Before we get into the Mob City review, I do want to put out a couple quick program notes. First up, at 8 p.m., NBC is airing its annual special Christmas in Rockefeller Center, with Kelly Clarkson doing tree lighting duty. Secondly, Kirstie Alley has a new sitcom on TVLand, which does have some safety issues in the sex and drugs department, but also has some warmth as a messed-up Broadway star (Alley) is confronted by Arlo (Eric Peterson), the son she gave up for adoption.
Milo Ventimiglia and Jon Bernthal, courtesy Turner Networks
Who will want to see it? - Middle school and older teens
How safe is it? - Lots of really bloody violence in the first episode, less in the second hour
How good is it? - A mixed bag – the history is better than you’d think, but the film noir dialogue can be a bit much
Six-hour mini-series premieres tonight (12/4) at 9 p.m., with the first two hours, then on the next two Wednesdays.
Gotta confess, a lot of my interest in this one has to do with the fact that the book it’s based on, L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City, by John Buntin, was researched in the Los Angeles City Archives, where my husband, Michael Holland, is the archivist. Plus I actually spend time in the L.A. City Hall and Union Station and other places in Downtown L.A. and I love our city’s history.
What writer-director Frank Darabont did, however, was not straight up history by any stretch. A goodly number of the characters in the show, particularly Det. Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal), are fictional. And yet, he stays a lot closer to the actual history in his telling of the efforts of certain LAPD officers and Mayor Fletcher Bowron to rid the city of organized crime than some folks claiming to be historically accurate.
Do be warned, there is quite a bit of violence here, though the worst of it is in the first episode. Yeah, I know it was exploding squibs (special effects) that sent all that blood bursting during the shoot out scenes, but I didn’t need to see it. In short, there’s lots of gun play and people getting snuffed and it’s not fun to watch. Nor is all the cigarette smoking, which, alas, is historically accurate.
There is also quite a bit of racism reflected in the name of the fictional night club and in the occasional use of the n-word. It’s one of the difficulties in depicting this particular period honestly. The good news (if you can call it that) is that the racism is present, but it’s not reveled in. It’s just there because that’s how it was and while you can’t excuse it, it’s not like Darabont and company are trying to get away with being racist because they can’t now.
The other part that rather bothered me was that the dialogue (both as written and performed) all sounded more like a 1940s gangster movie than anything real. I appreciate the style, but it made the show awfully hard to buy into for me.
That being said, they got City Hall right. They were on location at the actual Union Station for those scenes (well, except for the lockers – those aren’t there now). And if you’ve ever wandered past Fletcher Bowron Square, across from the main City Hall, and wondered who the heck he was, he was the mayor in this show. Also, the Bill Parker played by Neal McDonough is the guy they named Parker Center after (aka the current LAPD headquarters). Although my husband pointed out that while folks did, indeed, call Parker a Boy Scout, we haven’t yet seen Parker’s more ambitious side – and the guy apparently was pretty darned ambitious, in addition to being incorruptible.