There’s just something so damn intriguing about an upcoming TV ‘event series’ with a cool cast, terrible title, great subject matter, bad trailers, slick visuals, and Frank Darabont. Now, Mr. Darabont (The Walking Dead) is placed thusly in the patterned list because while his three Hollywood Stephen King movies have all been great (The Mist being a standout horror film from the last decade), his recent incursion onto television has been less than Sterling.
But Mob City is intriguing. Watch the trailers with the sound off. It’s hard to make period gangsters look bad, and Darabont and company have definitely nailed the style. Comparisons of course will be drawn to Boardwalk Empire, possibly the best-looking TV show currently on air. Like Boardwalk Empire, Mob City promises for its viewers violence and grittiness. And maybe some histrionic dialogue.
But what about for TNT? In recent years the Turner station has been difficult to parse from USA and TBS, homes to original programming as unique as White Collar, Major Crimes, Suits, Covert Affairs, Rizzoli & Isles, Franklin & Bash, Royal Pains, and, strangely, Falling Skies. These are, at least for TNT, shows with specific agendas, every bit as specific as shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men for AMC. The goal is to entertain a mass audience, rather than super-entertain a smaller audience. There does exist a demo for this sort of programming, and somebody has to fill that niche (but does it have to be everybody?).
Here’s a great, brief, article that asks the critical question, and might offer an answer. It is sort of paradoxical — if Mob City is HBO-ish in content, it’s not really TNT. And if it’s TNT-ish in content, nobody will stick around for parts two through six. As TNT programming chief Michael Wright said, “an audience is coming to this with a vocabulary,” and again, Boardwalk is entered into our minds, being a contemporary. There is a standard to live up to, if only in violence and sex.
Which is ludicrous. That’s not the sort of talk that oughtta pervade shows in this new golden age, in which Homeland’s flatlining at maybe a solid C+ is no longer acceptable, and Dexter’s finale feels horribly outdated and lame, particularly in anticipation of what many call the greatest TV finale ever just a week or two later. Even Boardwalk Empire, which met with critical acclaim in its season 4 finale, has always been a backburner drama for many, a frustrating and slow-paced show that may feature The Wire alums, but doesn’t match its wit or depth.
But it is the sort of talk that one might need to engage in before entering the ring with heavy-hitters like HBO, AMC, and hell, even Netflix, whose content restrictions only exist as ornamental (bleeping swears in Arrested Development was tradition). Get this violence right first, TNT, and then I’ll feel more confident.
Maybe the only reason why I’m not confident right now is just that damn title. Mob City? Course, it’s not anybody’s fault (but Rockstar Entertainment’s), because the show is based on a book called L.A. Noir, which is a great title, but that’s also the title of a video-game, starring Kenny from Mad Men. It was almost called Lost Angels, but maybe that would’ve been too… vocabulary.