Alibi V.28 No.3 • Jan 17-23, 2019 

Idiot Box

Coke and a Smile?

“Black Monday” on Showtime

Showtime’s fast-talking, hardworking financial comedy “Black Monday” takes viewers back to Oct. 19, 1987, when the worst stock market crash in Wall Street history wiped out economies across the globe. To this day, no one knows exactly what caused it. Created and written by David Caspe (writer-creator of such vaguely memorable series as ABC’s “Happy Endings” and NBC’s “Marry Me”), “Black Monday” imagines a fictionalized rogues’ gallery of Wall Street types who “took on the blue-blood, old-boys club and ended up crashing the world’s financial system, a Lamborghini limousine, Don Henley’s birthday party and the glass ceiling.”

Don Cheadle (Boogie Nights, Captain America: Civil War) headlines the 10-episode, half-hour comedy/drama as Maurice Monroe, the flamboyant, cocaine-loving, robot-butler-having manager of the “number 11” trading firm on Wall Street. Among his staff of money-hungry day traders are Regina Hall (The Best Man, Girls Trip) and Paul Scheer (“Human Giant,” “The League”). One fateful day, Mo bumps (literally) into recent business school grad Blair Pfaff (Tony Award-winner Andrew Rannells from The Book of Mormon). Blair is a grade A dork straight out of the background cast of Revenge of the Nerds. But at the urging of his ball-busting girlfriend Tiff (Caspe’s wife Casey Wilson from “Happy Endings” and “Marry Me”), Blair is bucking for a job in high finance. Fortunately for Blair, he’s developed a magical computer algorithm that predicts stock prices. But after running afoul of crazy money man Mo, his future career seems in jeopardy.

Mo, meanwhile, is busy begging, borrowing and stealing his way to a multimillion-dollar stock deal, taking over a jeans-manufacturing concern sitting on some prime New York real estate. His various machinations put him in contact with assorted criminal types and set him against financial district bigwigs the Lehman brothers (Ken Marino from “The State” playing a double role). So how, exactly, does Blair fit into all this? And what does it have to do with the stock market crash? We’ll have to wait and see.

Superbad, Pineapple Express and This Is the End duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg direct the pilot (and executive produce the series) and infuse it with some manic energy. You can tell it’s set in the ’80s thanks to the nonstop barrage of references: Gremlins, the Challenger disaster, Jazzercise, Downtown Julie Brown, Top Gun, Crystal Pepsi, crack cocaine, Mayor Marion Barry, Debarge and TCBY Yogurt to name a few. Some of the references are too old (Jane Fonda made Jazzercise popular in 1982), some are too premature (Crystal Pepsi didn’t hit store shelves until 1992). The rapid-fire cultural references, the over-the-top energy of the actors and the raunchy humor mean that a lot of the jokes don’t have time to stick the landing.

The show does have an intriguing setup, exploring (mockingly, anyway) a dark period in our nation’s financial history. But even the plotting tries too hard. At the end of the show’s frenetic pilot, the campy time capsule of a story has morphed into a twist-filled mystery driven more by crazy coincidence than logic. Like a cocaine high, it’s fun in the moment, but you’ll probably regret it afterward.

“Black Monday” premieres Sunday, Jan. 20 at 8pm on Showtime.