And the fact that most of the action centers around a beach town property and the well-connected man who seems to run it. Both Nucky and Ike are in the business of schmoozing and handing out willing girls and booze in order to woo potential associates or clients. Nucky wants political power and Ike wants a casino. And since it is pay cable, naked girls are just everywhere. Even when there's no reason for them to be in a given scene.
Why It Doesn't Work Here:
No Prohibition. And while staring at Jeffrey Dean Morgan (and his occasional bare behind) is more appealing than looking at Steve Buscemi, that latter definitely has the upper hand in the acting department. Also, there's a distinct lack of mobsters on "MC," which is something that "BE" has in spades. Much as we love Danny Huston, one guy nicknamed "The Butcher" doesn't really cut it.

See how Ike runs his business in this "Magic City" clip:

"Mad Men"

What "Magic City" Borrows: An attractive guy in a suit who can sell pretty much anything, and the time period. The first season of "Mad Men" took place a year after "Magic City," and Ike is certainly stylistically similar to Don Draper, what with the slick hair and the fitted suit. And the look and feel of "Mad Men" is very similar to that of "Magic City," particularly if you recall the California-set episodes of "Mad Men."
Why It Doesn't Work Here: The dialogue on "MC" isn't great -- it's all very predictable and conversational and lacks the beautifully paced subtlety of a "Mad Men" script. And so far, Ike seems to be remarkably faithful to his wife, despite the attractive scantily-clad women all around him. Early Don would have never shown such restraint.

[Related: Five Things to Watch for on 'Mad Men' This Season]

"Pan Am"
What "Magic City" Borrows: The current events and the luxury services. Halfway through the first episode of "Magic City," there's a Kennedy reference. "Pan Am's" Maggie would have been so proud. And both shows even have the Cuban revolution in common. Also, Pan Am stewardesses had some ridiculously wonderful perks, and the Miramar Playa hotel is so fancy that it even has perfume piped into the lobby.
Why It Doesn't Work Here: On "Pan Am," we got to see a lot of the historical events and feel like we were a part of them. In Cuba, we saw the exiles boarding a flight aboard a Pan Am plane, but on "Magic City," we only learn about the events second-hand. We hear them mention Castro and a poor hotel employee has someone he's trying to get off the island, but it all just feels distant, like it's part of another show.

[Photos: Check Out More Pics of the 'Magic City' Cast]

"The Playboy Club"
What "Magic City" Borrows: The musical acts of the week. The ballroom at the Miramar Playa seems to be a showcase for big-name acts, from Frank Sinatra to Frankie Avalon, much like how Hef's club had Tina Turner and Lesley Gore (more were scheduled to air, but never saw the light of day).
Why It Doesn't Work Here: While "Playboy Club" found current artists to play these icons, "Magic City" doesn't show any of the performers. Not even a stand-in with a backlight. You hear the music, but you never even see anyone on stage who bears a passing resemblance to the real-life personality. Even if that actor was lip-syncing to the original music, it would feel less awkward than the way it was actually shot.

"Magic City" airs Fridays at 10 PM on Starz.

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