Idiot Box: TNT’s “Mob City” gives us TV noir
 Alibi V.22 No.48 • Nov 28-Dec 4, 2013 

Idiot Box

Men With Guns

“Mob City” on TNT

Who doesn’t love the Mob? ... Aside from victims of mob violence, extortion and crime? I was really speaking more in terms of drama. The Godfather, The Untouchables, Bugsy, Goodfellas: That’s some explosive period action right there. You’ve got guys in suits, girls in cocktail dresses, shootouts involving Tommy guns. Tommy guns are seriously cool. Yeah, mobsters are good. Dramatically good, I mean, not morally good.

Apparently writer/director/producer Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist) loves him some mobsters. Two years ago he was flying high, having brought “The Walking Dead” to AMC. Unfortunately for him Darabont was unceremoniously booted as showrunner after the first season. He’s rebounding, though, as creator and executive producer of TNT’s high-profile new crime series “Mob City.”

The show—currently billed as a “limited series”—is based on the book L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City by John Buntin. Set in 1947 it’s loosely inspired by real-life accounts of the LAPD and the gangsters they alternately fought and collaborated with. Our main character is Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal, who survived only slightly longer than Darabont on “The Walking Dead”). Teague is a former marine-turned-detective caught in a war between mobster Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke, Don Jon) and LAPD chief William H. Parker (Neal McDonough, “Band of Brothers”). Occasionally we get Ned Stax (Milo Ventimiglia, “Heroes”), a shady lawyer who fought alongside Joe in the war but is now employed by Cohen. And just for fun, Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen) drops by sometimes as famed Vegas kingpin Bugsy Siegel.

“Mob City” muddies up the moral waters right away, casting its hero as a conflicted lawman who trusts neither his boss nor his biggest enemy. This isn’t a world of “white hats and black hats” as Joe puts it, but a city full of men in gray. Who can you trust in postwar LA? Nobody, that’s who. Sure, we’ve seen this sort of ambiguous cops-and-robbers schtick before, but it always a fun time. In fact, “Mob City” serves up all the film noir clichés we’re craving. There are the neon-lit streets of Hollywood, the seedy jazz clubs filled with saxophone players and burlesque dancers, the back alley meetings between cigarette-smoking men in suits and hats. If you’ve got a 1940s fetish, “Mob City” will certainly fulfill it.

The show’s initial three-episode arc looks slick. There’s some money in the series, and it isn’t afraid to push the basic cable boundaries with some bloody violence and a bit of cursing. There’s even a big-ticket guest appearance by Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) as a low-rent comedian trying to blackmail a Mafia bigwig in the first episode. It’s inordinately fun seeing Pegg in such a straight role (with an American accent, even). The basic cast is solid enough on its own, though. A more manly collection of ham-faced, tough guy actors you’re unlikely to see in prime time. Plus there’s more than enough shadowy, gunsmoke-streaked action to keep them scowling and stabbing each other in the back well beyond the show’s (so-far) limited run.

“Mob City” premieres Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 7pm on TNT.