Created by Mitch Glazer
Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olga Kurylenko, Steven Strait, and Danny Huston
Extravagance is what you get when you visit Magic City and Ike Evans’ Miramar Playa Hotel, with mob hits, romantic trysts, and high-rolling wining and dining to spice things up. But is the show simply all dolled up, or is it as deep as the murky water where they keep the bodies?
On Miami Beach in 1959, the Miramar Playa Hotel is the epitome of luxury, and the man responsible for making the dream for its guests is its stalwart owner Isaac “Ike” Evans. Maintaining the illusion of glamor becomes harder and harder as Evans and the hotel are swarmed with mob hits, underground gambling, spouses sleeping around, multiple break ins, and police investigations into Ike’s mysterious business partner Ben “The Butcher” Diamond. Can Ike hold his family and his hotel together as everything tries to tear it down?
This series is an ensemble piece of well-acted characters, but the focus is centered on Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Isaac “Ike” Evans. Ike is a burdened man, stressed with providing for his family and protecting his life’s work. Morgan does a great job looking like he has the weight of his world on his shoulders, and he also knows how to make the character put on a smile and be a generally likeable guy. Morgan’s Ike earns the adoration of his employees, almost so that you want to work for him.
Pitted against Ike Evans is his business partner and sinister mobster Ben “The Butcher” Diamond, eerily played by Danny Huston. Huston effortlessly adds a sadistic undertone to every scene he’s in, even when he’s simply playing cards by the pool. As predictable as much of the actions in the series may be, Huston’s Diamond is just enough off-kilter that you still fear for Ike’s close ones when Diamond’s gaze is turned towards them.
Continuing a trend of mid-20th century period pieces, Magic City sets itself at the end of the ‘50s in Miami, FL, utilizing that sharp ’50-‘60s fashion and the real life tension of the times. The mob was in full force, and Fidel Castro was taking over Cuba just miles off Miami’s shores. Unlike current period piece champ Mad Men, the setting doesn’t beat you over the head with itself. It’s less of a main feature and selling point, more of a backdrop. The history of the time sets up the environment the characters live in, but these characters could stand out at any time, which is its own selling point.
Unfortunately the story isn’t quite as strong. The show, especially early on, is plagued by obvious turns, actions whose results are called well ahead of time. It’s easy to see who the mob is going to knock off, why some girl is bad news for some guy, and how some characters are just fated for despair from the get go.
Then we have one of the biggest downfalls to this first season in its season finale, which I didn’t even realize was the season finale until no more episodes followed. There’s no thematic break to lead from one season to the next. Hardly any of the story lines resolve or reach a logical breaking point before the almost year-long pause for season two. It feels more like “we’ll be back next week” instead of “we’ll be back next year,” leaving the audience underwhelmed and less likely to stay on the hook until season two starts.
The show doesn’t bring anything new to the table with the businessman-mobster relationship story, but it dresses it up nicely with style and immersive characters. Its predictability will likely keep some away early on, but the characters will still be a treat for those who stick around.
The Video and Audio
The series is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen with English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio. For our Spanish speakers, you only get mono audio though, or Spanish subtitles of you prefer. For the most part, everything comes out clearly. The brightness of sunny Miami, the warm glow of the blue water, all of the color is nice and crisp.
The opening credits though, an underwater montage, have a graininess the rest of the show doesn’t. I don’t know if that’s intentional, to evoke the idea of television of that era, or what. If I can’t tell, though, then it might not be working.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The three-disc set comes in a folding case. The inside has a nice panoramic cast shot, with the episode titles neatly hidden under each respective disc.
The bonuses are made up of short featurettes covering various aspects of the series, from the cars to the fashion, music to the setting, and so on. Personally, I would have preferred more from the segments covering the history of Miami during this period and the construction of the impressive Miramar Playa Hotel sets.
Overall (Not an Average)
The show is a fun run on the Miami Beach with enjoyable characters that you get invested if you give them the time. The story takes some effort to build into something more interesting, and even then it’s not much, but if you stick with it, you’ll probably find yourself glad you did. Just don’t expect much extended value from the bonuses.
The Series 7/10
The Video and Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 6/10
Overall (Not an Average) 6/10