"Magic City" (10 tonight, Starz) pulls together all the hot motifs: There are mobsters, there's the beautiful Miami Beach scenery and it all takes place in a fancy hotel in the late 50s, so you get the glamour and the great clothes. There's lots of nekkid breasts on display too.
Those elements make for a beautiful series, but sadly the superficial aspects are as good as it gets. "Magic City" is so cool it leaves you cold. It's missing a solid center.
I think part of the problem is the handsome, likable star Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays dapper Miramar Playa Hotel owner Ike Evans, a non-religious Jew who lost his wife to cancer, and is remarried to Vera (Olga Kurylenko), a beautiful former showgirl striving to be the perfect Jewish wife. Ike has three children, sons Stevie (Steven Strait), a playboy who works with dad and serves as a confidant, and Danny (Christian Cooke), an aspiring lawyer in love with a Cuban maid he grew up with at the hotel.
We meet Ike as he's haunted by a dream where he sees bodies floating in underwater, as in wearing cement shoes. It's also New Year's Eve and he's booked Frank Sinatra to sing. The bad news is there's a strike; a group is trying to unionize the workers and their action could disrupt the show and bring down the business Ike has fought so hard to build. In desperation, Ike turns to his partner, mob boss Ben "The Butcher" Diamond, played by a convincingly menacing Danny Huston. The Butcher's way of dealing with the issue sets up the arc of the series.
Ike is supposed to be a conflicted man; an outsider (as a Jewish man in a anti-Semitic town) who wants to be in. He presents himself as a good guy but he makes choices to live his dream that make him no better than the mobsters hanging about. But as Morgan plays him, it's pretty hard to see Ike's turmoil. This is a man who, by the third episode, has business, personal and perhaps legal issues, and while he does things that show he feels guilt or shame, he comes across as only mildly exasperated.
Meanwhile, Huston is going for it; this is a man so mean he shoots a dog his wife is playing with because the dog is barking while he's on the phone. The Butcher, as his title suggests, has no issues with his conscience (his last two wives 'died in childbirth'); he threatens unabashedly. Which is why the plot line featuring Ike's son and the Butcher's wife makes no sense.
There's are a lot of threads past episode 3 of "Magic City" left to be explored and developed, but I, for one, don't feel engaged enough to invest. I'll go with the easy summation: "Magic City" lacks magic.