After last week’s dazzling debut, the middle chapter of TNT’s Mob City set the table for what could be an exciting conclusion, but, as a whole, these two episodes definitely lacked a bit of last week’s punch.
“Red Light” was the stronger of the two episodes. In it we had strong performances from multiple actors and an absolutely thrilling climax. The episode revolves around the fallout of the restaurant shooting committed by Sid Rothman (Robert Knepper). The LAPD’s mob squad led by “Boy Scout” Bill Parker (Neal McDonough, who shined tonight) is hellbent on bringing the killer to justice. During interrogation of a mob flunky, it’s discovered that the reason Hecky Nash (Simon Pegg) was blackmailing the mob was that he and his girlfriend/Officer Teague’s ex-wife Jasmine Fontaine (Alexa Davalos) had taken photos of Bugsy Siegel (Edward Burns) executing someone. After a failed line-up which they were hoping would incriminate Rothman, the “bus boy” who aided Rothman (and also an eye witness for the line-up) demands money and asylum from the Siegel/Cohen/Rothman crew. So, instead of being polite (hey, they could’ve been), they send men to kill him. Luckily, Teague overhears this plan while hiding in Jasmine’s apartment as Rothman and Cohen hashed out their plan (how he got there is rather long and not very interesting). The episode culminates with Teague, rifle in hand, battling three hit men on a merry-go-round.
“Red Light” may have been Mob City’s best entry to date. From an action standpoint, the sequence with the merry-go-round is brilliant. It’s so cinematic in its presentation and has all the earmarks of being a great television moment (too bad the series isn’t on a more high profile network or is bringing in monster ratings). Regardless of location and loyalty, the scene is so beautifully shot and so excellently executed that you’re just awe-struck at the how good this sequence was. In today’s cable television landscape, where shows constantly push the violent, sexual and most importantly the creative envelope one shouldn’t be that taken back when something is this good…but this reviewer will be damned if he wasn’t impressed.
Performance-wise, “Red Light” really allowed a lot of secondary character development. Edward Burns seems to be having the time of his life hamming it up as Bugsy Siegel. Burns just nails Bugsy’s dual personality — one part swagtastic high roller, one part ruthless, psycho killer. He executes both with the same restrained manic energy and this is quite possibly the best performance Burns has given in quite some time. “Red Light” also allowed the always-entertaining Robert Knepper to sink his teeth into the character of Rothman. The intelligence and intensity Knepper injects into Rothman dominates the screen even when actors, who are no slouch like Bernthal or Burns, are on screen with him. Honestly, give me a series that revolves solely around Knepper as Rothman and you’ll have me tuning in every week.
While “Red Light” may be the strongest entry in Moby City, “His Banana Majesty” may be the weakest. Siegel’s been thrown in jail so Burns is off-screen for most of the episode. Bernthal’s Teague is in and out all episode and Knepper’s Rothman only gets to onscreen at the very end (for a great scene). Instead, we’re given a lot of exposition and there’s a focus more on Jasmine. If there’s one character that just doesn’t click on the show it’s this one, which is a shame because she’s the only female lead in the series. The role is woefully underwritten (as of right now) and Alexa Davalos doesn’t seem comfortable at all. She comes off stiff and a bit outmatched when working with Bernthal in various scenes. Watching the two together you believe that Teague has a history with Jasmine, that he still loves her. With Jasmine it’s just like she’s there, robotically reciting her lines. It’s hard to watch sometimes. Also, the series doesn’t really define Jasmine well — is she a classic femme fatale or the damsel in distress? The ambiguity really doesn’t help such an underdeveloped character.
Surprisingly, Milo Ventimiglia, who this reviewer has never enjoyed, really did solid work here as Cohen’s attorney, Stax. He had a strong command of his scenes and for once didn’t come off like a whiny, young, brattish heel. Outside of him, there were no performances to speak of here that mattered. There are cameos from Ernie Hudson and Paul Ben-Victor, but neither was given much to do outside of popping the audience with their appearance.
Mob City concludes next week and I feel the show, while very enjoyable, hasn’t done enough to build towards a climax, let alone a thrilling climax. Sure, it’ll be entertaining, but it will it feel rushed? The six-episode mini-series format seems to be a hindrance to the show’s development. There hasn’t enough time to really engage with our hero, Teague, or get to know anyone in the world of Mob City. There are tons of questions, tons of stories that are getting choked out of airtime in order to introduce more characters but even those characters aren’t given much of a back story. It’s a shame, because if done right, Mob City would be regarded as a classic. Cynically speaking, it seems as though this mini-series idea was more of a gimmick, employed to get audiences excited, rather than create a well thought out and expertly executed show.