Let’s say you’re an avid young student of television’s traditional folkways. You might ask, “What kind of TV series premieres on the Wednesday night after November Sweeps, when the pressure to collect eyeballs has waned?”
“Mob City,” the middling, pleasant little noir lite series that TNT will unveil at 9 p.m. Wednesday will show you.
It’s based on John Buntin’s enjoyable book “L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City.” It comes from Frank Darabont, one-time big cheese at your local movie theater (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile”) who was knocked by the failure of “The Majestic” down into Hollywood maturity as a concocter of semi-addictive cable TV. (Most famously “The Walking Dead,” to which a great many of us are not addicted in the slightest).
As Darabont reads Buntin’s book, the idea is to somehow convince us that such L.A. mob figures as Mickey Cohen, Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky and “Sid Rothman” are as compelling as all those Chicago marauders epitomized by Al Capone and the New York mobsters who just couldn’t keep their names out of the papers.
Not only will you notice, right off the top, a different ethnicity to the thugs in “Mob City,” but the most obvious thing is that historically L.A.’s thugs, even at their best, just couldn’t begin to compete with Capone or the New York boys. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre – attributed to Capone’s bunch – demonstrated just how dangerously touchy a Chicago mobster could be. It pretty much set the standard for mob headline grabbing in the 20th century.
And, after that, the murder of Albert Anastasia in a New York City barber’s chair gave the American male imagination a new reason to put off getting a haircut. (What if you were in the next chair, gabbing away about the most recent football game, and some guys came in with tommy guns and turned the guy next to you into Swiss cheese? A guy could accidentally catch a stray bullet that way, you know?)
The show has its share of surprises which the nice people at TNT have dutifully asked critics not to tell viewers about. None of them is all that head-rocking, but they’re not bad either. It also has one of the most splendidly rough looking – even ugly – casts playing mobsters I’ve seen in a long time.
The point was to show us guys you wouldn’t want to mess with and I’d say they succeeded. It’s a very watchable show in the kind of cut-rate noir way you’d expect to see on TNT as opposed to, say, HBO or Showtime, where things might be more lavish)
If you think of the truly great versions of L.A. noir at the movies – such classics from different post-’40s decades as “Chinatown,” “L.A. Confidential” and “Point Blank” – the vision of 1940s thug life in “Mob City” is definitely on a budget, heavy on the stark lighting and appropriate cars.
A lot of accounts by Cohen’s contemporaries considered him more of a publicity-hungry pest than fearsome mobster. While the invention of Las Vegas does indeed entitle Siegel to be considered a great American visionary, that’s a whole other show.
This one doesn’t have Virginia Hill in it, either.
Not so far, anyway.
As for Meyer Lansky, Hyman Roth – the fictional version in “Godfather Part Two” played by Lee Strasberg – is so good that no one else will ever suffice, much less touch him.
That leaves in “Mob City,” Sid Rothman, the supposed major psycho in the bunch. It also leaves L.A. Police Chief William Parker, whom dedicated TV watchers have long known as the name-donor of L.A. Police Headquarters but those more attentive remember as the man whose policies established de facto racism in L.A. for far too long.
“L.A. Confidential,” with its source in a novel by James Ellroy, was far more adept in mashing all this together but, hey, “Mob City” is pretty good throwaway television for a holiday period when sweeps are over and adult audiences are often panting after something that isn’t full of music acts they don’t care about and holiday themes that always make for dreadful TV.
Those in search of TV novelty this week should also be aware that Wednesday night will see old “Cheers” antagonists Kirstie Alley and Rhea Perlman reunited in a new TV Land sitcom called “Kirstie,” which also features Michael Richards returning to sitcom-land after wandering in the desert for years after the Internet revealed him at what was, no doubt, the low point of his performing life. I wasn’t able to watch the preview disc, but it’s there for you on TV Land at 10 p.m. if you care.
No sooner did I resolve to imbibe only the milk of human kindness for errant TV news figures than Maryalice Demler, during the Bills game, continued her apparent quest to become the real-life female Ron Burgundy by tweeting pictures of her palling around with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
I refuse to succumb, however great the temptation is to tee off. I know it’s a test from the gods, but I won’t give in. I’ve taken a solemn pledge to resist excessive bile and sarcasm during the holidays and I’m sticking to it. I leave her astounding tone-deafness to public sentiment to others as a bilious holiday discussion for the hordes no doubt in need.