Starz is still trying to find its way in the original programming world of premium cable television. Trying to capitalize on high-concept period shows like 'Boardwalk Empire' and 'Mad Men,' Starz introduces 'Magic City.' Set in 1959 Miami, the show follows the exploits of hotel magnate Ike Evans (Jeffery Dean Morgan). With a backdrop of racial inequality, Castro's hostile takeover of Cuba, and ruthless organized crime it's a turbulent world Ike lives in.
On the surface Ike is as cool as a cucumber, even though he's routinely traipsing around scorching hot Miami in finely tailored suits. Underneath that calm façade, however, is a man with problems. Big ones. Ike runs the biggest, most luxurious resort in Florida. The Miramar Playa Hotel is the pinnacle of opulence. Ike runs a tight ship, but behind the scenes of the hotel lies some sinister people. Ike's in bed with a very disreputable character named Ben Diamond (Danny Huston). Ben is Miami's resident mob boss and a silent partner in the Miramar Playa. Ike hates this arrangement, but in order to make his dreams come true he needs Ben's cash flow.
The hotel is littered with recurring characters, most of them belonging to the Evans family. Vera (Olga Kurylenko) is Ike's beautiful and resourceful wife; Stevie (Steven Strait) is his hothead son who never thinks before he acts; and Danny (Christian Cooke) is the good, straight-laced son who's planning on becoming a lawyer. There's drama brewing at every corner in the Evans family. Vera is fighting her once-held dreams of dancing. Stevie finds himself having an affair with the one woman who he shouldn't be with. Ike can't seem to claw his way out of Ben's firm grasp. At times the weaving, overly dramatic storylines seem like you're watching one of those cheesy Spanish soap operas. Except here it's oddly transfixing if you're in the right mood to enjoy some contrived but entertaining drama.
'Magic City' isn't without its faults though. The concept is ambitious in its scope. The recreation of the time period, the sets, the production value, are all top-notch. It's the writing for the show that suffers. It's one of those TV shows that ends every episode with a montage of each main storyline, just in case we forgot what we just watched in the last 50 minutes. The more dramatic it gets the more artificial the storylines seem to become. Plot twists are helplessly telegraphed and the show's version of organized crime has nothing new to say.
The real saving grace of the series is the earnestness in which each actor provides for the characters they've been entrusted to play. Morgan exudes confidence, but gives Ike a glimmer of helplessness when it's needed. Even though the character of Ben Diamond is about as stereotypical as a mobster gets, Huston still delivers a performance that is full of menace. He makes the character seem dangerous, which is needed to make most of the show exciting and worth watching. Even though his character isn't given much to do – he's a mean mobster folks – he dives into the part, overacting just enough to make everything much more interesting than it has any right to be.
'Magic City' doesn't have anything particularly insightful to say about the world of organized crime or its stranglehold in the 50s and 60s. Ben Diamond is a mean man dripping with contempt and that's about it. Morgan is full of charm, which carries the show far enough to make it enjoyable. Is it going to be a show that people are clamoring to talk about over the water cooler the next day like 'Game of Thrones'? Most likely not. Yet, there's just enough substance and great acting, to warrant investing your time into its eight-episode seasons. If you're looking for a new show to get into you could do worse.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Released under the Anchor Bay title, this Starz original is given some pretty classy packaging. The foldout case resembles the texture and feel of a Digi-book. There are three discs and three disc hubs. Inside the foldout, which is adorned with stylish photos of the cast, are episode lists, director and writer credits, and a list of special features that have been provided. The foldout slips nicely into an outer slipcover which completes the set's classy look. It's coded for Region A use.
The slick, rich-looking atmosphere of the Miramar Playa works well in a high-def environment. The 1080p image provides the lavish beach resort and surrounding Miami a well-defined, highly-detailed façade.
Detail is largely very engaging. Tanned bodies shine under the Miami sun. Pores are visible during close-ups as is every bit of Morgan's constant five-o'clock shadow. You'll probably wish that the detail wasn't so fine after the fifth or sixth time you see Danny Huston's hulking, oiled body lying out in the sun. Detail is strong in the hotel's interior. As the characters dash in and out of the hotel lobby you'll be able to take in immaculately crafted sets. The tile work on the main staircase stands out as one of the most impressive bits of detail in the show.
The colors are likewise as striking as much of the show's fine detail. Aquatic blues shimmer, fiery red lips burn, and the silver hair of the Miramar's resident call girl, Judi Silver, is a calling card of the show. Blacks are a bit heavy at times. The Atlantis Lounge, which is the hotel's bar, has some pretty unforgiving shadows. Other nighttime scenes are home to a few instances of crushing. The show's opening credits display a bit of banding also. Shimmering on finely textured clothing is also a slight nuisance in some scenes. While the presentation isn't picture-perfect, it has a lot more in the way of pleasing HD eye candy than not.
Provided with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, 'Magic City' offers a fairly immersive listening experience. Dialogue is always clear when it comes through the center speaker. Clarity in the dialogue is precise. Directionality in the front speakers clearly delegates voices, music, and ambient sound for each scene that calls for it.
The Miramar Playa is constantly buzzing with activity as hotel guests dine, swim, and mill about. Surrounds catch these light atmospheric sounds providing a well-rounded audio environment. Much of the show's soundtrack is centered up front, but it does bleed into the rear speakers every once and a while. LFE is fairly constant, especially when the show's blatant "suspense" tones burn through the sound stage.
I did notice a few times where the ADR seemed sloppily put together; where the overall dialogue sounded a little brash and isolated for my liking, but those instances were few and far between. Overall, it's a perfectly acceptable audio mix with satisfying surround sound involvement.
It isn't the "next big thing" as far as premium cable is concerned, but 'Magic City' still holds enough appeal to warrant a light recommendation. The show has employed some very capable actors who deliver the show's somewhat stale material with enough gusto to make it entertaining. Coupled with the show's extremely high production values and its energetic take on Miami Beach in the late 50s, I find 'Magic City' to be an entertaining way to spend a few hours. The sordid tales of Ike Evans are worth a look.